Late movie tie-ins are bound to raise suspicion from any gamer, especially from a film that’s clearly one of Pixar’s poorer efforts. Unless the UMD fires out of the PSP and blinds me, this should be a better experience than the film. Maybe. The retail version isn’t yet available in the shops (next year apparently) but the PSN version is available now, albeit at an optimistic price.
After expecting a few standard races around the film’s locations, I was surprised to see that they’ve changed the racing format a little. Instead of having full steering control from a rear camera angle, you’re locked into lanes. You swap between them by flicking the analogue stick left and right. The camera sweeps around throughout the race, attempting to provide the best cinematic angles.
The camera does look stylish, but ultimately it is the game’s downfall. Changing lanes is essential to dodge stationary objects that cause you to crash. The camera regularly fails to give you a decent view of the track ahead, making it almost impossible to dodge some objects. You might be expecting it second time around, but when the tracks get longer and sections start to look the same, your memory will lose interest. As a title aimed at young children, it’s bound to cause tantrums.
This is a shame because the basic lane-swapping concept doesn’t dumb-down the action as much as I originally imagined. If you were able to get a decent view of the track ahead, dodging objects would have been more fun and a decent challenge. The lane-changing can be clunky and disorientating though, especially when you’re pressing left and right when the camera has changed so it looks like you’re going up and down instead. Some objects can be jumped over, but you’re still stuck with the short notice of exploding into stuff.
In the story mode, races are supported by action-orientated modes with weapons. Battle Races litter the tracks with weapon pick-ups and another mode has you taking out as many enemy cars as possible in the given time. With a selection of rockets, guns, oil slicks and leeches, the weapons give the game a much-needed kick up the backside. You can also slam into enemies to get them to spin out by repeatedly trying to move into their lane. This provides a few fun scuffles as you try to get out of the way of imminent road works. The AI won’t give you too much hassle; although there’s a lot of rubber-banding going on, meaning you can never get a decent lead.
The races and Against the Clock events (reach checkpoints for time extensions) just seem to go on forever. There’s no fun in doing four laps by yourself and the time limits are never threatening enough to risk failing. By the time you get to five lap races you’ll be praying for the PSP’s battery to die.
An entertaining opening cutscene aside, the story is told via text on dull static screens. Plenty of cars from the movies are unlocked as you progress, but seeing as they all have inferior stats to Lightning McQueen, who is available from the start, they’re not worth bothering with.
If the camera had been tested by somebody that gave a damn, the game wouldn’t have been such a frustrating mess. The lane changing is a decent idea, but the tracks are too fraught with wrecking potential to warrant more than a couple of hour’s play.