Known for its rugged, off-road terrains, you can see why the franchise needed to bring an extra something to roughen up the urban setting of this newest entry. Unfortunately, that something is an earthquake that is devastating the city (based on San Francisco); it really doesn’t take much thought to understand why Sony were sensitive to releasing the game at this time. There’s a specific line of dialogue which sticks out in this regard: In one cut-scene, a couple of characters are racing RC cars around a toy city. Someone comes along and kicks the model buildings over, joking, “Oh no, there goes Tokyo.” Unfortunate, indeed.
This is the fourth entry in the series, and the third on the PS3. UK based developer Evolution Studios was snapped up by Sony following the release of the original MotorStorm in 2007, ensuring the franchise remained a PlayStation exclusive.
The single player campaign — the returning “Festival” mode — takes place over two days and can be played across three difficulty levels, each telling its own (rather shallow) story of one of three characters. Each of the characters must be played through in order, making the Festival mode a strictly linear affair. Despite the addition of a number of new vehicle types including Superbikes and Muscle Cars, you get no option of which vehicle to take to a race. However, the Wreckreation mode provides much of the flexibility absent from the main campaign including Time Trials, which can be attempted with any vehicle.
Make no mistake, the set-piece destruction sequences are awe-inspiring. Tower blocks crack and collapse onto the track, blocking off existing routes and creating new ones; spectacular explosions occur in panned slow-motion, momentarily claiming your attention before throwing you back in control of your vehicle; debris sweeps across the track, causing you to execute some stunning and satisfying maneuvers — or, as often as not, to crash out.
You will crash a lot in this game, and unfortunately the presentation of these slip-ups isn’t a patch on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. The audio synching is woeful; regardless of the situation, the same sound effect is used, and it is always played a second or two after you’re out of the race. Unfortunately, “out of the race” can just be “flying off a bridge into a body of water”, which can mean that the crunching-metal shattering-glass noise can often occur mid-air. Collisions aren’t too impressive-looking either, and fans of the genre will have come to expect better.
Vehicle noises are best described as loud and unsubtle; it’s no Gran Tourismo 5, but they do their job. Similarly, the soundtrack is the typical up-tempo drum ’n’ bass affair that is ever present in this kind of racer. It serves its purpose and fits the gameplay but doesn’t stand out.
Evolution Studios have taken an interesting approach to the Festival mode by adding cut-scenes between races in a vague attempt to shoehorn a plot into the proceedings. These are presented in a comic-book puppet theatre style that will most probably divide the fanbase. Characters are all hugely over-the-top, especially Big Dog, a 2D representation of pure testosterone. The stories of the three characters are thin to say the least, but they’re inoffensive enough and told in short bursts; and for those desperate to get back into the action, they’re easily skippable. Sadly, the lengthy loading times are not.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse also supports 3D. When active, everything is presented as such: the opening credits, the inter-game comic-book cut-scenes and, of course, the game itself. Vehicles feel solid; there is a tangible distance between the back, middle and front and there is a good sense of your ride flowing into the screen away from you. The scenery is reasonably solid as it goes whizzing by, and some of the movable graphics such as people, rocks and boxes do fly out towards your face; one of the best effects is water splashing onto the screen. However, there is very little sense of depth and, as a consequence of the hyper-real graphics, the 3D effect never becomes anything like an immersive experience; you are never in the game, as it were.
Vehicles handle well for the most part, there’s a good sense of weight and speed. Superbikes are particularly fun, although realists will criticise the forgiving nature of their cornering. At first, it’s possible to feel that crashes occur inconsistently, that on one turn you can brush a barrier and spin out, while on the next you can slam into a building and carry on. However, once you’ve put a little bit of time in, you’ll get a good sense for what you can and can’t get away with hitting, and how hard.
As mentioned, there are a variety of environmental hazards to look out for, as well as armed mercenaries who hang around for some reason tenuously associated with the plot. The upshot is that by the final lap, most courses won’t be the same as they were on the first lap. This significantly changes your approach to the track, it’s less about memorising corners and more about reacting to what’s in front of you. It’s one of the many ways in which MotorStorm: Apocalypse deviates from a traditional racer.
One of the more significant niggles arises because of the number of route options presented to you. Shortcuts (and longcuts) are found in abundance, and quite often, upon rejoining the primary path, you can find your position in the race has changed considerably. There’s something not quite as satisfying about gaining places without actively overtaking your opponents.
Any rubberbanding present is, for the most part, subtly implemented. It’s occasionally noticeable that vehicles ahead seem a little more prone to overheating and exploding than those behind you, but Evolution Studios pulls this off well and once the game starts to really challenge towards the end of the medium difficulty level, you most likely won’t be conscious of it. Certainly, the game never feels unfair.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse’s multiplayer boasts not only a 16 player online mode, but also a four player split-screen local option. Furthermore, any combination of those two are possible; so you could, for example, have three people playing on your console against a further 13 online. Borrowing heavily from Call of Duty et al, there’s a perks system that enables you to do things such as cool your boosts quicker or operate at maximum boost for longer, as well as an experience points-type system that allows for vehicle upgrades.
Smartly, XP are also awarded for accomplishments in-race, not just for winning, which should help keep less able players engaged. In addition, there is the option of betting you’ll place better than one of your opponents, so players who suspect they’re not in contention for first spot can still wager on their chances of beating a competitor of similar ability.
The linear nature of the Festival mode, with its steady learning curve, works well to encourage you to keep going and see all the content. On the easiest difficulty it won’t pose most players too much of a problem, and by the time the challenge is ramped up it’s hard to imagine people won’t be keen to see it through.
At its best, the multiplayer is a riot and the sense of COD-style progression should be enough to sustain something of a community, but as ever, it remains to be seen whether players will stick with it.
The focus of MotorStorm: Apocalypse is undeniably on the environment rather than the mechanics, and that’s a risky strategy. Across genres we see developers hell-bent on pushing the cinematic aspect of their titles at the expense of solid gameplay (Kane and Lynch 2 springs to mind), but this is one of the rare cases where it works well. MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a visually engaging, thrilling and hilariously overblown experience, and although it’s by no means perfect, it’s an accomplished title that will provide hours of fun. What it isn’t, in many ways, is a typical racing game.
You have to wonder, where next for MotorStorm? They’ve covered sand, snow, jungle and urban, like some kind of drunken misremembering of the zones of the Crystal Maze; but this franchise is an undervalued exclusive if ever there was one, and long may it continue.
- Sublimely realised environments
- Thrilling adrenaline-fuelled races
- Fully fleshed out multiplayer mode
- Excellent physics engine
- Poor crash animations and audio
- 3D is gimmicky and failed to fully immerse due to lack of distance into the frame
Motorstorm Apocalypse PS3 Review
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