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MotorStorm

Developer: Evolution Studios | Publisher: SCEA
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 03/06/07 | Genre: Driving

motorstorm box.jpgTraditional rally racing has never really caught on in North America like it has abroad, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the sequels to Evolution’s WRC (World Rally Championship) series never showed up on our shores despite the first game being well-received by critics. This time around they created something that has instant appeal to all gamers; speed, mud, dirt, explosions, and beauty, all thrown into an arcade racing game. And in the process created one hell of an enjoyable experience as well as a showcase piece for that big shiny black slab of hardware sitting in your entertainment center.

Though it may not seem like it on the surface, MotorStorm has a lot in common with Burnout. They are both arcade racing games which rely on a boost meter and different routes for most of their depth and strategy. The longer you hold down the boost button the more your engine heats up until you reach the limit where if held for too long, your vehicle will explode in an impressive Burnout-esque way. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that this is Burnout with rally cars.

Where Motostorm changes it up a bit is with the inclusion of many different vehicle types not normally found competing in the same race. You can chose from rally cars, trucks, mud pluggers, motorcycles, ATVs, buggies, and even big rigs, with a myriad of vehicles and skins to chose from in each category. The purpose of all these vehicles comes into play when you hit the road…or mud, dirt and rock in this case. Each track includes different routes you can take that benefit each vehicle type differently. The big rigs for example work best in the mud, carving beautiful turns and keeping traction at all times, where a motorcycle works best on the dirt and rock with the ability to take certain jumps and routes that are hard for other vehicles to reach.

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The balancing act between the vehicles work very well as you find yourself trying out different vehicle types and routes on each of the 8 tracks to see where it works best, and there is never that feeling where one vehicle works better then the others. The inclusion 8 different tracks might not sound like a whole lot, but when you factor in the different paths with the 7 different vehicle types, there is actually a lot of depth to the game that will continue to hold your attention both online and off.

Single player mode uses a point system, where depending on where you finish the race (must be at least 3rd), you gain a certain amount of points which will unlock the next ticket with up to 4 races on each. Some tickets also require you to finish all previous races on at least Silver or Gold to unlock them. So you will need to go back and redo a race that you might have only received a Bronze or Silver on. The system works well and changes up each race quite a bit by including a different combination of AI vehicles as well as normally only letting you chose a vehicle from one class, with the occasional “open” vehicle class selection.

Of course online play is the big new mode that wasn’t in the Japanese version and something that will keep players coming back. Using a lobby system and dedicated servers much like SOCOM, where each lobby can hold a maximum of 256 players with games found in each lobby, you can race with up to 11 other opponents (not including yourself) for a total of 12 players in a race, and of course with open mic voice chat supported for both USB and Blue-tooth mics. With extensive amount of time I spent online I never encountered any lag and only experienced a drop in the frame rate a couple of times and only in brief instances. So much like Resistance, the online play here is flawless, but unlike Resistance, MotorStorm is missing some key online features. A lack of a friends list is utterly ridiculous, bringing us back into the dark ages, and with only the regular “race” mode option, it feels a bit lacking on the features side compared to its competitors like Burnout Revenge which include a heap of online modes.

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There are also some technical issues dealing with voice chat. Though the actual voice chat itself is one of the more high-quality sounding implementations you’ll hear, it seems that much like Resistance, there is an issue where after a few races it will all of a sudden stop working. Or it will work for some people and not work for others. It’s an issue that can sometimes be resolved by the host leaving, allowing the game to switch host to the next person in line (no pause in the action thanks to dedicated servers), or making an entirely new room.

While the two main modes offered are, for the most part, very well done, you can’t help but feel that the menu screen looks a little thin. Without the option of jumping into a Quick Race or Time Trials mode, there is no way for you step in for 5 min to race on your track of choice with the AI vehicles you want to face. It’s a huge oversight and something that has been a standard in racing games for a long time. Not to mention the lack of any local (splitscreen) multiplayer--this seems to be trend for a lot more games on next-gen consoles.

One area where MotorStorm clearly excels is in the visuals. Despite it not being on par with the trailer shown at E3 2005 (when are we going to get off this already) it is still one of the most impressive visual showpieces around on any platform. From the car models to the effects to the environments, of which the mud really deforms and affects gameplay, are extraordinary. While on the topic of mud, you’ll also experience it slop on your windshield (or visor) obstructing your view before running off the screen. With all this action going on in your view its surprising how clean the frame rate is, with only a few instances where I actually experienced a drop in the action which were quick and didn’t have an effect on the gameplay. This is definitely a game that you pop in the PS3 to show off to your friends.

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All this visual fidelity does come at a bit of a cost with load times that will drive you up the wall. It’s not so much the loading of tracks or the initial load of the game, but the loading during the car selection menu can become pretty annoying. With a short (and sometimes long) load time between each vehicle class, car, and skin as you are trying to choose your vehicle. I rather the game had just give me a picture of the car instead of forcing me to wait as it loads the entire 3D model. This is annoying enough offline, but online it has more of an effect as there is a timer by which you must chose your vehicle by. So if you don’t go into a race with a clear idea of the vehicle class and vehicle you want, you might just end up missing the boat and having to wait until the next track. Luckily the majority of the presentation doesn’t suffer problems like this, and the beautiful video that plays behind every menu screen is an excellent touch and adds to the overall package and feel that is given off.

The sound does its job well and is about what you expect from a racing game in the middle of the desert - a combination of buzzes from bikes, loud roaring motors from big rigs, and the purring engine of rally cars. On top of that, the licensed soundtrack is surprisingly well put together and fits the mood perfectly with a mixture of rock, country rock, and blue grass country rock. Playing through the game brought upon some moments of summer nostalgia, absolutely something I’m not used to feeling from a game. Like the majority of presentation aspects, its high quality and well done.

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MotorStorm sets out to be a new and fun experience for arcade racing fans and for the most part it delivers. The core game mechanics are done exceptionally well and make the game a blast to play, but the lack of content hurts it from being the killer app that it could have been. This is very much the first chapter in a franchise with legs and I see it coexisting with other great Sony racing franchises like WipeOut and Gran Turismo. Though it’s not going to have people running to the stores to buy PS3s, it’s definitely the second game you’ll want to pick up for your PS3 after Resistance.

By David Doel - 03/15/07
ESRB Details: Language, Violence
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Screenshots for MotorStorm

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