Reviewed: November 18, 2008
Released: October 28, 2008
Every system and generation of system has its signature racing title and for the PS3 that game is Gran Turismo, but anyone who isnít looking for ultra-realism is probably going to be more inclined to check out Sonyís other signature racing franchise, MotorStorm. It hasnít even been a year and Sony is delivering the next installment in the extreme racing series. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is bigger, better, and far more polished than its predecessor, but it ultimately fails to live up to the media hype and gamer expectations.
In Pacific Rift we leave the deserts for a tropical island paradise Ė well at least the parts of the island that arenít covered in ash and lava. Everyone has packed up their bikes, buggies, and trucks and shipped them overseas where 16 treacherous tracks wind their way through the elements of air, water, earth, and fire. These elements create four very unique worlds for the Festival (career mode) to take place. It is this mode that will unlock more tracks and vehicles for use in other events.
One of my biggest complaints with the first MotorStorm was the linear nature of the presentation. You earned tickets that granted you access to new events with up to four possible race choices. In Pacific Rift you earn career points that will unlock events in zones other than the one you are racing, so winning that speed challenge in the Earth zone can unlock a race challenge in the Fire zone. Career points also count toward unlocking new characters, outfits, artwork, and developer videos.
The ultimate result of this design is a lot more choice. If you are totally sick of avoiding molten lava then take on a few challenges in the Water zone, or catch some high-flying action in the Air zone. Chance are, if you havenít visited a zone for a while you have numerous new races unlocked and at your disposal.
For those who enjoyed the presentation of the first game, you can still participate in the MotorStorm Event series that offers the ticket system as well as gold, silver, and bronze medal awards. Other modes include online racing in both ranked and casual modes, Free Play where you pick the track, type of race, and setup all the opponents to build your own event, and then you have Split-screen for up to four racers on one system and finally Time Attack where you race the clock.
Online Leaderboards track your progress for both Time Attack and Ranked online races. The Leaderboards are based on a skill rating that increases when you win races and decreases when you lose. The Time Attack boards simply post tracks and top times.
Another clever aspect of Pacific Rift is that now the elements can affect your racing. Driving in the Fire zone can really slow your cool down timer for your nitro boost and if you get too close to lava your vehicles can actually burst into flames. Scattered about the levels are these shower tunnels Ė almost like a drive-thru car wash Ė that will extinguish fires and cool down your nitro. In other levels like those in the Water zone you can drive through rivers, shallow lakes, waterfalls, and even small puddles to cool down your nitro meter.
Also new are mini-challenges within some of the races like winning within a certain time limit or not crashing more than three times. Beating these challenges will unlock Speed events where you race against a rigid time limit through upwards of 40 checkpoints, each checkpoint putting a few precision seconds back on the clock. These events can take a lot of practice and trial and error before you can earn the gold time.
The Eliminator event is back and still great fun. Unlike other racers where the guy in last place after each lap is removed, here you have a timer that ticks down removing the racer at the tail end of the pack. This makes for a much quicker event, with most Eliminator races usually only lasting a single lap. Just get in front and stay in front.
The island is huge and so are the tracks with some laps exceeding the two-minute mark. The track design is fabulous and features the same multi-layer design from the first where different types of vehicles perform better on certain types of terrain. Puddle stompers can take the low and often muddy routs while bikes are better off staying high and dry and looking for narrow shortcuts that are unavailable to the rest of the pack. Each type of vehicle comes with its own set of challenges for racing, boosting, and even some limited combat. And each race event will limit your choice of vehicles, sometimes forcing you to pick only one, like in a bike-only race.
The gameplay is essentially the same when it comes to controls. R2 is the gas, L2 is the brake, circle is handbrake, and X is the boost and thatís all you really need to know. The SIXAXIS allows you to tilt the controller to recover from possibly flipping your vehicles and up and down on the left stick allows you to work the suspension for small bunny hops. Square sounds your horn or performs a verbal taunt and R1 and L1 allow you to ram (or punch if you are on a bike) any passing driver.
The rest is simple mastery of the tracks and learning how to manage your nitro temperature for effective boosting. Despite having a garage mode there is no real tweaking available for the various vehicles other than visual enhancements. The same can be said for driver selection.
Driver AI is greatly improved and far more aggressive than the first game. Guys in trucks know they can run right over bikes and buggies and they will. If you try to pass too close they will ram you. I didnít detect any retaliation AI, so nobody seems to hold a grudge if you attack them first, but I did get that ďitís me against the worldĒ feeling. I didnít see too much combat between the AI, but they sure loved coming after me.
Visually, Pacific Rift looks exceptionally better than the original if for no other reason than offering four distinctly unique environments. How tired were you of all that desert and mountain driving last year? Now you can mix it up on lush tracks that deform in real-time, so if a giant truck plows through the jungle it might just clear a nice shortcut for your motorcycle on lap 2. Car damage is explosively real with each car bursting into dozens of individual pieces upon impact. Sadly, it's an all or nothing system with no progressive damage or driving impairments.
The sensation of speed is conveyed extremely well from all camera options. Obviously, the front-bumper cam makes things look faster and there is a great blurring effect around the edges when you kick in the nitro. There is also a new Photo Mode where you can pause the race at any time and tweak several camera options and snap an image to put in your PS3 photo gallery or share with friends. Sadly, there is no race replay mode so you have to have fast reflexes to recognize and pause for a photo op as it happens.
The audio experience is an imbalance of very loud engine noises and music so quiet you have to strain to hear it, but occasionally one or two songs play at abnormally loud volumes and then you are glad you canít hear the obnoxious mix of generic licensed rock. The surround mix is much more suited for hearing the harmonizing engine noises and the awesome crash effects. If you do change the music and sound levels you will likely enjoy the ability to create your own custom soundtracks using any MP3 files stored on your PS3.
On the technical side of the presentation, the menus are much simpler and there arenít as many cool videos. The party atmosphere is slightly diminished but itís all in favor of speed. Navigating the menus and choosing your cars is lightning fast with none of those awkward load times we had to endure last year simply cycling through the car options. Of course, the game always picks the current setup for each vehicle type, so if you like to change those options before each race you may actually have more menus to wade through. Personally, I donít care what my car looks like.
Pacific Rift will keep you racing for a long time with the lengthy career Festival mode plus the much-needed addition of four-player split-screen racing. Thankfully, the framerate never takes a hit in these races nor when you head online for fantastic matches with up to 12 drivers. Combined with voice chat, friend invite, and leaderboards, this is a complete online racing experience.There is also a ton of unlockables plus Trophy support and the promise of future downloadable content.
MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is a great sequel that offers more of what we loved in the first game. You have more tracks and better designs and four unique environments, and with streamlined presentation and navigation, challenging AI, and awesome online play when the AI isnít enough, Pacific Rift is the arcade racer to beat. Iíll see you at the finish lineÖor in my rearview mirror.