Billed as a ‘vehicle combat’ racer, Motorstorm
may bring back memories of EA’s Road Rash
or Sierra's FlatOut
series with bikers punching at each other. Except suddenly a semi truck comes over a jump and lands on the biker. Each course has multiple levels for bikes, buggies, cars and trucks to crisscross past each other depending on which trail you’re willing to trust. It looks and sounds great, even if it hits a few bumps along the way.
is just the kind of visual showcase
that PS3 owners hope will justify their $599 investment. In the foreground, your car is kicking up rocks and leaving tire tracks in the mud; dirt occasionally splatters on the screen itself like a windshield, and when you crash your whole vehicle dismantles itself piece by piece and in slow motion. The background stretches into a distant horizon, and the sky is dotted with hot air balloons and other tiny details. It’s pretty awesome (especially at panoramic heights), set to a rockin’ soundtrack and slowing down for spectacular crashes.
The nine tracks don’t seem like much, but try each one with the seven different vehicles and your race time will start to add up. Each track focuses on one high concept like heavy mud or jumping across pillars, so the multiplayer matches have a cool strategy component. Will you race on your turf, or master a new terrain? It’s easy enough to hop online and test your stuff against up to eleven players.
Cruising around the chaotic, beautiful landscapes is a joy but the game stalls on a few key points; for one, Motorstorm isn’t so great to play by itself. The more traditional single-player mode takes away all of the choice and most of the fun. Most of the tracks are locked, and many races force you to use a specific vehicle. If you’re struggling with the dune buggies on level two, then you’d better practice or give it up. The AI drivers are ruthless from the very start, so single-player is a grueling race to not mess up.
The sweet physics and branching paths stand out, but they don’t justify or fix the ho-hum gameplay. Motorstorm is just that kind of racing game where, even if you’re in first place, the slightest mistake can send you back to last place. The turbo boost is the only real player-controlled game mechanic that can get you ahead of (or catch you up to) the other cars. It feels like a crutch as much as it feels like a boost.
It’s hard to linger on these issues, because it’s so fun to tear up some mud with Wolf Mother blasting. Whether you use the analog stick, d-pad or motion tilt to steer, the controls in Motorstorm are well-tuned; I especially liked how I could switch between the stick and d-pad in-game for different levels of sensitivity. It all felt smooth enough that I wanted to blaze through the thousand crummy menus and loading screens and race already.