Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 05/10/07 | Genre: Driving
When David Jaffe made it clear that he was done directing huge epic games, many people called bluff…that was until Calling All Cars was announced for the PSN as his next project. Helping to prove that the downloadable game space is the next big thing, Sony Santa Monica and Incognito, two big time Sony 1st party developers, have developed an excellent multi-player experience, and one of the top downloadable titles available.
Calling All Cars, appealing to both hardcore and casual audiences, is an easy pick up and play game with a simple and familiar objective, be the person to score the most points. Through a bird’s eye view, micro machines style, you control your vehicle and compete against 1-3 other people (4 players max) to be the person to score the most points by catching a criminal and driving him through a score point, 1 criminal at a time. You can score anything from 1-4 points, depending on how tough it is to get to that particular score point.
For example, one worth 2 points may require you to drive over a short ramp at the right speed to make it through a score point window. While one worth 4 points will require you to drive under a helicopter for a few seconds all the while avoiding attacks from your opponents. To attack an opponent with the criminal and steal it off him, you can ram into him or use 1 of three weapons (rocket, magnet, or mallet) that you pick up around the map, each with a varying range of attack. Luckily, in addition to a boost that refills slowly but automatically after every use, you also have a jump button that will help you evade attacks.
The game has a unique and visually appealing style with each of the 4 maps offering something different in terms of gameplay and look. City, the most well-rounded and largest map of the bunch revolves around a police station which consists of 3 different score points (valued at 1-3 points) with the occasional helicopter and paddy wagon making an appearance. The other three maps consist of different themes like a train yard (with trains obviously driving through it), an snow level complete with a freezing and unfreezing jail and paddy wagon, and a suburbs map where the only way to score is through a helicopter or paddy wagon.
Online and split-screen multiplayer is obviously the main draw and I’m happy to report that it’s incredibly balanced. You can play 2-4 player split-screen, and even 2 player split-screen online, which I believe is a first for a downloadable title. Thankfully a great lobby system and voice chat is both included for online play, enhancing the experience immensely (though sadly there is no friend’s list). And with a game that is all about close calls, there is nothing more satisfying than stealing a criminal off an opponent just as he is about to go for a 3 pointer, and then scoring it yourself to win the game in the last second and having a good laugh and shouting fest over the microphone. If you can manage to play without breaking a smile then seek a mortician as your soul has probably checked out.
There are some minor quibbles though. If you want to unlock new cars (bragging rights purposes only as they all handle the same) then you’ll have to play single player. While they tried making it interesting by having different objectives to unlock most cars (ie: win on Alpine by only scoring on the 3 point score point) it seems a little silly to force you to play single player in a primarily multi-player experience. It would have made more sense to allow players to unlock cars through something they accomplished in multiplayer as well, in an either or type of affair.
Visually, Calling All Cars is probably the best looking downloadable title out there. With a unique cell-shaded style, destructible environments, and all running at 1080p and 60fps, it’s very impressive for a $10 downloadable game. No expense was spared on the audio either. A unique soundtrack fitting for a Warner Brothers cartoon, complete with sound effects that fit right in, brings out the Saturday morning vibe that complements the visuals perfectly. Despite a few minor glitches I encountered (which will hopefully be addressed in a patch) the technical aspects are pretty close to perfect.
The transition that David Jaffe and the team made into the downloadable games universe couldn’t have gone much smoother. If you are looking for a great multi-player game that is easy to get into and fun in short bursts, then Calling All Cars is exactly what you’re looking for. And for $10 the leap of faith isn’t that large so even if you do happen to lack a soul I’m sure you’ll have no problem recouping your losses through the church collection plate.