Reviewed: May 21, 2011
Released: May 3, 2011
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is the best arcade racing game I have ever played on the PS3. There…I said it. In fact, it might take me awhile to think of a racing game on any platform I’ve enjoyed as much as this. Titles that come to mind would be Burnout and Split/Second, but even those have to take the proverbial backseat to the sheer insanity and gratuitous Michael Bay-fest that is Apocalypse. |
The original MotorStorm took us to the desert while the second took us to the tropical islands of the Pacific, and PSP gamers even got to do some racing in the frozen tundra of the Arctic, but this time Evolution Studios is headed to the West Coast; San Francisco actually, for some revolutionary new racing action in the big city…or rather what’s left of it. Earthquakes have reduced the city to rubble, the population has been evacuated, and the MotorStorm racing tour cruises into town on their own private aircraft carrier that has been converted into a floating mega-garage.
Love it or hate it, Apocalypse is the first MotorStorm game to feature a story. Yeah, I know; who needs a reason to drive in race after race? Well, actually, the story in the new Festival mode is pretty entertaining and at least gives you a few seconds to rest your weary turbo boost finger between races. Told through flash-style, cel-shaded animation, you’ll play as each of three characters in this three-part adventure, with each new chapters upping the difficulty level and the challenge. The story is as primitive as the animation techniques, but each cutscene does a good job of setting up the next race and any specific objectives.
Also new to the series, at least in Festival mode, is the simple fact that your vehicle is chosen for you. As someone who tried to avoid the motorcycles and ATV’s in the earlier games, it was a bit shocking to be forced to drive vehicles I really didn’t like, even if it was to fulfill some self-serving plotline, but ultimately I came to appreciate all of the rides in Apocalypse, although I still have my favorites. By the time you finish the story you will have driven every type of vehicle MotorStorm has to offer.
Each part of the story kicks off with a race from the coast to the city interior. This isn’t timed and you don’t have to place…just get there. Once there you begin a sequence of races that take you all over the city, from the crumbling downtown office canyons to the docks lying in ruins to the collapsing Golden Gate Bridge, to the Bart tunnels populated with Molotov cocktail-throwing vagrants…err…I mean spectators. Some missions have you simply racing around the ruined city but more often there will be a major seismic event taking place, and that is when things get really exciting.
The only game that can come close to the explosive goodness of Apocalypse is Split/Second and in that game you triggered the special events. In this game you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so you aren’t always sure when something is going to happen, and given the multi-path routes on each course, you might not even witness an event. A good example is one of my favorite tracks that takes you along the boardwalk during a massive tornado. On Lap 2 a lightning bolt will strike down a smokestack but you won’t see that happen unless you took the left fork at the previous junction on that lap. It still happens and you can even hear the lightning strike – you just won’t witness the event or have to dodge the crumbling concrete.
In later races the events are randomized so while you know the road is going to upheave along a certain stretch or a bridge is going to collapse or signs are going to fall from buildings or manholes will start spouting flames, you won’t know until it happens. Some events are scripted as noted with the Square symbol appearing on screen. Press the button to slow down the race and appreciate the hand of God before trying to avoid the impending doom. Entire sections of highway will collapse, the dual layers of the Bay Bridge will pancake, skyscrapers will topple, gas stations will explode, and streets will cave-in dropping you into the sewers and subways below.
Each race unfolds differently each time you play, and given the multiple paths and the randomness of the events, it’s going to take a lot of replays before things ever get boring. That’s a good thing because you can expect to be restarting a lot of races. While the game starts off easy enough, by the time you get to chapter two and especially chapter three (Veteran) it can take upwards of 10-20 attempts to even qualify to advance, and if you are like me and only proceed after a first place finish…well pack a few lunches. There was one race on chapter 3 that took me over two hours to get a first place finish and I had to spread that out over two days. Surprisingly though I never got frustrated (okay…maybe a little) but when each race is like watching John Cusack drive a limo through crumbling LA in 2012, how can you ever get bored?
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, let me tell you about Skyline. No, not that crazy alien movie with people trapped in a condo, but the level that has you racing across the rooftops of toppling skyscrapers. Chapter two starts with a helicopter dropping you and your ATV onto the roof just as the building starts to tip over, so you are racing down this incline and have to jump to the next building. CRAZY COOL! And as more buildings explode, topple and collapse you have to jump from rooftop to rooftop or even crash through a window and drive through office cubicles only to smash out another window into the next building. Are you excited yet? Cause I need to stop writing and go play some more.
As cool as the concept, levels, and track designs are, any racer is only as good as its vehicles and control system and that has always been a sore spot with MotorStorm. Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, things may have gotten even a bit sloppier, especially on the faster supercars and motorcycles. There is a distinct lack of traction regardless of the vehicle or the driving surface. Cornering with the analog stick is all but impossible, especially on the crazy downtown tracks, so you are forced to handbrake then rocket out of a turn with the turbo. Once you master this technique you won’t mind the crappy handling of these rocket sleds.
Turbo is a huge part of MotorStorm. There just isn’t any real sense of speed until you start redlining that temperature gauge, and then it becomes a balancing act of cool-down tactics. If you are airborne you can let off turbo and gas and cool down almost immediately. You can also cool down by driving through puddles or geysers of water. On the flip side, you also have patches of fire on the track as well as annoying spectators tossing Molotov cocktails at you that will increase your heat gauge. And in later levels you’ll have a private security force trying to remove you from the city with rocket launchers and attack choppers.
When you finish or get tired of the Festival carnage you can dive into the Wreckreation mode that offers several new game types for solo, online and offline split-screen multiplayer. Yes, Apocalypse not only supports 4-player split-screen gaming, it somehow manages to do so with a near-perfect framerate. Move over Mario Kart and Blur…there is a new racing party game in town. You can even race with two local players in split-screen while online. With support for up to 16 online racers, the challenge and the mayhem only gets bigger and better when you play Apocalypse online.
Words can’t really express how awesome these graphics are. The car models aren’t much better than past games but they come apart in a glorious explosion of crunched metal and detailed parts. The environments are what sell the game and whether the city is coming down around you or already lying in piles of rubble; destruction has never looked this amazing. Small touches like spectators standing on busses, homeless guys getting caught and dragged under your bumper, or even the military toting around rocket launchers are easy to miss. Sadly, that is my only complaint with the game. There is no replay mode, and even though you do have a photo mode, you have to hit the Start button immediately to pause the game or you lose the moment. Apocalypse also supports 3D and is one of the few games to actually benefit from it. Seeing all that destruction exploding out of your TV is an experience beyond words.
Dolby Digital and DTS surround packages will put you in the middle of this West Coast Armageddon. The various engines noises are all good and represent their various engine classes, but it’s only when the city starts to shake and buildings sink into clouds of dust that you’ll appreciate that subwoofer in your audio setup. The surround mix is excellent and the overall presentation rivals that of any disaster movie soundtrack. There is a decent selection of songs included or you can create and use your own custom soundtracks. The default mix keeps the music pretty much in the background.
Aside from a host of Trophies to earn there are also bronze, silver and gold medals for each track, and you’ll need a first place finish to unlock a special Hardcore mode for that same track in the bonus area. There is also a prize system that earns you accolades and a wagering system to bet chips, so there is always something to keep you coming back to MotorStorm: Apocalypse.
The best thing about this game other than the sheer level of insanity and chaos during each and every race is the unpredictability each time you step on the gas. With multiple paths through the levels – some obvious and some so hidden you’ll need a strategy guide to find – you can replay this game countless times and keep finding new things. Just finding the 4-5 hidden trading cards on each level will take dedicated track exploration.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is essentially a 20+ hour experience of non-stop WOW moments. If Michael Bay were making video games then this is the game he would be making, so if you love that epic style of cinematic destruction and global disaster combined with intense competitive racer AI and purely instinctive and reflexive gameplay then take one final spin through San Francisco before the city and your race tracks sink into the ocean.