[12 June 2011]
Generally speaking, the racing genre has historically been represented by games that fit into either the simulation or the arcade style. Simulation racers are characterized by physics and vehicle attributes that strive to be as realistic as possible. Arcade racers, on the other hand, are chock full of boosts, shortcuts, and high flying action. In the past few years, however, simulation-rooted games like those in the Forza Motorsport series have allowed players to ignore some of the more technical, realistic aspects of racing, and have exposed various optional driving assists that make crafting a more forgiving driving experience much easier. With the kind of depth and near photorealism simulation racers have long been offering available more accessibly, the pure arcade racing subgenre has seen a dearth of quality releases.
When gamers were granted the first glimpses of the very first Motorstorm several years ago, the concept immediately excited arcade racer fans. The notion of gritty, muddy events being contested by vehicles separated into classes that allowed for different paths through the course, with deformation from previous laps affecting subsequent ones, seemed fairly unique, not to mention that the game looked fantastic. While the game that came out didn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding the initial footage of it, it was fairly well received, and did seem to herald the beginning of a new franchise. After another PS3 entry, Pacific Rift in 2008, and Arctic Edge, a PSP and PS2 title released in 2009, 2011 brings gamers Motorstorm: Apocalypse.
Motorstorm: Apocalypse takes place in an urban setting that has been torn apart by natural disaster and man-made carnage. With chaos still raging, the courses change while races take place. The idea of tracks changing during a race isn’t new to Motorstorm. But the scale of carnage by which the tracks are modified is much greater than ever before. As you race, buildings collapse on the track and explosions occur around every corner. It’s an interesting idea, one that was previously explored to great effect by Split/Second, a game that clearly informed the development of Apocalypse. Unlike Split/Second, however, the deformation of tracks during races is not under player control which, given how easy it is to lose a race due to a single mistake on the last lap, is probably a good thing.
Nobody expects racing games to have narratives, yet Motorstorm: Apocalypse puts forth an effort at one, told from the perspective of three racers. Each racer is at a different point in their career with the circuit, and the whole affair is really a mask for the game’s difficulty settings. It’s not as fleshed out as it could be, and while the notion of a plot is somewhat appreciated, it’s actually a fairly irritating effort. It’s hard to fault Evolution for taking a chance in this department, though. For those old enough to remember, the comic presentation of the plot is actually somewhat reminiscent of the old Jet Moto titles for the first Playstation.
Excepting these comic interstitials, the game looks and sounds fantastic, and a lot of work clearly went into audiovisual presentation. That said, it can be difficult to tell, sometimes, what parts of the terrain are possible to drive over and what parts will make you crash. The game has a frenetic, intense presentation, and can be hard to navigate without some practice.
Motorstorm as a series has always had a somewhat unique, weighty feel to the vehicles. Though it can be argued that this is meant to convey the relative size differences between the different vehicle classes, Apocalypse, like its predecessors, can feel a little sluggish if you’re new to the franchise. The handling isn’t as loose and fast as many other arcade inspired racers, and while such a design decision can seem at odds with the otherwise over-the-top premise and presentation, the Motorstorm feel is certainly something that most players will likely get accustomed to just fine.
At a time when interest in arcade racing appears to be in a decline (or at least as there are fewer titles available to fans), Motorstorm: Apocalypse is a welcome title. Though it makes a few missteps, and the Motorstorm way of doing things might take some acclimating for series newcomers, it also does a lot of things right. In this day and age, to compete with more simulation-centered racers, arcade inspired titles need to be deeper than ever before, with more circuits and tracks, and legitimate reasons to want to repeatedly revisit the content, and Motorstorm: Apocalypse does a good job in this regard. While Apocalypse doesn’t set the bar for this kind of title (it is difficult to not regard Split/Second or even the three-year-old Burnout Paradise as a better all-around arcade racing experience), it’s still an enjoyable game.