Cars Race-O-Rama Review
You know, I was actually surprised that each of the first two Cars video games weren’t too terrible; in fact, Cars Mater-National was pretty darn solid, especially for the younger generation. However, Incinerator Games somehow managed to take a massive step backwards with Cars Race-O-Rama, where the physics are laughable, the visuals are lame, the gameplay is frustrating and repetitive, and the overall lack of attitude and atmosphere is really damaging to the fun factor. At first, it appears as if we have a decent racing title for the young’uns who love the movies, but it takes all of five minutes to realize that while we didn’t need a simulator, we certainly needed a racer that felt logical. Even the storyline flounders under the weight of the poor execution. Believe it or not, I was looking forward to taking a spin around a bunch of different racetracks with Lightning and I had anticipated a relatively entertaining experience. What I got, however, was just plain irritating and boring.
The graphics sport little in the way of good detail and despite a fairly steady frame rate, there’s nothing all that pleasing about the visual palette. I’m not sure why, but the developers decided to severely limit the exploration – a definite plus in previous titles – and simply take us from city to city, where you can only drive around the track and pick up a few bonuses. In this way, we’re left with little to see what we do see lacks a clarity and vividness that is most necessary for games of this nature. The films are always bright and cheery; why does this look so dull and lifeless? Character animations during cut-scenes are okay but nothing to get excited about, and we really needed more in the surrounding environment. Even the track design is as far from “inspired” as humanly possible and the drab, almost melancholy backdrops made me think the devs were suffering from depression during the creation of this game. We didn’t need Uncharted 2, but we did need a better effort.
The sound is marginally better due to the decent voiceovers and fitting music that fit in nicely with the racing action. It’s all about lighthearted fun with titles like this, and at least they tried to capture that tone with the sound. Even so, there are nowhere near enough unique soundtracks in the game and the voices heard during gameplay are far too erratic. You will often hear the same exclamation over the loudspeaker (and they often don’t even fit what’s happening on the track), and everything gets toned down when simply driving around searching for things to do. At that point, with the lackluster scenery and music and effects that have mostly died off, one simply wants to yawn wide and fall asleep. The dialogue isn’t great but it’s acceptable for the intended audience, and if they had only gives us more flavor with the soundtrack, this category could’ve made up for the graphical deficiencies. In the end, though, the technical aspects of Cars Race-O-Rama are dishearteningly mediocre.
Unlike the two previous Cars titles, this is more like a true-blue racer. You will have to hone your driving skills as you participate in a variety of different events, and these can range from individual drift and obstacle challenges to full-on races against vindictive opponents who have no qualms about racing dirty. This sounds like a good setting for a game but while the controls are relatively solid, the corresponding physics are extremely questionable. First of all, they put an emphasis on drifting, which falls flat on its face for two reasons: firstly, real racers don’t use exaggerated drifting in races and in my eyes, it’s teaching young kids that this is how professional racers drive and secondly, it’s almost useless. Most of the turns in the game don’t require drifting and even when you do utilize the option, there’s no such thing as a light or heavy drift. You can’t control the severity of the drift; it’s just like hitting the button will execute the exact same drift maneuver.
This is ridiculous in a number of ways, obviously. On top of this, you’ve got a fairly challenging group of opponents that are somehow invincible when it comes to swapping paint. Because the vehicles are characters and the premise involves a bunch of baddies who want to take control of the racing school, it’s no surprise that your opponents will try to take you out. This means they can easily put you into a wall if they’re feeling particularly mischievous, which would be okay…if you could retaliate. No matter how hard you try, most all dirty racers will somehow manage to keep their racing line regardless of how hard you hit them. Needless to say, this is unfair and annoying and I can see how it would be especially frustrating for the younger players. Basically, you just have to try and stay away from everyone during races, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if you were steering clear as a strategy. Instead, you’re only avoiding the other racers because they cheat. And that’s always wrong.
That being said, there’s no real trick to winning and for the most part, all the races tend to blend together. There are a few optional events in each city, and that can include slalom courses where you have to beat the record time and drift events where you have to set the highest point total possible. But again, these latter events only further prove just how futile the process of drifting is, as the only way to really hit the point totals is to constantly drift. That means just aimlessly and recklessly sliding around the track, even on straightaways. Silly. Yeah, you can move the analog sticks around to perform some tricks in mid-air but by the time I was experimenting with that, I had already lost interest. There are upgrades to nab but they’re almost entirely cosmetic and almost never have a direct impact on the actual racing experience. I suppose you might get involved in the storyline, but it’s almost too simple and trivial even for kids. After the fourth or fifth event, I just couldn’t locate much appeal.
Cars Race-O-Rama takes a good concept and fails to implement it properly. The idea comes up well short due to erratic and somewhat unreliable physics, an overly bland atmosphere, a sense of definite repetitiveness, and a lack of mechanical upgrades that could’ve made the experience richer. For the most part, all you’re doing is driving around a track that never really offers much of a challenge, battling against irritating opponents who can easily take advantage of you, and wondering, “is this all there is?” Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “yes,” so even if you’re a fan of the movies and of the past two games, you should pass on this one. There are just too few redeeming qualities for the price.
1/4/2010 Ben Dutka