The MotorStorm series has been riding on the edge of greatness since its debut back in 2007. All of the games that have been released, two for the PlayStation 3 and one on the PlayStation Portable, have been “good” but fans are still waiting for that “great” title in the series. Don’t get me wrong, all of Evolution’s offerings have been stellar but they are just missing that “something” that would make them great. The original MotorStorm served as a nice introduction to the capabilities of Sony’s new console with incredible visuals and a solid display of the system’s Sixaxis abilities. Despite the title’s lack of a multiplayer mode, many critics and fans dubbed the title one of the first must-own games for the PlayStation 3.
The second game, Pacific Rift, managed to address most of the complaints gamers had with the original game by adding in a quality multiplayer offering as well as improved environments. Despite the overall improvements, players still wanted to see more from the studio. That desire would have to wait as Evolution filled the gap in 2009 with a portable installment in the lineup; while the switch to the PSP didn’t really provide an opportunity for technical advancements in the series, it did add some variety into the series by introducing customization options and a more diverse cast of vehicles (despite including the same overall number). All of the lessons that have been learned along the way have led them here, to the culmination of all of these titles and what is easily one of the best racing games of our generation, MotorStorm Apocalypse (MSA).
As I said, MSA is the result of Evolution’s refinement of the MotorStorm formula along with the addition of a huge dose of influence from the recently emerging disaster / destruction racing genre. The resulting is undoubtedly the “great” title MotorStorm fans have been waiting for. I should also note that Evolution didn’t settle for quality over quantity either, like some accused them of doing with the original game. There is a ton of content in the package and this game will keep you coming back for more for a long, long time.
So, what exactly is there to do in MSA? The truth is, there is a ton. The game has multiple components available in both single- and multiplayer flavors. The main, single-player mode of the game is the “story” mode (if you will) which has been dubbed the Festival. The Festival tells an entertaining albeit forgettable story which explains just how the current MotorStorm event came to be; its simple, effective, and serves its purpose but isn’t anything that you will be discussing with your gaming friends afterwards. The tale is broken up into three difficulty levels, each focusing on the personal story of a different driver: Mash, Tyler, and Big Dog. The each have their own animated motion comics between each race which explains their personal tale during the apocalyptic event; each motion comic can be unlocked for later viewing by simply completing a chapter of the game. It isn’t as captivating as one would expect a “story mode” to be but it more than serves its purpose which is to introduce you to the various vehicle classes and the world of MSA as a whole.
Throughout each character’s tale, you will be given the opportunity to experience each of the game’s 13 vehicle classes. This includes all of the classes featured in the two previous console games and the addition of supercars, superbikes, muscle cars, choppers, and the super mini. While you will see some similarities between cars vehicles of similar class, they all handle a bit differently and are each suited for different environments. As you proceed through the 10-15 races each character offers, you will get a taste of them all and learn the various strengths and weaknesses. The mode also gives you a chance to learn the fine skills involved with managing your boost meter and ramming / punching your competitors in order to get ahead in the races.
The other thing that you learn in the Festival is how to read the ever changing environments of the game. As I am sure that you have seen in the various previews of the game, the world around you is literally crumbling as you race. The straight away down the stretch of the suburban neighborhood might be a good chance to use your boost in the first lap of the race, but what about the second lap when the gas lines under the street explode and change the landscape entirely. I have to warn you, the game is extremely frustrating at first; it is very hard to tell exactly what surfaces are safe for you to drive on but this is something that will come to you over time. There are sporadic clues such as emergency flares strewn around to give you a basic sense of direction but the truth is that they usually marks the most basic and conservative path. You are encouraged to explore your surroundings a little bit but will find yourself crashing more than getting ahead early on. Frustration can also be had by the sensitivity of the game’s crash system. You might be able to withstand a charge from a barreling monster truck but that trash can tumbling through the streets can easily send you flying off course in flames. Just as with reading the layout of the courses, this is something that players will adjust to over time and something that will ultimately become a non-issue once you get used to the game. Just be warned, these issues are there in the beginning and can damper the initial fun of the game but sticking with it and overcoming it is definitely worth it.
Speaking of the ever-changing environments, I have no problem labeling this game’s courses as the most well-designed and enjoyable race courses ever produced in a racing game. Evolution Studios has truly out-done their selves in terms of the track design in MSA; I don’t recall a single bad track in the game. Each one is meticulously designed with incredible detail. I was a little disappointed to see the catastrophic events such as the explosions and building collapses end up being as “scripted” as they are, but it still comes across well race after race. The “shock and awe” isn’t there the third or fourth time through a course but the overall quality of the track design helps ensure that it is just as fun in subsequent play-throughs.
Perhaps the strongest feature of Evolution’s track design is how they manage to take a single course design and alter it over time to create different tracks. There are really only nine different track settings: Boardwalk, Docklands, Downtown, Good Herb, Interstate, Mainline, Skyline, Terminus, and Upper Bohemia. Depending on the “day” of the Festival which you visit one of the tracks, you will experience a different course. Things are relatively calm on the first day when you compare it to the raging hurricanes and earthquakes that hit going into day three. The result is a rapidly changing environment that provides some of the best racing experiences ever. Forget about the courses being different race to race, they can be dramatically different from lap to lap. This is the charm of MSA... the game is always changing and it does so in an extremely dramatic fashion.
When you complete the three different levels of the Festival mode, the world of MSA really opens up. Evolution has included a plethora of both offline and online modes that will keep players come back for more. If you prefer to play by yourself, you have access to various time trials and free races as well as special events that are unlocked with each first place finish in the Festival. There are also a variety of bonuses to collect throughout the game in the form of special cards hidden throughout each track, totaling 150 in all. Let’s be honest though, in this modern generation of gaming online is where the fun is to be had and MSA brings it in spades.
The online offerings in MSA are among the best that I have seen on the PlayStation 3. All of the various modes are included including standard races, eliminator matches, and chase events as well as a robust leveling and perk system based on credits earned within races. Credits are awarded to players for their performance during online matches; you will be awarded different amounts for not only placing high and finishing races but for performing various feats within the game such as drifting, catching huge air, and taking out your opponents. Players also have the ability to wager credits between one another between matches in order to make things even more interesting and perhaps spark some intense rivalries. As your credits pile up, your profile will increase in rank and unlock additional customization options and vehicle variations which you can tweak and customize (visually) to your heart’s content.
The reason that I call MSA one of the best online offerings for the PS3 available is because of the reliability and speed of its online matchmaking. In my experience, players are matched up to open games quicker than I have seen with any other title and there is little to no lag prevalent in the races. The online experience is an absolute dream and I tip my hat to Evolution for being able to pull it off considering how much they have going on within the various races and courses. The online performance, and the game in general, is truly a technical marvel as there is absolutely zero slowdown, either online or off, when the entire world is crumbling around you. Bravo, Evolution... bravo!
If online playing isn’t your cup of tea, MSA also caters to the old-school crowds by including split screen multiplayer for up to 4 players. Far too many games have done away with providing this simple, yet effective mode but not this one. I should also mention that Evolution has included a screenshot ability into the game which allows players to capture their favorite moments in time at will in any single player mode of the game. I absolutely love games that offer this option and feel that it is something that should really be included by default in the future. MSA’s feature is pretty straight forward and allows you to simply pause the action and switch to a camera mode in the options which will give you the ability to reposition the camera and add various effects to the screen. Captured photos are stored under the “my MotorStorm” area of the main menu but can be exported to the cross-media bar for sharing with your friends and the world. This is definitely a welcome addition to the game and something that I have made the most out of during my time with the game.
Any and all complaints that I have about MSA are really based on design decisions, which doesn’t make the game bad in any means. I would have loved to see the catastrophic events come off as less “scripted” than they do; early previews of the game made it sound as if the world would change differently each time you raced. That is far from the case; once you have experienced a given track once, you will know exactly what to expect in the future. Fortunately, the track design is so incredible that this doesn’t detract from the overall experience and they still provide a ton of fun time and time again.
MotorStorm Apocalypse is an absolutely amazing game and arguably my favorite game of 2011 thus far. It is simple yet so well done that I cannot help but to sing its praises again and again. Fans of arcade-racers such as Burnout and Split/Second will undoubtedly love this game and the variety of options it offers. You won’t find better track design and edge of your seat gameplay in any other game. Evolution has taking the bar set by its predecessors in the destructive-racer genre and raised it not just a notch, but a few... this is the game to beat when it comes to arcade racers right now.