Reviewed: March 8, 2007
Released: March 6, 2007
I love racing games…always have…always will, and you can be sure that whenever a new system launches there will always be at least one or two racing games available for it, usually thanks to Namco and their enduring Ridge Racer franchise.
MotorStorm has been brewing for nearly as long as the PS3; originally slated as a launch title then mysteriously pushed back a few months, probably due to the initial shortage of systems. It seems a lot of “launch” games were pushed to 2007. Regardless of the delay, MotorStorm has officially arrived, so you can stop going to the various retail outlets and playing that same demo level over and over on their kiosk, and you can free up some hard drive space on your PS3 and delete that demo you likely downloaded and played until your fingers bled.
MotorStorm is your stereotypically prom queen – all flash and very little substance. It will certainly win the popularity contest vote with some dazzling graphics, rocking soundtrack, and somewhat original concept, but if you start to poke and dig around you’ll find there isn’t much lurking beneath the rocky surface of this game.
Racing games generally have few options when it comes to gameplay modes, but MotorStorm only has one. There are no timed races, hot laps, quick races, or crash-up derbies. Your main menu proudly offers you the choices of Play or Play Online along with the standard Extras and Setup menus. At least Evolution Studios makes it easy to get into the game by eliminating any possible decisions.
The Play mode isn’t as much a career mode as it is a lengthy string of single races spread across 21 events or “Tickets”. A ticket is comprised of up to four individual races that can take place on any of eight courses. With the exception of The Grizzly you are generally assigned a vehicle class that might include three or four models and three or four paint jobs for those models. You are awarded points for placing in the top three, and these points unlock more tickets and new vehicles. Other rewards are unlocked for exceptional performance such as completing a ticket with silver or better finishes in all races.
It’s definitely weird, especially when you come back to the game a week later and want to race a particular track or drive a certain car. Without a quick race option you actually have to find the exact ticket with the exact race you want. And if you want the freedom to choose your ride you’ll have to drive The Grizzly, or search even harder for that vehicle on a track you want to race on. How hard would it have been to implement a mode where you picked your car, track, and time of day and just race?
You have seven vehicle classes to choose from starting with the lightweight and extremely agile MX bike. These are perfect for taking the high road and catching crazy air off of the manmade and natural ramps around the track. The ATV is similar to the MX but is able to hold its own in the lower portions of the track and plow through the mud. These two types of vehicles allow you to backhand any opponents who get too close and possibly knock them off their bike or at least off course.
Buggies and Rally Cars are the middle two vehicle classes offering good driver protection and fast speeds on dry terrain found through the middle routes on most tracks. Mudpluggers and Big Rigs are large powerful trucks, usually with big knobby tires that are perfect for plowing through the lower, mud-filled levels of the track. They have poor acceleration, but once these behemoths get up to speed anyone in a smaller vehicle had better watch out.
There are eight courses ranging in size, complexity, and danger. Almost all of the courses have multiple routes that generally favor one or more vehicle types, which is how you can have slow trucks racing fast bike and keep things competitive. MX bikes work best on the upper deck where the track is narrow and there are plenty of jumps. Rally Cars are usually too wide for these routes and don’t work well in mud so they stick to the middle path, while the heavy mudders head to the bottom of the gultch.
I guess there is a bit of strategy in knowing the limitations of your chosen ride and the proper route to take, but more often than not you will either fall or get knocked into a non-preferred route and that is where the real racing kicks off. There is nothing more dangerous (or exciting) than being on an MX bike in the bottom route, plowing through mud and getting knocked around by a giant truck.
The courses include The Grizzly, a huge multi-tiered track that supports all vehicle types. If you can find and stick to your preferred route you can probably win the race. Other tracks with names like Sidewinder, Rockhopper, and the Tenderizer hint at the race to come. Rain God Mesa is one of the more exciting and dangerous tracks where one wrong move on the backstretch will send you plunging over the edge to your ultimate…respawning on the track.
While there is no damage meter in MotorStorm, you car does reflect various levels of damage before it ultimately explodes. This is usually the result of impact with another car, impact with some terrain feature, or overheating your engine by using too much nitro.
Whether you drive an ATV or a semi-tractor, all vehicles in MotorStorm have turbo that you can use whenever you want and for as long as you want as long as you don’t overheat the engine. A temperature meter in the lower corner shows the heating and cooling of the turbo system. You’ll get about one second of flashing along with a warning beeper before you blow your engine and the car explodes into a hundred individually modeled components.
These are probably some of the best looking explosions in a racing game next to the Burnout franchise, but unlike that game you are unable to steer your wreckage into other racers. Even if your burning hulk happens to hit another car they are relatively unaffected, so wrecking only hurts you, especially if you end up spawning at the base of a ramp without enough room to get up to speed to make the jump.
Control is handled nicely with the analog stick. The right trigger is used for gas and my hatred for the new SIXAXIS controller is fueled to new heights by my extremely sore trigger finger. The new R2 button is the most unnatural and uncomfortable gas pedal I have ever driven with on a game system, and my index finger is now stuck in a perpetual claw position. I may never point or poke again.
And while I plan to complain until the day I die about the missing rumble feature on the SIXAXIS, it really takes an off-road game like MotorStorm to really make you miss this feature. I can only imagine how much better this game would feel and the enhanced immersion of the racing experience if each and every rock and bump were translated into the controller.
The motion input of the SIXAXIS is available to steer your car, both on the ground and in the air (to a limited extent), but as always, this proves to be more gimmicky than functional. When you are trying to turn on a dime to avoid plunging off a cliff you don’t want to be making violent mid-air moves that might dislocated your shoulder.
MotorStorm supports online play for up to 12 total racers. Thankfully, this game must have flown off the shelves because I found a lot of competition within the first 48-hours the game was available in stores. The host has the ability to select the track, number or laps, limit the vehicle types, and set the ambience for the race. Actually, this is the only way to have instant access to the cars and tracks you want.
Honestly, I found very little difference in racing real humans over the computer. The entire game is so chaotic, and your best strategy is usually to avoid everyone else. If you have a headset you can talk smack to the other racers (assuming they have a headset as well). As you race and win events you will earn points that determine your Fame (ranking) taking you from a Zero to Hero and beyond.
The online mode is merely a mirror of the single player experience with humans filling where the AI normally would. There are no new modes or race rules, and with the twitchy PS3 online network and some ugly framerate and lag issues during multiplayer, I was really missing any support for local split-screen action. Come on! At least give me a two-player split-screen mode.
Thankfully the single player racing features some respectable AI. The competition will actively try to ram you off the road or cut you off, and they always seek out the best routes determined by their respective vehicles. I’m not sure if there is any rubber-banding going on here, but it does seem impossible to fall too far behind or at least far enough to lose the race during the first two laps. In fact, it can be rather annoying to drive a lengthy 3-lap race where a win/loss can almost always be determined during the final half of the final lap.
Going from last place to first can happen during a short segment of the track, sometimes without even trying, but often this is because the competition wrecks just as much as you, and when they are all traveling in a ‘wolf pack” one small wreck can turn into a complete and utter pileup. Just avoid everyone else, never give up, and save your turbo for the final stretch.
MotorStorm is by far one of the prettiest games (if not the prettiest) currently available on the PS3. It kicks off with a stunning opening movie (complete with “movie guy” voiceover) that blends real high-definition video footage of Monument Valley cleverly mixed with CG cars, dust trails, and a massive party in the desert that would put Woodstock to shame. This is one of those intro movies that you will be compelled to show anyone who happens to walk by while you are playing the game.
The cars, trucks, and bikes are all highly complex models, designed with individual parts that will blast apart when the vehicle ultimately explodes. You can see independent suspension and the effects of physics and momentum as you bounce along tracks carved by God himself. There is a great physicality to these vehicles that marries the way they look to they way they handle.
The tracks are gorgeous and you’d be hard pressed to tell there is a 3D wireframe lurking under the photorealistic rocks, pebbles, sand, and dirt terrain. You’ll race through muddy or entirely dry riverbeds, crash through a mining settlement, ramp gracefully over huge gulches, or plummet to a valley thousands of feet below. Each track has multiple routes and ample opportunities for seeking out new and improved routes and shortcuts.
Skies are gorgeous unless you get a cloudy day in which case the entire event takes on a dark and dismal flavor and actually impedes your visibility during the race. This is mostly due to the highly realistic lighting that is used to make the same exact track look totally different by merely changing the time of day you are racing. Races during the day provide excellent lighting with little shadows, while sunrise and sunset races not only give the game a warm orange or red glow, but also create long dark shadows. Some tracks like the Dust Devil, with the white sand and rocks will actually shine so bright they even cause temporary blindness until your eyes slowly adjust. It’s a great effect.
There are only two camera options to choose from; behind the car and an over-the-hood view. Each has their own plusses and minuses. It can be extremely realistic to race in first-person since speeds appear greater and you have far less time to react to upcoming terrain and opposition. I was totally devastated that there is no replay function in MotorStorm, so you cannot relive any of those great crash moments or better yet, save them and share them online with your friends.
If you let the game continue to play after you cross the finish line you can watch the computer drive a victory lap from all sorts of cool camera angles, but that will only make you curse the fact you can't rewatch your race. The only control you have over the camera during the game is by pausing the race (or the crash) with the Start button then using the right stick to move the camera around. Yippee!
There are 20 songs that make up the hard rocking festival experience of MotorStorm. Groups include Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Monster Magnet, and The Reverend Horton Heat, just to name a few. I’m not sure how the soundtrack system works because it appears that all of the tracks are unlocked and assigned to my active play list, but after nearly 12 hours of gameplay I’ve only heard about half of them.
One thing I do like, at least when I like the song playing, is that the entire song will play uninterrupted no matter if I am in a menu, a race, or post-race results screen. I can even go to the Extra’s menu and watch bonus material and the music continues to play, only switching to a new song when the current one is over. This is a vast improvement over something like the EA Trax system that switches songs with each new screen, never really allowing you to hear an entire song.
There is no voice acting to speak of other than the awesome narration during the opening movie that has me cranking the volume so my sub shakes the room. Once into the game there isn’t much to hear other than the whining of a dozen or so engines all screaming their various horsepowers in unison. It can become quite a racket, especially at the start when everybody is grouped together.
The default sound mix seems to have the music cranked just a bit too high, so you might want to take it down a notch or two so you can enjoy the sounds of racing, especially after a few days when the songs are starting to wear thin.
As of this review I have logged nearly 12 hours and I just completed ticket 12 of 21, so it would be a safe bet to say this is a 20-25 hour game, at least if you plan on going for “gold only” like I am – silver and bronze are for wussies. You also need silver or better to unlock some of the more desirable rewards.
Then you have some multiplayer action to look forward to provided you can find enough people with respectable broadband connections. It seems to only take one or two laggers to ruin a race for the rest. There is also support for voice so you can taunt your opponents as you knock them into the valley. It really is a great multiplayer experience when the racing is smooth.
Sadly, without any quick race or time trial lap races there is no solid reason to replay the game once you have completed it the first time. If you aren’t planning on a lengthy online racing career MotorStorm might be better as a rental. Either way, everyone needs to experience this game.
MotorStorm is definitely the showcase title for the PS3 that we all expected it to be, with a great selection of vehicles that actually lend themselves to varied racing strategies and unique routes through wonderfully intricate and natural track designs. But while it looks and sounds amazing there is a disturbing lack of depth to the gameplay that will likely cause concern for a lot of racing enthusiasts.
Despite a lack of race modes, local multiplayer, replay camera, and a few other missing genre standards, Evolution Studios has set the bar extremely high for future off-road racing games, at least in overall presentation. Now if they can only offer a bit more substance for the inevitable sequel they might just have the perfect racer.