Toy Story 3 Review (PC)

So the film was great, much to the relief of us pessimistic types; but perhaps even better news is that the Toy Story 3 videogame isn't half bad either. For the most part eschewing the standard money-maker action template and managing to capitalise on elements that make the franchise so beloved in the first place, developer Avalanche has crafted an experience that both kids and older fans will enjoy, despite the relatively short length and paucity of narrative content on offer. To be fair, you won't necessarily notice all of its good qualities after a rather tepid opening half hour, but it takes little time for Pixar's interactive universe to open up its real charms.

Bringing the full cast to life amidst the fictional imaginings of Andy's adventures, Toy Story 3 begins in similar manner to the film as you take control of Woody during his bid to halt a train full of orphans. Racing through canyons at dizzying pace and leaping from one carriage to the next, this linear set-piece controls in somewhat touchy fashion but lays down the template for story sequences to come. It's a sweeping mix of jumping, shooting (plastic balls, naturally) and light puzzling that's over before it really begins, and rarely raises the bar above an expected average. Checkpoints are frequent, loading times a little too long, the frame rate occasionally falls through the floor, and it's all a little too generic for comfort; even if it is clearly enthusiastic about its subject matter.

The whole gang is here

Thankfully the entire game isn't a procession of similar sequences, and although the rest of the story levels do gain momentum after a rocky beginning, they mostly fall by the wayside as the western hub world from Woody's Roundup becomes a main focus. This free-roaming environment is where Toy Story 3 excels itself, and it's where Avalanche displays a masterful understanding of what makes the franchise tick: namely, playtime.

Woody's dusty paradise is home to all manner of characters seeking help in their daily tasks, and you're free to roam around and interact with whomever you choose. Stinky Pete gives you to mine gold coins, cows need rounding up, criminals need to be caught and thrown in jail, Army Men require launching into missions, Bullseye needs racing, Mayor Hamm needs to win an election; the list goes on. It's one part compressed fuzzy-wuzzy GTA and one part WoW, and even goes as far as including a quest log in case any of the numerous distractions force you to forget exactly what you were doing. Although a large yellow GPS arrow constantly marks your next objective, on most trips you'll end up stopping numerous times just to check out whatever catches your eye; and sometimes that's literally in the case of the aliens.

Although the 'missions' themselves take good advantage of fairly solid platforming controls, their rewards are what really motivates. Coins earned from completion (and about a billion collectible toy capsules dotted around) allow you to purchase new items, characters, buildings, outfits, vehicles, trinkets and all manner of other junk to customise your landscape; and after a couple of hours collecting and injecting Disney crossover content, Woody's rocky haven is almost unrecognisable from the barren orange dustbowl it begins as.

Cutscenes are vibrant and entertaining

Stretching that playground motif even further, most of the items you place into your world can then be customised to an incessantly cute degree. Purchasing any of the buildings allows them to be placed wherever you like, painted in various colours and patterns, and then they open up their wares for even further tinkering. The barber shop allows you to place silly hair on any of the roaming characters, the tailor performs a similar task for clothing, and each of the new locales unlocks further missions and rewards. It's similar to the recently-released LEGO Harry Potter in that respect, as once you reach a certain stage in plundering for fresh interactivity, the ludicrous spectacle of your customised town is reward unto itself, and feels like it's very much uniquely your own.

Of course, if you're a killjoy and break down all those constituent parts of Toy Story 3, they don't really add up to anything that breaks any particular mould in terms of children's entertainment or gaming in general. Everything is competently implemented without excelling in any individual direction, but the combination and sheer variety of content and fan service has to be commended, and for once it's nice to play through a kids game that doesn't just shoehorn the cinematic action sequences into an average procession of linear levels. It's almost a shame that stuff is in the background here, but while the vast and colourful sandbox keeps grabbing your attention, none of that matters.

Best Game Moment:  Creating a colourful gang of gansta aliens