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Cars: Mater-National
Score: 71%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: THQ
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Family/ Free-Roaming/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:
Automobiles go to an arena to watch other cars race. They eat, they sleep, they talk. I haven't been able to sleep soundly since Disney and Pixar's Cars hit theaters. Mostly because of Larry the Cable Guy, but that's another story. Now, the sequel to the popular racer Cars has hit shelves: Cars: Mater-National, which is essentially a copy-and-paste job from the last Cars game. Featuring the same levels with slightly improved graphics and a storyline with no connection to the original film, this feels more like a weak excuse for an expansion pack than it does an actual game.

The boringly bland and simple (and pay attention, I'll be using that word a lot) landscape of Radiator Springs has been captured in Mater-National straight from the movie, err, last game. All the same landmarks are there, in the same vibrant colors as the movie, but its nothing we haven't seen before. Because Radiator Springs is essentially nothing more than a desert, what more could be expected than a big level of repetitive nothingness? The other two open-world levels offer little more to appeal to the eye, but it is a wanted and needed change of scenery. At least the animations are strong; character's facial animations are smooth and match everything they say (corny and poorly written as they may be).

At least with THQ and Disney hooking up, we can expect some top-notch voicework, even though listening to Larry the Cable Guy is about as relaxing as getting my face sewn to a sofa cushion. Sadly, no Owen Wilson, though whoever does the voice for Lightning McQueen does a smash job, as does the Paul Newman sound-alike (I actually thought it was him until the credits ran). Also featured are Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, and even Heroes' Masi Oka as a Japanese import. The music, however, leaves much to be desired. The instrumental soundtrack has a migraine-inducing repetition, and combined with the absolute worst cover of Tom Cochrane's Life Is A Highway, its enough to make you go through the trouble of turning the music off in the Options Menu.

In Cars: Mater-National's Story Mode, you'll play as the world-famous Lightning McQueen, who has been challenged by famous racers from all over the world to compete for an international title. You'll start out in the hometown of Lightning's friend, Mater, which happens to be Radiator Springs. Each world is free-roaming, though this doesn't offer much, since there is little interactibility outside of the missions. Each world has a number of primary missions and a handful of mini-games to keep you occupied (without the mini-games, Story Mode could be completed in under three hours). The race courses are one of the few major differences from the first Cars game, with different routes and hazards. Each race leads up to a showdown with an international champion to whom you must prove your skills and worth.

The mini-games in Mater-National offer little creativity, two of which are straight out of the last game. Each type of mini-game has multiple levels, each with increasing difficulty. Basically, they offer nothing more than an escape from the monotony of the Story Mode.

The in-game cut scenes which are supposed to be used as segues from one mission/level to the next go on for entirely too long, and have jokes that not even my four year old nephew would find amusing (and he freakin' loves Cars). The angles during the cut scenes are simple and lack any kind of creativity, kind of like the rest of the game.

In Arcade Mode, you can select any race or mini-game you unlocked in Story Mode. Vs. Mode is the exact same, except you do it with a Player 2 plugged in. These will give you a chance to better your skills as a racer for Story Mode, so you're not constantly having to restart races and worrying about your score.

Cars: Mater-National has the standard three difficulty settings. Easy is entirely too easy, and in the harder setting, you'll be throwing your controller across the room because A.I. opponents are inhuman. At times when you think you've beaten them, they get bursts of speed from nowhere to move just out in front of you. Even the most seasoned gamer would have a tough time shouting obscenities at a character created for a children's movie. The same rule applies to the mini-games, on the hardest setting, it just doesn't feel worth it to go through with completing it. It feels like its hard just to be hard, not to actually offer a challenge to you.

On normal mode, the game is pretty balanced, you'll win, you'll lose, you'll get better. This is likely the only mode the game was meant to be played on. Opponent A.I. is about what you'd face when going up against the average gamer, and on it you'll beat the game and all of its side-quest mini-games in under five hours.

The toughest races are the ones where you compete against international players (these are essentially the boss matches). They're a bit faster, and slightly better behind the wheel (all drivers seem to not prefer shortcuts, they generally just take whatever route they're closest to). As the game progresses, the tracks get longer and bendier, with more hazards and better-hidden shortcuts. Also, with the apparent oversight of the inclusion of a map during races, you're never quite sure when a hairpin turn is coming up, because not all the big turns are labeled by shiny red arrows. On some tracks, the best thing to do is to simply follow an opponent to learn where the shortcuts are, and then either restart the map or trust your ability to return to first place.

Game Mechanics:
The controls in Cars: Mater-National are sloppy to say the least. Supposedly, pushing the (L1) button, which puts your car on two wheels, makes it easier to execute hairpin turns, but the exit point of the turn always seems to differ drastically, no matter when you release the button. The difference in traction between asphalt, dirt, and water also has little effect on your car. You can go nearly just as fast through a Lake Eerie sized puddle in the road as you can on the road itself. They physics of the cars doesn't feel spot-on at times either. Bumping into opponents on the track offers a pinball effect, sometimes you bump, sometimes you fly into the nearest guardrail.

Spread out around the free-roam levels are lightning bolts, which give you bonus points which can be used to unlock additional paint schemes for various characters, concept art, and unlockable playable characters in the Arcade and Vs. Modes. These seem like a pretty weak reward for going around and collecting the sometimes difficult to reach lightning bolts.

In the time it takes to load each level, you have more than enough time to make a sandwich, catch a matinée, and stop by mom's and give her a hug. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but, man, does this game have some long load times. I'll be nice and attribute it to the wonderful piece of technology that is the PS2 (which I sadly realized was five years old as the first one I owned died while playing this game). Second to that, it takes an equally long time to save, which it will have to do twice; once to save your story progress, the other to save your hall of fame score.

Basically, Mater-National is nothing more than a cash-in from its predecessor. It does not have enough energy or creativity to stand on its own as a solid sequel to a well made game. You'd think a copy-and-paste job would be good, considering the source material, but it just falls too short. Worth the rent if there's nothing else on the shelves, or if you really just love Larry the Cable Guy (and I mean, devotion, here).

-Crazy Kangaroo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Josh Meeks

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