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Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.3    CPU: G4 @ 1200 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 500 MB    8x CD-ROM    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

Cars: The Videogame
September 11, 2006 | Bryan Clodfelter

“Ka-chow,” fine ladies and gentlemen, and to all of you, I wish a most sincere “ka-chow.”

During the last few years, a disturbing new category of games has been inching its way into the world of mainstream video gaming. Like leeches, certain game developers have managed to subsist simply by latching onto successful movie franchises and hastily cobbling together what experienced gamers refer to as “licensed games”—games which usually have little standalone value and rarely do credit the media that gave birth to them. Unfortunately, these “games” usually sell very well, not on their own merits, but by the power of name recognition. Thankfully, the team of THQ, Buena Vista, and Beenox have done a remarkable job of building a game, while imperfect, does an admirable job of holding true to the spirit of the Cars movie, and serves as an example for future projects of this sort.

Borrowing ideas from popular racing titles like Crazy Taxi and Need For Speed, Cars is a cartoonish-looking, sandbox-style racing game targeted to the six-and-up crowd who can’t get enough of the movie by the same name. This objective is not easy to achieve, judging by the dubious titles of yesteryear. Something about the idea of making a fun game, without patronizing or frustrating the younger generation is a surprisingly difficult task, but interestingly, Cars avoids both pitfalls—not only does Cars feature a boatload of fun racing action, but it does so in the context of a fun and captivating storyline that may even appeal to older teenagers and parents.

For those of you who missed Gaming Terminology 101, when someone refers to a “sandbox” game, they are referring to a type of game where players are dumped into a persistent environment—in this case, the sleepy town of Radiator Springs—and invited to explore and interact with the surroundings as he or she sees fit. Such is the basic premise of Cars, where players will spend their time gallivanting about with the characters (voiced by the original actors, nonetheless) that they were introduced to by the film. Progress in the game is motivated by a significant amount of storytelling, but driven by races and mini-games that are scattered throughout the town and its surrounding area. When a race or mini-game has been completed, players are awarded a certain number trophies (proportional to their accomplishment), which reveals further tasks and unlocks additional races, which in turn moves the story along. As you can imagine, this could be a daunting task for certain six-year-olds, so THQ wisely added a simplified story mode that makes it a bit easier for very young players to enjoy most of game without getting lost in about Radiator Springs too much.

One of the biggest problems that drivers face when piloting a vehicle on a computer is the difficulty in keeping a vehicle in check without buying specialized equipment. Precious few racing games successfully manage to adapt car steering to the blunt, all-or-nothing keys of a keyboard, but fortunately, Cars finds a pleasant balance of sensitivity that should keep even the more clumsy players out there in the center of the road rather than allowing them to careen out of control like a wayward missile (or an expert Carmageddon player). Part of that credit is due to the fact that the physics system is greatly simplified—players will never find themselves heavily penalized for running off the road, nor will AI ever get impossibly far ahead if they get stuck. Cars is not all about racing, however. As previously mentioned, there are mini-games scattered throughout the jovial town of Radiator Springs that are crucial to your progress through the game. These games add a great sense of variety to Cars, but tend to be hit-or-miss when it comes to their fun factor. Most mini-games, like Tractor Tipping (where players try to knock over tractors and avoid being pulverized by a gigantic combine), are a genuine hoot, but others (like Lizzie’s Postcard Scavenger Hunt) can be extremely boring. Thankfully, you can skip or avoid a few mini-games if you prefer and still finish the story.

Graphics and Sound
Cars is an attractive game, thanks to its bright colors and cartoonish flair. While the textures and models that comprise Radiator Springs look good at moderate-to-long distances, they tend to show their lack of detail when viewed up close (cutscenes tend to do this particularly well). While it’s impossible to voice any specific complaints about the graphical quality of the game, this uninspired level of beauty will certainly not win any awards.

Most licensed games based on Hollywood movies do not get the chance to use the original cast to voice their dialog, but fortunately, THQ managed to make it happen for Cars. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the dialog in Cars sounds great—however, there isn’t quite enough of it. Like so many previous racing games, you’ll probably hear 90% of the non-cutscene related material in the first ten minutes of the game, and can become wearisome after a while. As with the graphics, the sound is not spectacular, but gets the job done well enough.


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