Name: Motorstorm: Pacific Rift
Platform: PlayStation 3
When Motorstorm was first released, it was easily the best racer on the still very new PlayStation 3. Despite a dearth of game modes and tracks, as well as serious issues with load times, the game’s breathtaking sense of speed, visceral crashes, deformable terrain and overall fun factor made it an early must-buy title for the console. In fact, to this day, it remains the top-selling PS3 title of all time. Since the release of the original, gamers have eagerly awaited the sequel, hoping for a more polished and robust experience while retaining the speed, pandemonium and attitude of the original. Evolution Studios and Sony have finally brought us the sequel, and while it may not be as deep a racing experience as we’d hoped for, it’s definitely a marked improvement over the original.
One of the main complaints that people had about the first Motorstorm was the lack of playable tracks. Shipping with only eight courses, the game was later supplemented with four downloadable ones. Pacific Rift doubles the initial offerings with 16 tracks, split up into four elemental categories: fire, water, earth, and air. Each element represents its own challenges and opportunities. In fire boards, you’ll need to avoid lava floes that cause your boost meter to overheat. Water levels flood areas of the track with water that slows your vehicle down, but also cools off your boost meter, allowing you to lay on the turbo for longer periods of time. Earth levels feature thick tangles of vegetation and downed trees that provide shortcuts for some vehicles and roadblocks for others. Finally, air tracks feature narrow ledges high above the ground and huge jumps that rival the ones found in Pure. The new track variety definitely adds a lot of diversity and strategy to the gameplay, and marks a welcome addition to the series.
On these diverse tracks, you’ll experience racing action that is largely unchanged from the original. There’s still a risk/reward boost system that gives you additional speed, but can cause you to explode if you overuse it, there’s still arcade-style controls, and, most importantly, there’s still a blinding sense of speed that gets the adrenaline pumping. In addition to the original’s unprecedented selection of seven vehicle types, a new ride has been included; the monster truck. As before, every vehicle has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. For example, the motorcycle is extremely fast and agile, but is easily pushed around by bigger vehicles; while the monster truck relies on its enormous size and stability to plow through opponents, despite its lack of speed or acceleration. The new elemental tracks take advantages of the vehicles’ differences as well, especially the earth boards. On these levels, certain paths are blocked to larger vehicles, allowing only motorcycles, buggies and ATVs to pass under fallen trees to reach a shortcut, while other paths are blocked by vines that are only breakable by monster trucks and big rigs. Choosing your vehicle before a race becomes a far more important aspect to your racing success because of these vehicle-specific obstacles.
As fast as the game is, there are some definite snags on the road. The game’s smaller vehicles feel almost weightless, leading to high speed flip-outs that seemingly stem from nothing in particular. Often, this can be attributed to tapping a small rock with the throttle wide open, causing a sudden, violent loss of control, and sending your vehicle flipping wildly through the air. Other times, you’ll lose control for no discernable reason whatsoever, and end up losing valuable seconds while you reset your vehicle. At one point, I launched my racing truck off of a ramp at a seemingly perfect angle, and was shocked and disappointed to watch my truck explode when it hit the ground. Not a rock, or a fence or a tree; the ground. When a perfect jump and a perfect landing can result in an unexpected explosion, it becomes obvious that something got through play-testing that shouldn’t have. There are also some issues with track layout. Even more so than in the first game, alternate paths are a huge part of the racing experience this time around. Unfortunately, the inclusion of all these alternate paths can make tracks confusing the first few times you play them. Once you’ve memorized the courses, it’s not nearly as big a problem, but it’s a definite weak spot in the game’s design.
Motorstorm was also known for its impressive visuals, and Pacific Rift carries on that tradition. Even at the blistering speeds at which you’re usually traveling, the frame rate never falters, whether online or off. The lush, tropical setting of the first game has been eclipsed by the more varied, even more vibrant and colorful locales found in Pacific Rift. Every vehicle in the game has a distinct look, and they look as great racing as they do exploding into a thousand pieces (which is still just as much of a blast to see as it was two years ago). The game sounds as good as it looks, too. Engine and crash sound effects are convincing and contribute to the staggering sense of speed, and the soundtrack is as good as, if not better than, the original’s, with tracks from Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979.
A major omission from the first Motorstorm was split-screen play. While online multiplayer was available, there was no option to race head-to-head on one machine. This has been remedied with Pacific Rift, which supports 4-player split-screen play. Online multiplayer is pretty much the same as it was, with 12-player action, but there are moments of network instability that can seriously affect your race. On the single-player side, there’s a free-play mode called Wreckreation that allows you to race any vehicle on any course that you’ve unlocked. These courses are unlocked by playing through The Festival, which is the main career mode, and is split into the four elemental categories. In this mode, you’ll need to collect tickets in order to advance to the next race. Tickets are won by completing challenges, which range from winning simple races to speed trial laps to winning races while staying under a certain number of crashes. There are tons of challenges to complete, but they all take place on the same 16 tracks, so repetition can become an issue. There’s also a new Garage mode, which lets you choose both your outfit and a limited selection of styles for each vehicle. It’s not anywhere deep as the garage modes found in many other racers, but what it does is remedy the ridiculously long load times experienced when choosing your vehicle in the first game. Load times in general are still an issue, though, and one that may decrease the likelihood of long sessions in one sitting.
Motorstorm: Pacific Rift improves on many of its predecessor’s shortcomings without losing any of what worked so well the first time around. In addition to the visual treats it offers, there’s enough speed, competition, and, yes, strategy, to keep players coming back for more insane, off-road action. It’s not a perfect racing package, by any means, and there are certainly deeper driving games on the market, but when it comes to speed, no other current game can touch Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. If you have a high threshold for frustration, a love of speed and crashes and an interest in testing your reflexes and hand-eye coordination, then Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is exactly what you want it to be.