After smashing vehicles and racers to bits across deserts, tropical islands and Arctic tundras, where else in the world is there left to race for MotorStorm? How about the end of it? Or more specifically a city that is absolutely not (it is) San Francisco, during a series of earthquakes and storms.
The setting might be a little close to the bone in regards to the recent tragedies in Japan, but in fairness the game was almost shipping when that happened and Sony sensibly decided to delay the release.
MotorStorm has always had a bit of a reputation for not taking any prisoners, being a bit mental and even a bit of a douche. Well it’s still crazy but in all honesty, it’s probably the most playable and forgiving title in the series. This is a good thing.
So what’s it like driving a race through the Apocalypse? Harrowing to say the least. Most people would be trying to get the hell out of there but your crazy lot would much prefer to do three laps around it first, with each lap escalating the action and ripping apart the track to never let you settle into a comfort groove.
Expect to go through suburbs, financial districts, beaches, boardwalks, docks, freeways and right through the middle of a series of skyscrapers, hundreds of feet up in the air. There are 33 tracks in the game with very little recycling or reverse-versions appearing. Not every track has cinematic set-pieces but I’d be hard-pressed to pick any I could honestly call ‘dull.’
The single-player campaign is made up of three chapters, Rookie, Pro and Veteran. UsuallyMotorStorm just has the one difficulty of “Eat the shit off my tires maggot!” But as the chapter titles suggest, the difficulty is on a much friendlier curve. Actually I’d still say even Veteran isn’t as harsh as the previous PS3 titles. Some of us might find that a good thing while the hardcore MotorStormers might feel they’ve been betrayed.
On the other hand, for every first place you get in these events, you’ll unlock the hardcore challenge for that track which is essentially a time-trial with other racers on the track, getting in your way as you try and finish within the very tight deadline.
The usual vehicles are here, with sports, rally, buggy, mudpluggers, monster trucks, big rigs, superminis, ATVs, trial bikes, superbikes and chopper motorcycles all vying for the lead. Unusually for the series, you don’t have a choice of what vehicle to use in a campaign event, you must use what you’re given. On the plus side this means you won’t make life overly difficult for yourself by selecting the wrong vehicle for the track at hand, but some players my disapprove of the lack of choice on offer.
There’s a story to the campaign but I should warn you, the whole thing is a rotten mess. It’s told via some of the ugliest ‘motion comic’ scenes ever drawn, supported by terrible plots with awful dialogue like: “Dice can’t just die, he’s the luckiest man alive.” I just can’t see why nobody at the studio was brave enough to say it was looking garbage and it should be scrapped. You know who you are.
Never mind though, it doesn’t really get in the way of the gameplay, which will rock your face off. The tracks themselves undergo numerous changes throughout a race sometimes the sudden way the track tears itself apart or the way a building comes thundering towards you, can almost seem unfair as you’ve no chance of dodging it in time if you didn’t know it was coming. You’re just as likely to be wowed or pissed off with every set-piece. There’s no denying it’s all very impressive though.
The earthquakes create impromptu ramps, freeways will crumble downwards, skyscrapers will fall out of the sky creating new roads for you, a tornado will hurl an oil tanker into your path while the lightning storm will unleash a rampaging ferris wheel for you to dodge. Even heading to the finish line can unleash hidden dangers such as exploding manholes like hell-fuelled land-mines. Sometimes the dust thrown up from an explosion will blind you as you hurtle through it praying you’ll make it out the other side. It’s just a constant rush. You’re competing against the track itself more than ever before, you almost forget that you’re actually in a race.
To win races you’re going to have to boost as much as possible. You can still explode if you over do it, but riding through water, rain or laying off the gas as you fly off a ramp will help to cool your turbos down quicker with the air. The air-cooling is a new addition and fits in beautifully.
There are a few problem areas that will cause frustration and they’re familiar ones too. Night races or dark underground areas are way too dark to navigate. The crashing can be a little inconsistent, such as suddenly unbreakable poles in the ground that will tear you in half. Sometimes the slightest touch of a solid edge will smash you to bits, other times you’ll get away scot-free. The ‘reset to track’ prompt often takes too long to appear, especially when you’re sliding along on your side. The vehicles themselves aren’t very stable at all, it’s like all their suspension settings are too stiff for the terrain as they constantly bounce around, desperately trying to roll over.
Usually, crashing would mean losing several places. Bizarrely though you’ll sometimes gain a few. Seeing as I’ve been getting f**ked over by MotorStorm for years, I’m happy to let this go. You’ll be crashing more than in the previous games, so it’s more forgiveable.
Unfortunately this also works for your opponents. Just because you overtake a flaming wreck cartwheeling up the side a building, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to move up a place, as they’ll often respawn a head of you. This happens a lot when playing online, so be prepared.
You’ve probably already been comparing the game to Split/Second. You don’t have any direct control over these earth-shaking events though, they’ll just happen naturally as the race progresses. I’d say Apocalypse beats it in both the destruction and playability stakes though.
Graphically, the game impresses with large-scale set-pieces, but not in the finer detail. Admittedly this is largely due to the urban setting. There’s lots of dull concrete, rusty metal and vague piles of rubble, which compared to the tropical islands and volcanoes of MotorStorm: Pacific Rift are terribly bland to look at.
The sound has taken a wrong turn too, gone are the recognisable tunes, instead there are lots of in-house instrumental dance and orchestral tracks. None of them really get your adrenaline pumping like the older games. I feel like a fool for ever moaning about how Pendulum seemed to be in every racing game on the shelf at one point. Be careful what you wish for indeed.
If you were wondering where the ridiculously harsh opponents have gone from the game you’ll be glad to know your fellow man is still just as much of a sneaky bastard as ever. Online multiplayer races or eliminator events support 16 players in impressively smooth tussles. You can also play four player split-screen online or offline. Seeing this game running split four ways is a technical marvel.
The environmental carnage has made it into the online game too. Depending on your track-position though, you might not get the best view as these events can only happen once. Being in the leading pack is a most dangerous place to be as they’ll get hit with most of mother nature’s worst. At least you can pick any vehicle type you want in these events.
To make the racing more interesting you can bet on finishing ahead of individual players to add a bit of gambling excitement. If someone bets on you and you beat them, you’ll get some bonus chips, even if you haven’t made a bet yourself.
As you level up, by earning/winning chips and completing tasks you’ll unlock extra vehicles for each class, mod parts and new perks. Yes, perks are the buzzword of choice if you want people to play your game online and MotorStorm is no different.
You can have three of them equipped at once, one in each category for handling, boost and combat. These can enable better grip, faster respawning, improved acceleration, longer boosting, armour and so on. With 21 of them to unlock, there’s plenty to work towards. Unfortunately if you play anyone ranked in the late twenties, there’s a good chance they’re using all the best ones, making it really difficult to compete. There are already loads of players at level 48, so make sure you place your bets against fellow newbies for now.
- Unbelievable scenes smashing down around you
- Single-player game is much more accessible than previous games
- Online action is smooth and retains the environmental mayhem
- Awful story and motion comic scenes
- Music is uninspiring
- Has the racing become secondary to surviving the track?
The Short Version: The single-player game has been streamlined but makes up for it with more forgiving AI and some true blockbuster moments as we see some of the best destruction, not just in racing, but in gaming itself. The online perks and gambling setup should help to add longevity too.