The game’s environmental deformation plays one massive part in how races play out
peej about Motorstorm Apocalypse
Somewhere out there on the fringe of society exists a hardcore bunch of petrolheads who live to fight against the nine to five. Bolting together vehicles from scrap that out-perform the latest shiny carbon-fibre monstrosities coming from the chic car design houses of Italy and Germany, this random collection of oddballs live for one thing and one thing only. Speed.
Annually, the Motorstorm festival sees this eclectic collection of drivers band together to find the most extreme environments to race in. Up till now they’ve hit the desert, they’ve conquered the jungle, they’ve even conquered the harsh and icy environments of the north pole but so far they’ve stayed away from civilisation as much as possible.
Until civilisation falls.
A freak tectonic event sees a vast cityscape evacuated in an emergency. Though a few stragglers remain, the stricken urban sprawl is there for the taking – and the Brotherhood fully intend to claim it for their own.
Things won’t be easy though. Aftershocks threaten to plunge the city into the gaping maw of a vast subterranean fault. Looters and stragglers remain behind, hoping to score a quick buck or just blow something up for random shits and giggles. There are also security forces patrolling, trying to reclaim as much of the city’s valuable assets as possible before the place crumbles to the ground.
Uppermost in my mind when starting out with Motorstorm Apocalypse was the question “Could Evolution Studios possibly do better than Pacific Rift?”
On the strength of the recent PSN demo, the answer was a firm “No” but as we’ve seen before with Motorstorm, contrary to the usual caveat issued on the menu screen of demos, the final quality of Motorstorm Apocalypse is unfairly represented by the demo. The full game is absolutely incredible and though I still think Pacific Rift was better, Apocalypse is still a pant-searing high octane racing experience that will blow you away.
Festival Mode (the main course in Motorstorm’s banquet) takes place over the course of a few days at three levels of difficulty. Rookie mode breaks you in gently, sticking you behind the eyes of a brash stowaway who has to prove his worth amongst the Motorstorm fraternity.
Pro mode steps up the difficulty level, assuming that you can handle trickier vehicles and more challenging environments.
Finally, Veteran Mode puts you in the pants of The Big Dog himself, the undisputed king of Motorstorm who will stop at nothing to push his ride and himself to the very limit of automotive and human endurance.
Motorstorm Apocalypse contains more of a narrative than previous games. Telling the tales of each of the main three characters via a set of animated comics, the story lends the game more of a structure for Festival Mode and whether you’re a fan of the rough and ready animation style or not, it does at least give an explanation of what’s going on and what drives these nutters to race the way they do.
Neatly, each difficulty level starts and ends with a flat-out race with one single purpose. Get to the finish before the timer runs out or you’re toast. These Prologues and Epilogues neatly segue each level of difficulty into each other and in the case of the Rookie prologue, provide absolute proof that the recent Demo didn’t really do the game justice.
Brought kicking and screaming into the urban landscape, Motorstorm Apocalypse never fails to impress. Hacking out a race route wherever there’s the possibility of room to manoeuvre, The Brotherhood (the mysterious group of Motorstormers who form the higher echelons of the race fraternity) have put together an extremely impressive collection of challenges.
Vast swathes of the city become race routes. Some are fairly stable early on in Festival Mode and you can put pedal to metal picking and choosing your routes with ease. Later though, the combination of aftershocks and outside interference begin to take their toll on the tracks and challenges. Something you’ve race on earlier in the Festival will be utterly and completely changed the next time you encounter it.
This factor helps to make each track feel fresh and new each time you race, and though it’s rather annoying that this time round you don’t get to choose your vehicle class or type in Festival Mode, you do at least get to experience all classes of vehicle from the tiny but powerful superminis and dirt bikes to the gigantic lumbering monster trucks and big rigs.
Scripted events begin on the mild end of the scale. Buildings collapse, roads crumble and tumble, and landslides threaten to engulf racers as they power through the wrecked landscape. At times, it’s easy to draw a comparison between Motorstorm Apocalypse and last year’s superb racing spectacle Split Second. Though Split Second practically invented the notion of gigantic trackside objects dropping on competitors, Motorstorm Apocalypse refines the idea providing far more instances of direct involvement for racers than Split Second did. A few runs through Festival Mode might give you enough of an advantage to be able to predict what’s going to happen during each race but with the variety of routes and sneaky shortcuts you can take on each circuit, there’s plenty of scope for surprises.
The game’s environmental deformation plays one massive part in how races play out, but there are also extreme weather conditions to contend with. At one point, a race through a Tsunami feels uncomfortable and jarring for obvious reasons, and it’s all you can do to stay on the ‘road’ and avoid being swept away to your doom.
The developers have really refined everything you may have previously seen in trailers. Blocky buildings and unfinished graphics have received the trademark Evolution spit and polish, so that in the finished game everything looks absolutely convincing and action plays out at a fair old lick of the framerate. In fact the only time I witnessed a dip was when that bugbear of the Motorstorm series (the iffy camera dynamics when a larger vehicle starts to bear down on you or crashes into you) kicked in. When you see the road literally disappearing in front of you as you’ve got your foot to the floor, it’s quite stomach churning – particularly if you’re lucky enough to experience the game in 3D (to be honest though, 3D support might be great in this but with so much going on in each race, it’ll make you feel worn out after a while).
Once you’ve wrung all you can out of Festival mode (which is disappointingly short and can be polished off in under 4 hours) replay value is provided by the game’s quick race modes, timed challenges and special events. These are your route into unlocking more vehicles, car accessories (yep you can even mod your chosen vehicle with new rims, body kits and various vinyl stickers and paintjobs). Even when you’ve finished off the three levels of Festival, you get one extra bonus “Extreme” Festival to take part in. AI opponents are nastier and faster, and it’s often all you can do just to stay on the road at any point in Extreme Mode.
Full trophy support is included, naturally, but the game also offers its own set of badges and achievements which you can earn bragging rights with online. Sadly, at the point of writing, the game’s multiplayer modes were not available but if the single player races are anything to go by, online multiplayer with 16 racers all participating will be quite something.
So why do I still prefer Pacific Rift? Perhaps it’s the simple fact that escaping to a lush tropical island for a few hours felt like more of a break away from the urban sprawl whereas Motorstorm Apocalypse reminds me that driving through an intact cityscape feels like Motorstorm every flipping morning. More than this though, Pacific Rift seemed to last for absolutely ages in Festival mode, and I definitely preferred the lack of narrative and the greater choice of vehicles before each race.
All in all though, Motorstorm Apocalypse is stunning and left me hungry for more from Evolution Studios. There’s still plenty of potential left in the series and I’d still love to see Arctic Edge on the PS3 at some point but I guess it all depends on how well this sells. Given the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the game’s release, and a pretty poor and unrepresentative demo, I can’t help thinking that this will do poorly sales-wise though, which is a crying shame.