Pixar’s Cars movies are widely regarded as some of their weaker works, but they probably have the most straightforward path to gamification. Cars 3: Driven to Win is a simple arcade racer, featuring characters and locations from the films, and it’s almost exactly what you’d expect. However, the amount of variety and fun on offer comes as a pleasant surprise.
Driven to Win begins with a short tutorial to introduce its handling, which features some fun additions. The driving itself is fairly good, although possibly a little on the weighty side. Luckily, you’ll spend much of your time drifting, jumping, and flipping around the tracks instead. There is a clear emphasis on driving with style as much as skill; anything other than standard driving, such as driving backwards, on two wheels, or drifting earns boost. There are also blue strips on the track which award you with larger boost gains if you perform the right move as you drive over them. Unfortunately, unless you know the track, you can’t really tell which stunt it wants you to do until you’re practically on top of it.
Still, encouraging you to constantly pull off moves as you battle for first place makes for fun, and surprisingly challenging, racing. The finer controls, though fairly simple, do take a little bit of getting used to, but the fundamental driving is easy to grasp, so players of all skill levels will be able to join in. It’s from this base of stunt-heavy racing that the other modes branch, and they range from battle races to the Playground, a sandbox area.
Battle races introduce colourful weapons, such as machine guns and rockets, adding a layer of chaos to the already energetic racing. Stunt Showcase is all about the mid-air tricks, and time trials are self-explanatory. Takedown features the weapons from the battle races, but tasks you with destroying waves of small vehicles that materialise on the road ahead of you. The Playground mode is the most different. It drops you into a decent-sized sandbox in which you can practice your driving, pull off big jumps, or take on additional challenges. It’s nice to have this variety of ways to play, and all the modes are fun alternatives. There are even grand prix-style cups to compete in for each mode, giving you another reason to keep playing.
Tying all of these modes together is a progression system based on “skill checks”, i.e. mini objectives. For achieving certain goals, such as driving backwards for X number of seconds in a single race or drifting out of an air trick combo, you will slowly fill in a grid, which in turn unlocks more characters to play as – or boss-like ultimate challenges. It’s easy enough to complete all of these, and it’s quite satisfying when you do.
One aspect that may catch you off-guard is just how tough the AI can be in Driven to Win. We suspect this is mainly down to some pretty hefty rubber banding, as races are always fairly close, and first place isn’t immediately attainable in most cases.
The game isn’t much of a looker, but it’s perfectly serviceable for what it is. We doubt that kids will be concerned about some poor textures and occasional framerate dips when the game is bright, colourful, and features all their favourite Cars characters. Interestingly, you can even customise each car with various unlockable horns, lights, and boost flames, letting players put a slight spin on their favourite anthropomorphic vehicles.
When all is said and done, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a decent arcade racer that fans will enjoy. The racing is good fun once you get a handle on it, and we can see kids having a great time with the family in its four-player split screen. It’s difficult to recommend it to anyone else, however. While there are plenty of ways to play, there lacks a certain depth that will keep you entertained for more than a few hours. Having said that, the PS4 is sorely lacking in arcade racing titles, so this may be worth a look if you're in the market for some bright and breezy driving – and can stand the repetitive voice lines.