Cars 3: Driven to Win is the first game from the recently reformed Avalanche Software, the former team behind the now canceled Disney Infinity series. Under ownership of WB Games, Avalanche has managed to make a return to the industry creating Disney licensed games of all things. It’s about the best (realistic) option fans could have hoped for, and with Cars 3: Driven to Win Avalanche has crafted a game that makes a bold statement: They are back and ready to create more fantastic video games set in the Disney universes we love.
Driven to Win is a full-fledged, content heavy movie tie-in, the likes we haven’t seen in years. With over 20 tracks to race on, a handful of game modes, and some of the best kart racing gameplay out there, Cars 3 offers a premier movie tie-in that should complement the recent release of the Cars 3 movie nicely.
The game takes place after the events of the movie. The story is light, and the events don’t matter a whole lot, but they are there. After a quick and intuitive tutorial, players are set free to decide how they want to play. While many tracks, characters, and cosmetic features are locked from the beginning, the game does a wonderful job of laying out the road map (no pun intended) for players to unlock all the game’s content.
The Hall of Fame is essentially a big check list with 136 challenges to accomplish. Xbox and PlayStation players might equate these tasks or challenges to the likes of Achievements or Trophies. The various challenges encouraged me to play the game in different ways, and evoked that “one more race” feeling that keep me playing for upwards of 20 hours. The more challenges you complete, the more you unlock, and the loop just goes on and on.
The game’s 21 tracks are all well thought out and themed nicely to the Cars movies. The first 17 tracks were built specifically for Driven to Win and feature the best locations from the Cars 3 movie. The last 5 tracks are from the Cars 2 video game and have been retooled to accommodate the new mechanics of Driven to Win. Although I’ve played some of these tracks before, they felt like new having been suited for the better sequel that Driven to Win is.
Pre and post races are met with some humorous commentary from Chick Hicks, who you may remember from the first Cars movie. He now hosts a racing talk show called RSN and throughout the game Chick will chime in with his bitter and jealous two-cents, as you race your way to victory. While I found this to be a nice touch to the game, I wished there was more variety in the commentary. Too often at the end of a race I would hear the same jokes that I had already heard dozens of times before.
Driven to Win has 23 different characters to play as ranging from classics like Lightning McQueen and Mater to new characters such as Cruz Ramirez and Jackson Storm. Each character has a provides a unique personality and plays differently, offering a wide array of options for players. Although I didn’t personally stray away from Lightning McQueen too much, I found it a bit disappointing that so many of the characters from the Cars 2 video game did not make a return. I wasn’t necessarily longing to play as any of them, but I couldn’t help but notice a gap in the roster right between the original Cars and Cars 3 characters.
In race mode, the game feels like a classic arcade racer with tight controls. The drifting, while quite different from a game like Mario Kart, took a while to get adjusted to, but after a few hours I was drifting like the Hudson Hornet. Car handling feels tight, a notable improvement from the Cars 2 video game released back in 2011. The abilities to drive in reverse and on two-wheels make a return in Driven to Win, and are improved on with stunt strips placed throughout the track that reward racers with turbo power for pulling off some more stylistic driving. When I played Cars 2 I largely ignored these features and particularly found driving in reverse to be a bit cumbersome, but Driven to Win‘s challenges pushed me to master these skills and utilize them to outrace my opponents.
Battle race is more Mario Kart style. Mystery boxes allow for some pretty ridiculous, and in some cases violent, racing. I don’t know that the team at Pixar would consider this game cannon if they saw just how aggressive Lightning McQueen can be with a couple rockets strapped to his sides. Takedown mode has players racing against the clock to mow down waves of virtual enemy cars to set new highs scores. Stunt showcase is all about getting big air and pulling off stunts. It doesn’t matter how you race in this mode, you just need to score some serious points to beat out the competition. Best Lap Challenge is the game’s ghost mode, and I found this mode to be particularly more difficult than the others. I just couldn’t seem to pull off three star ratings in this mode.
Finally there are the Master-Level Events. These are the main story missions, of which there are four. Each event involves a different character from Cars 3, except for the Mater the Greater event inspired from the Car-Toons short. Each Master-Level Event utilizes a different mode to really test the players skill in that particular aspect of the game. I never found any of the Master-Level Events to be any more challenging than any other race or event in the game. Even the final showdown with Jackson Storm seemed a bit underwhelming, though I was playing the game on an easier mode in all fairness.
Driven to Win includes some fantastic split-screen co-op that opens up the entire game for two to four players. In split-screen the game runs and looks just the same as it does in single player. Here, players can compete in cups, race with or against each other, and pick a team to race for. The focus on split-screen multiplayer is strong here, as Driven to Win comes across as both a game that’s great to play alone or with friends. There’s no online play this time around, but I found this to be a good thing, as usually game’s like this go offline shortly after their launch, and never get the server support or maintenance they need. Deciding to make a rock solid local multiplayer experience was a better idea in the long run, and it’ll help Driven to Win age better over time.
While Driven to Win does play solid, the visuals and graphics do look like something that could have easily been pulled off in 2007 on the Xbox 360. However, I played on Nintendo Switch, so perhaps that had something to do with the less-than-impressive graphics. The game does look notably better on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, as I discovered by comparing gameplay. While lighting is dull and environments are bland throughout the Switch version, the more powerful consoles offer more dynamic lighting with livelier surrounding environments. Although the game didn’t look as great on the platform I played it on, I never felt like the average visuals disrupted my enjoyment.
When racing around the track gets tiring, players can head to the Thomasville Playground. This unique mode offers players a big sandbox to mess around in. Throughout the Playground, players can take on various challenges and find a few collectables. It’s like a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game but without the time limit. I felt like the Thomasville Playground was not only a great place to help me unlock more characters and customization options, but the ideal way for me to hone in on my skills and improve them with the various challenges. The Thomasville Playground adds a whole new layer to the already impressive amount of content packed in the game.
Overall Cars 3: Driven to Win is a fun racing game for all ages. Where typical movie tie-in games tend to fall flat, Drive to Win excels. With dozens of tracks, characters, and ways to play, there is enough here to keep players busy for a long time. While not the most impressive looking game of 2017, Driven to Win is a satisfying racing game set in a recognizable and lovable world. In a time when most Disney licensed games are either free-to-play mobile games, or serious AAA blockbusters, it’s nice to once again have something in the middle of the road. Cars 3: Driven to Win is an excellent game that proves Avalanche Software can still put out a great Disney licensed game in a post Disney Infinity world.
Cars 3: Driven to Win is available now for Switch, Wii U, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.