Developer: Disney Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
How bizarre. Believe it or not, the PSP version of Cars 2 was cancelled a few months ago; back when releasing it would have actually tied in with the film license and secured the handheld title some brisk impulse sales. However, with Pixar's uncharacteristically uninspired movie now faded from the public consciousness, imagine my surprise to find a review copy of the title that refused to die sitting on my doorstep.
Is it possible, then, that Cars 2 was held back because the developers needed more time to deliver on an unprecedented gameplay concept that overrode the importance of releasing alongside its silver screen counterpart? Did they need more time to polish the experience into a true underdog gem that redefines the notions of what movie games can offer?
No. It turns out that Sony just needed a childish game to launch alongside the budget PSP E-1000 model, and this ratty piece of merchandise just happened to fit the bill.
Cars 2 starts out very well indeed by displaying an amusing and well-animated cutscene that explains the premise of the proceedings. Rather than aping the events of the film, the game represents virtual reality challenges that the characters can play for their own amusement - giving the developers a perfect excuse to shoehorn in the lucrative license without having to match the movie's production values or scripting. Plus, the awkward release date doesn't matter one iota.
With the setting established, players are then tasked with driving through these missions with familiar characters in globe-trotting environments. Since the characters are anthropomorphic automobiles, you might have expected the gameplay to take a pure racing focus (like the riotous multiplayer console versions), but the experience is actually on some incredibly restrictive rails. Interaction is kept to a bare minimum as you drive and even drift automatically down the preset tracks, with the only real challenge being to flick the nubbin and change lanes every once in a while to avoid incoming hazards. Even younger gamers will find themselves tiring of the relentless tedium after a few short minutes, which is amplified exponentially by the lack of variety between missions.
This is surprising in and of itself, since Disney Interactive actually tried to provide a variety of missions including Races, Battle Races, Eliminators and the Professor X goon-smashing Attack gametype. But thanks to the outrageously simplistic controls, they all feel exactly the same.
So Cars 2 is unbelievably simple, but it's worth noting that many successful games have used this premise to advantage. Admittedly in the 8-Bit era, though it's still a potentially compelling mechanic to build a game around. Unfortunately Cars 2 completely fails thanks to a shockingly poor purposeful design decision. The camera doesn't give you a view of the road ahead, instead, it pans around and gives you a cinematic overview of the track much like a Formula 1 cameraman. It's easy to see how this decision would have sounded brilliant in the early brainstorming stages, but the smallest amount of quality assurance would have revealed that not being able to see where you're going is not ideal for a game that revolves around dodging incoming obstacles.
Visually, Cars 2 does look fairly good. Though the PSP's signature gritty texturework is back in full force, the game does look fairly fluid in motion and contains some colourful and attractive art design. If only as much work had gone into that blasted camera.
Cars 2 finally loses all relevance by not giving even the slightest nod to the few diehard fans who might be tempted to pick it up. The non-canonical story is insultingly brief and delivered through static text callouts between missions. There's none of the hilarious banter, none of the exciting characters and none of the Pixar magic to help pick up the slack, which results in a game that feels absolutely pointless.
- Looks fairly good
- Excellent opening cutscene
- Instantly accessible?
- Relentlessly tedious and simplistic
- Hopeless deal-breaking camera
- Utterly pointless for new players or fans
The Short Version: Cars 2 is a redundant and unnecessary product; a soulless cash-in delivered too late to make a difference. Separated from its film and its fans, Cars 2 has no reason to exist.