Reviewed: October 19, 2009
Released: September 29, 2009
For a while now I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to play my PSP again. There was a dry spell of nearly six months before a few summer titles trickled my way in June and July and those were certainly nothing to reassure me on the future of Sonyís handheld. And when Sony announced they were releasing the PSP GO I couldnít help but wonder why Ė I didnít have anything to play on my old PSP.
While the verdict is still out on the success of the GO, the one good collateral effect of the new system launch was a batch of new and better titles. Time to charge my PSP battery and get ready for some mobile gaming. Released only days apart were two new racing titles from Sony, and Sony has always proven to make the best games for their own hardware, so when Gran Turismo and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge both showed up for review I eagerly dove into both titles, but it didnít take long before MotorStorm proved to be the clear winner in this Fallís battle of the PSP racers.
Perhaps the biggest praise I could heap upon Arctic Edge is that I wish it had released on the PS3 insteadÖits just that good. From the opening cinematic to the stylish spiraling menus to my 20th hour of racing, I never felt like I wasnít playing a full console game that had been shrunk to fit on my PSP. Every ounce of creativity, visual flair, and frantic second of racing action reminded me of the long hours I had spent with the original MotorStorm and Pacific Rift on the PS3.
It all starts with an epic opening movie narrated by our familiar deep booming voice guy as we watch all sorts of crazy buggies, bikes, trucks, and snowmobiles arriving via ship or being airdropped in by chopper. From there you can dive right into the Festival mode or hit up the challenges in the Wreckreation mode like Time Attack and Freeplay. Festival mode is where youíll spend the majority of your offline time racing in all sorts of events on 12 of the most amazing (and reversible) tracks carved through ice, rock, and mud.
Much like Pacific Rift, the island is divided into zones based on elevation, which dictates the type of track and will certainly influence your vehicle choices, or at least it should. Often, you will be limited to a certain class or classes of vehicles and other events let you go up against the entire vehicle roster in whatever class of ride you want, but donít be surprised if that giant Sno-Cat runs right over your snowmobile.
Any racing game is only as good as its controls and the analog nub on the PSP offers excellent and smooth steering for whichever vehicle you decide to drive. The triggers serve as brake and gas and the X button is your turbo, which actually seems to come into play far more often in Arctic Edge than in previous games. Perhaps it is because the turbo is slower to heat up and faster to cool down in this frozen environment, making it much easier for prolonged burns, faster speeds, more exhilarating racing action, and more devastating crashes.
The courses are excellent and offer a great variety, both in elevation, surface texture, and even in the multiple routing options. Like the previous games, each course has several paths and some are more ideal for certain vehicles. Bikes work great on higher, narrower routes where trucks are less likely to interfere and trucks are good for mudding around the lower levels. There are also shortcuts that you might not even find until you do a speed run and are guided to these new routes via the green and red smoke indicators. And every course is reversible which offers an entirely new lay of the land and different race strategy, so rest assured you will never get bored with the more than 100 races that make up the massive Festival mode.
Arctic Edge eases you into the game with an oft-times almost too easy difficulty level, but after a few hours the game takes a noticeable leap into the realm of challenging, and will put all your course memorization, racing skills, and thermal management to the ultimate test. And when you have mastered the racing AI you can take your honed skills online for some of the best multiplayer racing action available on the PSP in local and wireless Internet modes.
The presentation manages to hold up to its console brethren with a flashy opening and plenty of fun reward cutscenes of cars doing donuts and a general party atmosphere. The in-game visuals are perfection and you can race from several chase views or put yourself in a first-person vehicle view to really enhance the sensation of speed. You can watch replays of the race and there is even a great photo mode that lets you snap shots of the action and save them out to your photo section on the PSP. Textures are excellent and you can even see your tracks from previous laps. The lighting is gorgeous and you will actually get a chill in watching some of the action unfold with blowing snow and misty mountain winter conditions.
The audio portion of the package obviously falls a bit short of a high-end home theater, but with a good set of headphones you can enjoy powerful engines noises and turbo boosts that vary based on vehicle class. There is also a great soundtrack of 20-some songs perfectly suited to racing, and by default the music is mixed so it favors the sounds of racing during the game. If you get tired of the included tracks you can always customize the music to anything you have stored on your PSP.
There is plenty to unlock with 24 vehicles spread across 8 classes and all sorts of paintjobs and badges to be earned and unlocked. And the online racing will extend your value even further with easy-to-connect races, leaderboards, and a thriving online community. There are a few framerate issues in the larger 6-player games but nothing that cripple the experience.
MotorStorm: Arctic Edge has restored my faith in my PSP, at least for the time being. Letís hope Sony can keep up this momentum and that other developers can follow BigBig Studioís example of how to make a console-quality game on a handheld system. Available on UMD or direct download via the PS Store, this is one racing game that you donít want to miss, and hopefully it will make its way to the PS3 where it can be enjoyed on the big screen that it deserves.