It's always nice to see a story have a happy ending - especially when it all looked like it was going to go so horribly wrong. It was just over a year ago that Disney announced they were unceremoniously pulling the plug on their popular toys-to-life game, Disney Infinity, throwing the 300 or so employees at Avalanche into a world of chaos, and one that was far from their fault. However, through some happy twist of fate, some six months later Warner Bros announced they were going to buy up the studio, with the intention of breathing a new lease of life back into the team, getting them back to work on Disney Pixar games, only this time, without the constraints of a toys-to-life game. Within a few months, Cars 3 was born - and it's a real tour de force.
Based loosely on the recently released film of the same name, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a racing game with a difference. Dripping in a polish and sheen that was so sorely lacking from Disney Infinity, Cars 3 lets you take the wheel of over a dozen of your favourite characters from the film, from Lightning McQueen himself to Mater and even little Guido the forklift truck, along with new arrivals like the slightly terrifying school bus Miss Fritter, as you take to the asphalt and dirt tracks across a variety of different racing themed modes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is that the entire game is playable in split-screen - and not just two player split-screen, but four player. No matter what mode you're playing in, or what course you're racing on, every last bit of the game is playable with another player - and that's something that hasn't been shouted about anywhere near enough.
While we're a little bit disappointed that there's no story mode here (or any clips from the film - to us, it's not a proper film tie-in without plenty of film clips), there's a heck of a lot stuff to get stuck into here nonetheless. At its most basic level, there are four different types of events to partake in - standard races, battle races, stunt showcases, and takedowns. While standard races and battle races (standard races with weapons) are fairly explanatory, the latter two are a little more unique. Takedown events see you chasing a lorry that spawns waves after waves of karts on the track, leaving you to destroy as many as many as possible to earn points, while stunt showcases are high score challenges, as you try to take every jump, leap and ramp you can find on the track, pulling off as many moves as you possibly can to try and earn more points than the other racers.
In place of a story mode, Cars 3 has what it calls the "Hall of Fame" - something which is technically more of a grid of fame, and which gives you plenty of reason to keep coming back. Essentially like Disney Infinity's Feats, or Smash Bros' challenge wall, the Hall of Fame is a collection of 136 challenges for you to complete (because round numbers are for wusses) across all aspects of the game. Whether it's asking you to cross the line in the top three of a race while driving backwards; maintain 1st place for an entire lap of any race; or strike 10 opponents with rockets in any single event, this is a really neat idea that means there's always something new to work towards, no matter which mode you're playing. The more awards you unlock, the more you'll level up, which in turn unlocks new racers, while playing in each mode individually will unlock new tracks.
One of the more unusual aspects of Cars 3 is its stunt driving. No matter which kind of race you're doing, (or how well you're doing) there's always time for a little showboating, and in Cars 3, that's all handled on the right analogue stick. Flicking it left and right will let you side swipe other racers (often knocking them totally off course if they're mid trick), while pushing it up lets you drive backwards, and down gets your car to flip up on two wheels. Not only does this charge your boost meter, but performing the right trick across an entire boost pad section will earn you a bonus boost too. Fill the whole boost meter, and double pressing Square (on PS4) will let you go "in the zone", which not only gives you a boost, and not only makes you invulnerable, but also sends anyone you touch flying - literally.
Of course, if you're familiar with Disney Infinity, then the idea of an entire game being based on the Disney Infinity driving engine may understandably have you worried - if anything, control wise, the driving sections were some of the worst parts of the game (at least until they were overhauled for Disney Infinity 3). Having seemingly stripped the game down to the drawing board, Cars 3 may use some of the same code as Disney Infinity, but it certainly isn't noticeable. Instead, the cars here handle exactly as you'd imagine they would, with Lightning McQueen being a nippy, yet able racer, while poor old Guido really suffers from his mere three wheels (although that does make him a great foil if you're playing with someone who's a lot better)
There's some really nice, and really unusual features here too. Outside of the races, there's actually an "open world" style hub - the Thomasville Playground - which is not only packed with random activities (like crate destruction challenges), but also has ten hidden Mack hats - collecting them all will let you race as the truck himself. Another great touch, particularly with the four player split-screen play, are the co-op cups, which let you and your friends team up to take on a group of computer controlled racers over a series of races, with the best placed team overall winning the cup (of course, as with everything else in Cars 3, you can play this on your own too if you'd like.
In terms of downers, there's really not too much about Cars 3. The game did freeze on us at one point, requiring a PS4 reset, and perhaps the graphics aren't quite as flash as you might hope in places - but the biggest issue with Cars 3 is one of difficulty. Even on easy, you'll find you never end up miles in front, while on medium, your foes are a shortcut taking, power up using, boost stealing bunch of ne'erdowells. While you'd expect that on a game aimed at kids, you'd be able to win every race with ease on the lowest difficulties, you'll still find the computer opponents putting up a challenge - particularly on the stunt mode, where computer players seem to be able to rack up insanely high scores without too much in the way of effort.
Still, while we would have appreciated a few film clips to seal the deal, there's so much to like about Cars 3, and if you're looking for a game that'll get the whole family involved - or just a great game to enjoy with your significant other - Cars 3: Driven to Win is the perfect summer foil. Proving that Avalanche Software still have the magic they captured in a bottle when they made the Toy Story 3 game, this is a true return to form that deserves to do really well - even if in the UK, its sales performance may be somewhat hampered by the fact that physical copies of the game, across all formats, are exclusive to Argos. With film games relying on passing traffic and pester power to sell, Warner's... unusual decision will mean a lot of families that would otherwise love Cars 3 may simply end up not really knowing it even exists. But now you've read this, you're in the know. Don't miss out - this is a game you'll love.