+ Intense racing
+ Ever-changing tracks
+ Wide variety of vehicles
- Some track glitches
- Story failed to keep me interested
Final score: 8 / 10
A functional PlayStation 3
In March we got a glimpse of the apocalypse in Japan. A huge earthquake, the third or fourth most powerful in recorded history depending on who you trust, followed by a tsunami and then a big nuclear incident took place, devastating the world and reminding us all that we are all mortal and that the unthinkable can really happen.
Given the nature of the disaster, Sony can be forgiven for putting the launch of MotorStorm Apocalypse, its earthquake and storm ravaged arcade racer, on ice. The game just hit too close to home for those affected and the company could have faced a backlash from the community if it had gone ahead with the launch.
Unfortunately, the events made the game less visible and that's a real shame because MotorStorm Apocalypse is almost the perfect experience for those who see racing as just another shorter word for a combination between adrenaline, fun and engagement. The Evolution Studios made game is the perfect companion piece to last year's hard sim, Gran Turismo 5, and makes the PlayStation 3 a platform on which a racing fan can enjoy both close to real life gaming and over the top experiences.
This is by no means a perfect game, but it does show how to create a racing game which embraces the arcade angle without sacrificing challenge.
Racing has been done so much in gaming, both in the simulation space and by arcade-focused titles, that it's hard to do something completely new. Still, MotorStorm Apocalypse manages to be quick, engaging, frantic and very hard at times, a combination that serves the arcade racing concept well and should satisfy anyone who ever dreamed about a career in racing and has given up because of the limitations that real world physics create.
The structure of the game is easy to understand with the events of the same days of racing being experienced through the eyes of three different competitors, named Mash aka “The Rookie,” Tyler “The Pro” and Big Dog aka “The Veteran.” The three are veiled difficulty levels and as the game progresses players need to both become better drivers and to pay a lot more attention to the environmental threats that appear during the races.
To be fair, there's story in MotorStorm Apocalypse and it might be good, but it managed to totally leave me behind after a couple of hours. I can appreciate what the developers tried here, with the comic book style and the sketched movements providing a welcome break from the over the top visuals of the actual racing. But I became completely distracted by the look of the characters, the way their arms seemed to be ill fitted to be part of their bodies and the close to dead look in their eyes to follow what they were actually saying and why they were so emotional over the results of the races.
Fortunately, the racing is a good solid experience that kept me playing both the single-player and the multi-player events for many hours, constantly getting racing objectives I thought I could never achieve and then tweaking my racing style and use of boost to get them done.
Boost management is maybe the most important skill one needs to master in MotorStorm Apocalypse and, for the first few races, I had problems with it. It's all too easy to get caught up in the spectacular destruction of the city around and to forget that at some point one should remove the finger from the boost button in order to prevent the engine's vehicle from blowing up. But about one third through the game I developed a sort of muscle-based timing system born via experience, which allowed me to know exactly when to push for speed and try to overtake with boost and when to just hang back and let the boost recharge.
One of the unique selling points for MotorStorm Apocalypse is the process which actively changes the contour of the track as the races progress, with one important consequence. The player needs to be constantly paying attention to the racing space ahead of him, which can take a toll on the decision making powers, especially when added to boost management. It's also a pretty impressive visual spectacle on its own, to my eyes and ears a better one than the racing thrills offered in Split/Second.
Veterans of the MotorStorm concept can look forward to exploring a number of well-designed tracks, complete with alternate paths and well-designed overtaking areas, and the inclusion of new vehicles like supercars, hatches and superbikes means that there's more variety than ever in the series.
There are two significant problems in MotorStorm Apocalypse: glitches in the track design and a too aggressive Artificial Intelligence. The first one means that the vehicles sometimes get caught on invisible or barely visible obstacles, leading to a restart most of the time. The second problem is less jarring, but the A.I. often seems content with throwing its vehicle at the player to slow him down and limit his chances of success.
Graphics and audio
MotorStorm Apocalypse is a good-looking game that does not break any new ground when it comes to the quality of its looks but manages to impress with just how many different things can happen on the screen at the same time.
The first few turns tend to be pretty quiet, in the game's own terms, with just the racers maniacally moving around, sometimes blowing up, attracting one's attention just at the crucial moments when the boost meter needs to be watched carefully. But as the race progresses, buildings start to go down, the background explosions begin, the actual circuit changes shape, more obstacles appear and all the visual cues (I try to never press the Triangle button) conspire to make the player look around for just one second, enough for a big crash or a quick spin or a problem with steering that can send one from the first three places back into thirteenth or lead to straight out elimination.
The relative modest detail of some of the vehicles can at times be a problem, but most of the time gamers will fail to notice anything because of the sheer speed of MotorStorm Apocalypse.
The sound is not as loaded as the graphics and the soundtrack can often fail to keep pace with the awesome visual destruction. The voice acting is also pretty poor and can lead to a lot players pressing the X button to skip the cutscenes.
Under the right conditions, MotorStorm Apocalypse is a blast. Recruit some friends and try out the sizable multiplayer offerings, both over the Internet and locally, and, after a few drinks to make sure that any skill difference is erased, Elimination mode becomes a reason to throw around jokes, pressure the others into a mistake, hurl insults when you're out and celebrate wildly when remaining the last one on track.
The single player campaign is also enjoyable and, more importantly, challenging at times, pushing the player to find a better racing line and to better manage his Boost options as he progresses.
It's a bit sad to see real life interfering so much with a game like MotorStorm Apocalypse, but its quality should persuade fans of the series and the genre to give it a chance even if the images of a crumbling cities evoke too close to home events.