A movie tie-in game is a dime a dozen and rarely more than a quick cash-in. Developers tasked with making a movie tie-in nonetheless have an opportunity to make an interesting game. Avalanche Software has done this with Cars 3: Driven to Win to middling success.
Most movie-based games retell the movie’s plot taking only minor creative liberties, but Cars 3: Driven to Win takes place after the movie’s conclusion. The game's plot is simple: racecar Lightning McQueen wants to prove that he’s still “got it” and work his way towards racing Jackson Storm. The story never develops beyond this premise, but this isn’t an issue as it gets you into the world of Cars with a simple introduction including a race with legends of the Cars world.
You only need to play as Lightning McQueen for the opening race to set up the story. The rest of the game is played through whichever character you wish to be. Even in minor moments of “plot” development where a key opponent outright states that they challenge Lightning you still choose who you want to play as. It’s nice to freely choose your preferred character, though it ultimately does not matter.
Cars 3 features twenty playable characters, most of whom are unlocked as you progress through the game. These include fan favorite characters like Lightning McQueen (of course), Mater, Mack, Sally, and even Guido with other Cars 3 specific characters or fellow racers from the greater Cars world. This is where we hit a roadblock with Cars 3: there is no difference between characters. This makes the game feel shallow as you would think that characters should offer personal qualities that make them ideal for different scenarios versus other characters
It’s understandable why Avalanche Software chose to develop the game this way: players won’t fight over which character is statistically better and it keeps the game balanced. But it does devalue characters like Lightning McQueen with the racing legends who look like they are no better than a forklift like Guido. Each car having unique statistics is a racing basic which would have added a lot more to this game.
Putting aside this concern Cars 3: Driven To Win is an inoffensive entry into the Cars franchise. It does not take risks trying to change what the movie and the franchise is about but instead is a simple racing game with all the Cars bells and whistles.
Cars 3: Driven To Win, at its core, is exactly what you expect: a “by the numbers” racing game where you aim for supremacy over your opponents. You race across multiple courses inspired by areas seen in the film with creative liberties taken to create them for the game. Each track features multiple paths with ways to get ahead and build up your turbo meter through drifting or performing tricks. Commonly there are points where the game rewards you for performing a specific action such as a drift with bonus points for your turbo.
There are different modes to add variety, though each mode utilizes the same tracks. Take, for instance, "battle race.” In this mode you play out a basic race with weapons laid throughout the track. This mode is a lot more enjoyable than standard races because of the level of randomness. You never know when you are going to get hit and be sent from a great lead to a great trail behind the crowd.
The third game mode is “best lap challenge”. In this mode you race through a course alone on a time trial for five laps to attempt to beat the best lap time. There are plenty of opportunities to build up your turbo meter to shave off critical time by boosting through critical junctions. You need to learn when to use your boost to beat the best time.
There is also “takedown mode.” In this you choose from the courses that you are likely familiar with and collect weapons to take down waves of enemy cars. The goal is to take down the waves until you hit a point goal and achieve victory.
Finally there is the “stunt showcase.” This is a simple mode where you face other characters and utilize jump ramps and floating balloons to get the most points. This mode was by far the least enjoyable as you have no chance to win if you don’t lead the pack right from the beginning.
Each game mode has achievements. Take for instance doing the series iconic backwards driving (a popular ability of Maters from the first film) for a full lap, or driving on two wheels across a key section. Many of these achievements are unlocked without even trying as you get them for completing rote tasks, but the rewards you earn are appealing.
Some of these rewards come from the story progression tasks which are unlocked after completing so many objectives. There are also additional characters which are mostly characters from the Cars 3 movie. The most enjoyable unlockables comes from some of the reward-specific courses which provide you with tracks from the Cars 2 game.
Cars 3 is not the best of its kind. Each of the game modes have been done better in other racing games. Still, playing a driving game based within the Cars universe does have some charm. Cars 3: Driven to Win is never special but is a harmless movie tie-in game that is great for an occasional jaunt into the Cars universe. There is nothing that screams “play this game” but that is okay as Cars 3 gives fans of the franchise exactly what they should want without going over the top.