Destructive racing taken to the extreme
Racing games and I rarely see eye to eye – I would happily forgo the engine-tinkering nuances of Gran Turismo for a nice spot of Wipeout , and even then, I tend to tire very quickly of even the most unusual track-based gaming. I have recently realised this is due to a couple of factors – I can’t motivate myself to play purely for better cars and licenses, and I like my gaming to have a story.
Luckily for me, then, the latest Motorstorm is a refreshingly different take on usual single player racing experiences (I’ll get onto the multiplayer in a bit). The basic idea is as follows: a large group of extreme sports nuts and their entourages have gotten together to race over three days in a city that’s literally falling apart. Using cartoony cutscenes, and some in-game radio announcements, a story is told in three parts, representing three different skill levels – rookie, professional, and veteran. This basically splits up the tracks and difficulty levels into three separate tales of racing goodness, which really worked well for me, keeping my interest levels high throughout the game.
The racing is the key aspect, however: each race sees you put into a wide variety of vehicles, such as quad bikes, dirt racers, muscle cars and trucks, with all the relative advantages and disadvantages for each. This categorising also adds a huge amount of replay – as in previous Motorstorm titles, all tracks have a variety of routes that suit different vehicles in a variety of ways, so learning a course on the bike is not great advantage when you come back to it with a truck. During the course of the campaign mode, courses are unlocked for challenge modes and also contain hidden cards to be found as well.
I don’t remember there even being a plot in most of the racers I have played in the last few years
However, we come to the Apocalypse part of the title: the nature of the city, and the races around it, means that most of the courses literally fall to bits as you race around them. A shortcut on lap one may be blocked by the second lap (although you’ll always see it happening), and new routes can also open up in previously closed areas. These events also seem to be somewhat unscripted, adding further unpredictability – often a quake on lap one the first time you race a track will happen in lap three the second time – or possibly not at all. Also, there are groups of people who try to stop you during a race, ranging from homeless locals to military groups trying to capture the city – one awesome sequence saw me racing between collapsing buildings as a helicopter fired rockets at my car. The scope of this is truly excellent – what I expected to be a gimmick really makes Motorstorm stand out, and can often make for many tracks to be genuinely replayable. MA certainly gives the player plenty of reasons to come back again and again.
Visually, Motorstorm is great too. Although everything has a subtle cartoony sheen to it (which is exaggerated for the cutscenes), the bulk of the game runs in realistic environments with some awesome destruction physics attached to them. It’s nicely balanced, however: you won’t get knocked off a bike by a stray brick, but if a building falls on you in any vehicle, you are out. Luckily, the game is quick to reset racers and get you back into the fray with a quick spot of boost – and managing your boost is key to winning races later on in the game. I got a brief look at the 3D mode too – all I can say is that I really does add a massive edge to the immersion of the title. Everything from dust clouds and dirt sprays, up to collapsing bridges and flying drivers projects brilliantly, and MA is a testament to where 3D gaming is heading.
Audio is good, if nothing standout – vehicles have a suitable amount of grunty sounds, and the voice acting is sufficiently hammy to carry the plot, all of which blends nicely with the generic soundtrack. The cutscenes tell a pretty fun story, though, even if a bit of a predictable one. But hey, I don’t remember there even being a plot in most of the racers I have played in the last few years.
Multiplayer is really good fun too. Offering a blend of local and online modes, MA multiplayer also steals a few ideas from recent FPS blockbusters, offering a ranking system that unlocks goodies as you play. Online mode was quite good fun (up to 16 players!), with the unpredictability of the tracks causing dynamic shifts in prowess during a game, as often a disaster would occur between player groups, meaning everyone got some help (and hinderance!) as they played. For me, though, the real joy was home play with a couple of mates: racing games (alongside any sports titles) really are the best for sofa battles, and MA really shines here. 2 player split screen battles are the way forward, alongside a co-op mode for the campaign, and as ever, nothing beats the screaming and shouting with your mates during a series of epic races. I loved it, and it’s become a bit of a Thursday tradition already….
Motorstorm Apocalypse adds a fresh twist to the arcade racing genre, one which was rapidly losing its edge to racing simulators. It won’t convert die-hard engine tinkerers, but should certainly attract a lot of casual boy racers with its great blend of vehicles and action – the fun of the destructive tracks and the sheer joy of the multiplayer really should push this title up a lot of gamers lists. I wouldn’t call it a must-buy title – it’s a little too niche – but would certainly recommend anyone who likes multiplayer gaming to at least give it a rent.
The Bad: Not a lot of choice in single player; totally unrealistic, with rubberbanding which will put off racing enthusiasts; generic DJ soundtrack