When it comes to the world of racing, you have the simulation fanatics, the burnout fiends, those with the need for speed. And then there are the MotorStormers. These mental thrill-seeking junkies were first spotted on the vertigo-inducing mountains of Monument Valley, and then running amok on the sun-kissed shores of a lush Pacific island. And now in their latest excursion, the crew travel to wholly new playground, a city on the verge of collapse. Earthquakes are the heralds of the coming apocalypse and for normal people that is a massive inconvenience but for the MotorStormers, the hair-brained idea to have them racing in, around, and through these disastrous events is an inspired one; to them, the end of the world couldn’t have come sooner. Join me as I suit up, strap in, and put foot in MotorStorm: Apocalypse. My race to survival continues after the jump.
Breaking new ground
MotorStorm: Apocalypse breaks ground in quite a few ways, and I’ll get into those during the course of this review but the very first thing that struck me is the obvious change of locale. The previous titles were all set in natural environments and Apocalypse takes a bold new path to a cityscape, for what the developers call “urban off-road” racing. Modeled loosely on California’s Bay Area, the urban area is called The City, and is rendered with an amazing amount of detail. It is most exhilarating to be racing through these environments amidst the cataclysmic events.
Buildings collapse, bridges twists dangerously in the winds, rifts open up to reveal underground railway routes, planes fall out the sky, storms deposit ships onto the track. This happens all around, in real-time, in glorious 1080p. From the rooftops of shaky skyscrapers, to the dangerous docklands, to the breezy boardwalks, Apocalypse sees you racing in ten different locales within the city. Thanks to the earthquakes, the terrain doesn’t stay the same for each lap. Tremors can cause building to give way and topple onto the road, which then gives way and drops you into a network of undergrounds tunnels. It makes for thrilling racing, and quick reactions are needed to navigate the new routes created by these destructive events. There was one particular section of a race where I found myself hurtling down an unstable suspension bridge and the situation reminded me of the real collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. Look out for it.
Like Killzone 3, Sony is using Apocalypse as a vehicle for its 3D technology. The game features full stereoscopic 3D TV support but that’s the extent of my knowledge on the matter as I do not have a 3D TV to test this. Sorry. Moving swiftly on…
The environment isn’t the only hazard that MotorStormers face; that would be far too easy. The city is also home to two different factions who have nothing better to do than hinder your progress. The first is a private military company tasked with creating order from chaos, but find more fun in flying around in Chinooks and firing off rockets as if they were cheap fireworks. The second group is a bunch of deranged inhabitants called the Crazies. They throw themselves onto your car, and some of the more industrious ones hurtle fiery oil tankers into the path of oncoming traffic. There was the one chap who had a bottle of alcohol in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other. He threw the booze at a racer and glugged down the Molotov cocktail. Silly man.
The rookie, the pro, the big dog
Fans of MotorStom will know the Festival format used in the previous games. Pacific Rift split up the races into different zones, and the choice of which race to compete in was an ad hoc thing. In Apocalypse, the developers have taken cues from various action-adventure and FPS titles and now the Festival runs like a linear, story-driven campaign. It focuses on three different racers – the Rookie, the Pro, and the Veteran – as they tackle the 48-hour period in which the Festival runs. The story for each character includes a prologue and epilogue, and stylized (somewhat garish) motion comics in-between all the races. I had expected the track to be loading in the background while the cutscene was running, but that is not the case. It takes a further 30 to 40 seconds after the ending of the cutscene before you can jump into the race. It’s not that big a deal, but one does tend to notice these things over the 40-odd races you take part in.
Each character represents a change in the difficulty level, but from my playthrough, it seems that Apocalypse may be the easiest in the MotorStorm series. Newcomers and casual games will appreciate the relatively easy learning curve, each race requires you to place above a set position to qualify for the next race. For more seasoned gamers, the thrill of finding alternate routes is ever-present and coming out in top spot unlocks the Hardcore set of events that will pit them against much meaner rivals. There are also cards available for collection in each race that provide tidbits of information about the racers and about the MotorStorm universe.
There is a sense of continuity Apocalypse, as the earthquakes leave more than just a cosmetic mark on the track of a particular race. The changes are seen through the entire course of the Festival.
13 ways to die
I was unaware of this but the Wikipedia page for MotorStorm indicates that the game holds a world record for the greatest variety of different vehicles in a racing game. And for Apocalypse, there is a selection of 13 different vehicle classes.
The usual suspects – the racing trucks, buggies, ATVs, rally cars, big rigs, and monster trucks – are there but now superbikes, choppers, superminis (hot hatchbacks), supercars, and muscle cars are added to the mix. These new additions are more troublesome to handle but they sure do go like the clappers.
Keeping with the “change is good” ethos, Apocalypse now allows you to customize your vehicles. It’s quite a fully-featured system that allows you to change vehicle parts such as wheels, bumpers, headlights, taillights, bonnets, mirrors, windows, and the rear wing to mention a few. There is a multitude of base colours and designs to choose from, various stickers to go slap-happy with – there are ten positions on the car that you can stick them on. With the personalization options, you can add race numbers (with a seemingly endless option of badges and fonts). You can even choose to add weathering and scratches to your vehicle. It’s a little overwhelming and if you’re as indecisive as I am, you’ll be happy to know that there is a handy “randomize” button to aid in the pimping process. The photo mode not only allows you to easily take photos of your vehicles, but also captures memorable bails and fails during the race. All of the images you seen in this review were taken using the photo mode.
It’s a party y’all, get perky
Up to this point, Apocalypse has broken ground with a new locale, embarked on the road of story-driven gameplay, and has introduced a good vehicle customization system. But wait, there’s more! The most profound improvement is in the multiplayer.
In Pacific Rift, the multiplayer was relatively simple – hop online, pick a vehicle, race, and gain some XP for your efforts. It may have sufficed at the time but is considered rudimentary by today’s standards. Apocalypse makes changes to its online component, Wreckreation, in an attempt to make the online racing far more of an enriching, personal experience. Yet again taking inspiration from FPS shooters, Apocalypse introduces chips (think of them as poker chips), the game’s currency. It is effectively the experience points you gain from competing in races. You win poker chips not only for placing in races but for fulfilling certain criteria such as wrecking people, drifting, catching the most air, for setting the fastest lap time. You even get chips for being a Sunday driver, someone that spends most of the time braking (that’d be me). The poker chips add up and result in you increasing in rank. And rising up the ranks unlocks car parts, different drivers, player logos, and perks.
Wreckreation mode also introduces betting and perks. Betting allows you to place a wager against another competitor before the race begins. Each player has their own chip rank I would assume based on rank, and if you beat your rival, you will win the bounty. If your rival beats you, you’ll be out pocket for that number of chips. The betting works wells and I think it certainly makes the racing more personal. Even though you might not know the person you’ve bet against, there is now a pressing reason for you to beat them.
Offline multiplayer is available in Apocalypse, in two-player or four-player splitscreen modes that require each of the offline racers to be signed in as a separate PS3 user. I would assume that is done to track each racer’s stats.
Them’s betting words
Alongside the betting system, Apocalypse debuts its perks system. Much like in popular FPS titles, perks work as modifiers and in Apocalypse, you can use them to give you more grip on the track, recover from wrecks quicker, and stay in boost for longer. Perks comes in three different categories: handling, boost, and combat; each of these categories contains seven perks. Six of these are unlocked by default, and the rest have to be earned. You can create customized loadouts containing different combinations of perks, and before the start of the race, you select one to use.
Like the standard races and eliminator, “betting and perks” is a mode on its own and I think it makes the online racing that much more interesting. I only managed to race with a few of the Evolution Studios developers but that was an immersive experience on its own. The game supports a maximum of 16 players and I can imagine that is going to be a raucous, explosive party. You can also set up a private game to race with online friends, selecting the track, race mode, and other settings. I was pleasantly surprised that I could gain chips and XP from it. You could never have done this in the previous versions.
When it comes to the online there are so many short term and long term goals that racers can achieve, and there needs to be a place where all that can be monitored and managed. My MotorStorm is that central hub.
From My MotorStorm, you can view the photos you have snapped, manage vehicle customization, and keep tabs on your online progress. You can track the racing, combat, vehicular, and track-related medals that you’ve gained and ones you still need to obtain. Medals are like badges of honours, and for the dedicated MotorStormer, there is certainly a generous number to earn, especially the Master Challenge medals that only become available after online rank #50. The Part challenges can be managed as well and these are important because completing these will unlock other vehicles in a certain class.
Because it was the first game I played on my Playstation 3, MotorStorm has a special place in my heart and I applaud Evolution Studios for managing to modernize MotorStorm while retaining the all the great content that made the very first game so special to play. The addition of a beautifully rendered urban landscape, a story-driven single player campaign, vehicle customization, and the top class online multiplayer come together to create arguably the most exhilarating, fully-featured off-road arcade racer on the market.
The relatively easy campaign is sure to given newcomers to the franchise get a gentle introduction to MotorStorm but fans of the series will appreciate the Hardcore special events and the surprisingly deep upgrade system. If you are even remotely a fan of the arcade racing genre, then Motorstorm: Apocalypse should stand out as a must own title for 2011.
Motorstorm: Apocalypse sees a European and South African release on March 18th. U.S. residents are in for a longer wait: April 12th is their release date.