The end is nigh!
MotorStorm, despite already having four installments, is a relatively new franchise. It debuted on the PlayStation 3 shortly after launch as a decent but not great game. Unlike most racers that like to keep their vehicles in pristine show-floor condition, MotorStorm got down, dirty, and covered in mud. The sequel, Pacific Rift, spiced things up by adding more variety to the environment, but not much else. The franchise seemed nothing more than a slightly better-than-typical off-road racer that was missing something special to set itself apart from the rest of its racing brethren.
[image1]With Apocalypse, MotorStorm has finally found itself. MotorStorm always featured plenty of on-screen chaos. Tracks are littered with road hazards so you’ll crash more times than a teenager texting while driving. On top of that, the post-apocalyptic take brings things to an all-new hectic extreme. Towering high-rises crumble before your eyes, and pavement splits at the mercy of an earthquake aftershock.
Prior MotorStorm installments can be easily bested if you learn which paths to take for each track. But the ever-changing landscapes in MotorStorm: Apocalypse keep you guessing; no two laps are exactly the same. The devastation that surrounds you and the course also serves as a distraction from the race, getting you to take your eyes of the road – a major no-no in fast-paced explosion-filled racer like MotorStorm. At times it is too distracting.
The game’s single-player story mode, the Festival, literally throws you right into the action. Your car is dumped from a moving aircraft right into an on-going race. Rock music blasts, adrenaline pumps, and shit blows up everywhere you look. If you’ve got the luxury of having a 3DTV, it’s completely fucking awesome. The game was built from the ground up with 3D in mind… and it shows. Wheels and axles seem to fly at you when you crash, and how buildings crumble are almost worthy of pant-shitting. The 3D effect really adds depth that will help you avoid hazards or properly judge corners.
It’s not all perfect, though. 3D can have an odd “ghosting” effect that can bother your eyes. Still, once you’ve tried it in 3D, there’s no going back. This is the first example I’ve seen where the game is far better with 3D turned on.
[image2]As the Festival proceeds, it’s told in the perspective of three different racers. The plot is fleshed out through a series of motion-comic cut-scenes. It’s a nice touch, giving you the feeling like you’re actually racing for a reason and not just to place first. However, the story is lame and uninspired, and serves more as something to watch while the next area loads, which can be long and frustrating.
The tracks vary greatly: Some will have you on city streets, while others put you on a beach or atop skyscrapers near the moment of collapse. The earthquake-ravaged structures fall apart, altering the track for your next lap, so unlike most racers, it's challenging to plan for a strategy. Especially with all the distractions.
This is one of the few times in your life when you’ll be rewarded for reckless driving. Using boost at the right moment can put you in the lead or help you deal with a sharp corner. Use it at the wrong moment and it means a head-on collision with a wall and a subsequent explosion. New to MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a side-boost slam move you can use to decimate your opponents. It can feel awkward at first, but it ends up giving players the advantage of slamming the front-runner off the track.
[image3]On top of the Festival, which will run you about 6-7 hours total for all three drivers, there’s also vehicle customization and plenty of multiplayer. Multiplayer can be played locally for up to four players split-screen or online with up to 16 players. Online multiplayer gives you perks, which are essentially different stat upgrades that you can equip to give you an edge – very similar to what you’d see in a shooting game’s soldier load-out.
The vehicle customization is a welcome addition, though it’s not really worth putting much time into. You can pimp your ride with different parts, colors, etc. – whatever you want really. It’s better suited for taking your car online so you can give yourself a persona but doesn’t serve much purpose otherwise. In the end, the developers could have spent their time into adding more tracks.
The tracks are just one of the few things keeping this game from greatness. What’s there is excellent, which will leave you wanting more, but there just aren't enough of them. The boost is a double-edged sword: It’s necessary to make the game more exhilarating and to help you pass other racers, but it can be abused to the point of cheating. In the more difficult races, it's too easy to over-rely on the boost. Even when you crash because of it, you frequently get a fresh boost meter to then max out again. Just rinse, repeat, and win. It’s not a perfect strategy, and certainly not an honorable one, but it does work. But even if you're in the lead, you'll never get too far ahead due to "rubber-banding". AI is programmed to catch up no matter what.
[image4]Trying to add some unlockables and thus, replay value, tracks have “cards” strewn about. Often, too much is going on during a race to pay enough attention to finding them, and there isn’t enough reason to want to. Load times aren’t the worst, but they’re more than the norm. Don’t expect to pick this game up and play a race or two when you’ve got only five minutes to spare. You’ll barely get past your first lap.
When the dust has settled, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a giant leap in the right direction for the series and for off-road racers. A few minor nuances and some missed opportunities put a damper on what otherwise is a blast to play. Adding 3D to the experience cranks up the awesome in all aspects, but until 3DTVs become more mainstream, it’s a feature that too many are going to miss out on to make it a focal point.