Exactly the mediocre cash-in that the Pixar film-series-cum-toy-commercial warrants, Cars 3: Driven to Win loosely adapts the plot of Cars 3, following Lightning McQueen and his buddies as they race across the globe to secure a pointless championship against rival Jackson Storm. Favoring the arcade-style shenanigans of Mario Kart over more serious and refined racing games like Gran Turismo and Forza, Driven to Win features loose driving controls reminiscent of Avalanche Software’s previous Disney Infinity efforts—where some allowances had to be made in order for some of these same Cars characters to be playable with arcade-racing controls alongside other Disney characters that were playable with standard 3D-platforming controls—and a grand “variety” constituting races with weapons, and races without weapons.
Each of the tracks here is a mess of shortcuts and obstacles stacked on top of each other, with little in the way of logic or clear direction as to where you can or cannot go. A random and obscured ramp on an airfield allows players to jump onto the airport roof and skip entire sections of the racetrack, which might be considered an advantageous way of besting your competitors if not for the game’s obnoxiously poor deployment of AI rubber banding. It’s not just that enemies will illogically catch up with you despite your heavy lead, but there are times in which other racers will simply teleport in front of you.
Such problems are compounded by the fact that the game’s difficulty is frequently much too intense for its young target audience, especially in the “boss” races that bookend what passes for a campaign, where a single misstep or surprise shot from a weapon at any point can force a restart. Any race in Driven to Win is a frenzy of action, wherein cars smash against each other and do tricks and take to shortcuts that look functionally and physically impossible. The game is the sort of mess where your ability won’t guarantee your success. The addition of weapons like missiles and landmines adds to the frustration, especially on harder difficulty levels where opponents have at their disposal a seemingly endless supply of projectiles to slow or halt your progress; think of an endless stream of dirt-bag blue shells from Mario Kart bombarding you just as you’re about to cross the finish line.
Driven to Win would be entirely forgettable if not for the standout Takedown mode, wherein players are invited to destroy as many unnamed opponents as possible across a timed race. With the focus now on destroying cars en masse, rather than racing them, the game’s frenzied mechanics come to feel almost logical. It’s some kind of thrill to mow down a row of small (infant?) vehicles with missiles, then blow up their larger tanker escort while dodging gunfire along a beach. This mode brings to the forefront what’s arguably the single solitary interesting thing about the Cars franchise: the fact that each of the many on-screen automobile accidents, such as the career-ending 1954 crash in the original Cars and the violent rollover that opens Cars 3, actually depicts an apparently “living” character being smashed to pieces. Do these characters feel pain? Especially when what appears to be their limbs, as anthropomorphized automobiles, are torn from their bodies?
These are hardly questions that Driven to Drive is alacritous to answer, but the indulgence of such violent mayhem adds a subversive element to what would otherwise be another brick in the wall of a dead-eyed franchise, one that felt instantly rote with the release of the first Cars. From this perspective, the Takedown mode feels like exploitation, the video-game equivalent of tying fireworks to G.I. Joes. At least for parents who’ve had to subject themselves to one too many focus-tested-to-death films-as-toy-advertisements, the game is sure to represent a kind of euphoric, lizard-brained blast. Everything else in the game, though, is as bland as the film series.