SONY PSP REVIEW: CARS

Take Cars on the PSP for a nice, long spin. by Cass Andrusiak

July 13, 2006 - Cars for the PSP is a lot more involved than your average kart racer. I sense that you're probably expecting a kart racer and I can't blame you since so many movie-inspired games are of such poor quality, from the presentation to the lack of imagination, that it's almost acceptable. Cars could have easily taken the generic kart racing route and if it managed to add a few voiceovers and some funny cutscenes it would probably still get a passing grade. I'm proud to say the developers, Locomotive Games and Rainbow Studios, have really gone out of their way to give us something special. Forget the movie, Cars the videogame is good enough to stand on its own...four wheels.

Cars PSP screenshot

Cars for the PSP is more than just a simple racing game. While it may not have the freedom of exploration that the PS2 version has, it has a solid, arcade racing engine that is easy to access and fun to play. There is a surprising amount of depth to the controls and the good part is that there isn't many buttons to press or combinations to memorize. It's all about timing and intuition. It has a very satisfying and responsive feel to it that always manages to let you maintain control of things. But probably the most amazing aspect of this game is that it's even better than the PS2 console version. I'm not suggesting that this is the best game I've ever played but it's easily one of the top movie-inspired games I've ever played on a handheld.

Lightning McQueen and his other vehicular buddies are prepared to defend their turf from a gang of bad cars by challenging them to a series of races. The storyline doesn't closely follow the plot of the movie, it just uses it for points of reference. There are cutscenes that help tell the tale and provide us with updates on the racing front but the real focus of the game is on racing and not on plot development or the characters. There are more than two dozen races which can involve up to four cars. Boss races involve only you and the boss vehicle in a one-on-one, winner-take-all race. As you win races, you gain money which you can use to unlock various items and then move on to new tracks. It's a tired concept to be sure, but it just plays so well that it seems fresh when compared to other stale racers.

There are only a handful of control commands: acceleration; braking, and steering. By applying the brake and oversteering, you can cause the vehicle to powerslide around turns. The controls are very tight and responsive. The various tracks offer different obstacles and traps for you to dodge. Fortunately you can turn on a dime and avoid a lot of accidents, but since you can really wind these cars up, the faster you go the harder they will be to control, as far as reaction time is concerned. Things can get moving so fast that if you don't have a mental layout of the track in your head you'll be at a serious disadvantage. You can't always rely on the onscreen map because that will require taking your eyes off of the track. Things can go wrong in a split second so you want to be prepared for every eventuality and get ready to get out of the way.

Cars PSP screenshot

The cars display a realistic sense of physics, at least while you're controlling them. They have a good sense of weight to them which makes the powersliding smooth. It's such a great move that you'll want to use it all the time. It's only during some of the crash animations that things don't always look right. The cars flip, bounce and roll as though they are made out of aluminum. These animations are out of your hands and while they don't affect the gameplay per se, they mar an otherwise great presentation.

Speed arrows are the power-ups in the game that give cars the ability to increase their speed and power. By running over these speed arrows, you can boost your car's performance not only in terms of acceleration but you can also launch it into the air by performing jumps. You can really get some air on these jumps but occasionally you'll be limited by how high can go when you reach the invisible walls. You can also store these speed arrow boosts for use later in the race. It's a great option that gives you a little bit of strategy.

I'm confident that you'll be impressed with the graphics in Cars. They are very strong, colorful and well defined. Even at high speeds it's still relatively easy to make out most of the details of the track even though there is some motion blur. You will also notice that some of the darker shades tend to blur and obscure sections of the tracks. Otherwise these tracks are very well designed and offer some interesting challenges as well as some eye candy.

Cars PSP screenshot

All of the vehicles not only look good but have distinctive personalities. Although the game features voiceovers from the original cast members, there is not a lot of original dialog. You'll hear many key phrases repeated over and over. The sound effects are great but the music could stand to have a little more teeth to it. The tunes are definitely more Disney than Pixar. It sounds like someone convinced Elton John to try to rock again. Now that he's been contaminated by the Celine Dion stigma, he will never be able to rock again.

The racing gameplay is straightforward and although there are unlockables, there isn't enough to increase the replay value score. The wireless multi-player mode will be the game's only salvation in terms of replay value. It's definitely a good little mode but it requires multiple copies of game. Certainly not worth purchasing individual copies for, or even renting them for that matter. But if you know a few buddies that already have the game, you'd be missing out if you didn't try the multi-player mode.

Cars is definitely worth your time. Even if you didn't like the console version, you should appreciate just how refined the racing is in this version.

Features:

  • Story-based adventure that relives key moments of the movie
  • Burn rubber in over 30 races and mini-games
  • Explore the open-world of Radiator Springs
  • Speed to the finish line with over 10 playable characters
  • Make your friends eat your dust in multiplayer mode
  • Features all of the major voice talent from the movie

By Cass Andrusiak
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Cars (PSP)
4.7
Graphics
Very impressive. Some of the best looking graphics to ever grace the PSP. Definitely comparable to the PS2 verison.
4.8
Control
Cars is pure, arcade-style racing. It's simple, responsive, fun and offers a lot of variety with very few button commands.
2.6
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Could use more voice samples. The music is kind of lame but the sound effects are good.
2.8
Play Value
If you don't like racing, you'll never revisit this game again. Otherwise the multi-player mode might just keep you going for a while longer.
4.4
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
Cars PSP box art
System: PSP
Dev: Locomotive
Pub: THQ
Release: June 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Cass

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best