Review / MotorStorm Apocalypse (PS3)

If you want a specific type of racer these days chances are you’re already covered. Want F1 racing? Go get F1 2010. Strictly sims? Gran Turismo 5 does the trick. Arcade? Burnout and Hot Pursuit are all you’ll ever need. The genre is pretty much spoken for from top to bottom.

Enter MotorStorm Apocalypse, Sony’s off-road racer that’s taken a strangely on-road twist. What can the fourth entry in this series bring amidst all the simulations, karts, and unending Need for Speed games? In a word; chaos.

It’s everywhere in Apocalypse, for better or worse. You’ll find it in the crumbling race tracks, the fast-paced multiplayer, even in the ill-advised story. But what do you expect? A game with Apocalypse in the title is hardly going to be gunning for Forza, is it?

Let’s set the scene a little. Jungles, deserts, snowy mountains? Been there, done that, chuck ‘em in the bin, they’re boring. It’s time to hit the city, a city caught in the middle of a scene from 2012, that is. Mother nature is finally getting her way, meaning there’s more than the other racers coming after you; earthquakes and hurricanes try to swat you like a fly, bringing entire buildings down behind you and raising the ground right in front of you. Out of control trucks shoot across your path and—is that a train coming down on top of you?

Apocalypse brings this kind of madness your way through 40 different single-player events and a host of multiplayer modes. Festival mode holds its own story with three different difficulty modes represented by three different characters.

“Finally!” I hear you say, “A story in a MotorStorm game! Wait, what?” Yeah, I don’t recall anyone really asking for that either. And for good reason; the story here is painfully bad, filled by an entirely hateable cast of pretty boys and Gears of War rejects. It’s meant to be dumb, like the game itself, but it doesn’t pay off the way developer Evolution Studios would probably like. Rarely is it funny, or enjoyable to watch awkwardly voiced characters mutter some truly cheesy dialog. Bulletstorm, this is not. It’s throwaway stuff, so be thankful you can skip the movies as soon as they start. It just gets in the way of why we’re really here; to ride faster than the devil on a pathway to hell.

And race you shall. And it shall be fast, and explosive, and exciting, and incredibly over the top. There are 13 different vehicles to race in, although the campaign sticks you with a specific one for every race. That’s a bit annoying seeing as everyone who plays MotorStorm knows that racing trucks and mudpluggers are just a pain in the butt, getting in the way of all the biking and rally car racing, but every class has their own purpose. Bikes, for example, can take higher, trickier routes, that keep them away from mud and the bigger vehicles that thrive in the stuff.

Evolution have been smart; they know what we like so they’ve given us more of it. Normal bikes and rally cars are joined by muscle cars, super bikes, and the ultimate combination, super cars. Expanding on the fan-favourites is definitely a step in the right direction, leaving other classes like monster trucks in for a bit of variety.

Tracks still offer a number of ways to get from a to b, often asking you to make split-second choices between the giant ramp or the huge slope, each one cleverly weaving back and forth before you get back to the finish line. The twist is that the disaster going on around you is dynamically changing the track, blocking paths and opening up new ones as you go. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll find discover a new shortcut. Either that or you’ll drive straight into a bit of road that’s been forced upwards. Mother nature giveth and taketh in that respect.

The driving itself has a good feel to it, although it’s a far cry from the super-slick Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. You’ll be too busy ducking and dodging fire and rubble to focus on pulling off perfect drifts, but cornering does seem a little greasy in this one, making it hard to pull off sharp turns.

For this reason and others, there’s a hefty amount of challenge to campaign, especially (and obviously) on the higher difficulty. Tracks are more complex than its predecessors, and harder to navigate. Your vehicle can come off feeling like it’s made of paper too, because it veers off the road at the slightest lick from opponents. Challenge is welcomed though, given that the number of events is roughly half of what was seen in the last game, Pacific Rift, though this again can be forgiven considering the fact that no two races are the same. Toss in a hardcore mode, Elimination races and time trials, and Evolution have got the whole variety is the spice thing nailed.

What fun is racing through a death trap of a city if you can’t do it with a friend though? Apocalypse has got you covered, with four-player split-screen, and 16-player online. You can even have two people on the same machine racing online.

Let me take a paragraph here to say THANK YOU EVOLUTION STUDIOS FOR SPLIT-SCREEN. It’s a feature missing from far too many racing games these days. In fact, it’s missing from too many games full stop these days, so it’s encouraging to find the mode in all its glory here.

We haven’t been able to play around much online (much like with Killzone 3, Sony haven’t put up the servers pre-release) but with four friends, the game is an absolute blast. It takes you back to days of gathering around a SNES/N64 for some Mario Kart, only instead of blue shells you have certain death drops and instead of lightning that makes you small you have actual lightning. Surely this is putting a strain on your little black box.

When the original MotorStorm hit the PS3 way back near launch, it was the graphical peak for the system. It hasn’t aged incredibly well though, and Pacific Rift proved that with its blurry floor textures. Apocalypse is definitely a step up, but it’s more technically impressive rather than graphically. The city setting doesn’t allow for an incredibly beautiful game, but it won’t really matter to you when you watch a hurricane tearing a building to pieces while you charge forward, all of which happens without the frame rate taking a dip. Evolution clearly know how to motivate those tiny mice spinning wheels inside the PS3.

That’s not to say it doesn’t look nice, just not up there with the best. If Gran Turismo 5 were Killzone 3, say, then MotorStorm is its Resistance; not quite as graphically jaw-dropping, but the design to please the eye all the same.

So we’ve got the feel and look, do we have the sound? Honestly, the game could do with being a bit noisier. There’s a ton of “OH HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!” moments as cars explode and bridges collapse, but the audio “oomph” is never quite there to back it up, leaving it all feeling ever so slightly muted. It’s a shame, because it’s the very small piece of an otherwise complete and incredibly satisfying puzzle, but it’s still missing.

The soundtrack fits, but custom soundtracks one-up it. In fact, when you go to buy the game, head by the record store and pick up Queens of the Stone Age’s Song’s for the Deaf. Before you play the game, import the CD onto your PS3 and then play “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” on the first race. You can thank me later.

Got the picture yet? Apocalypse throws everything but the kitchen sink at you, then tosses that in for good measure. It has the heart and soul of a great summer blockbuster, and the budget to match. It’s dumb, it’s in your face, it’s a bloody good time, just leave your brain at the door.

+ Fast, fun, frantic racing taking to new heights thanks to setting
+ Great multiplayer to keep the disc spinning
+ Strong technical showcase for the PS3

– Embarrassing story gets in the way of campaign
– Sound lacks the punch that the rest of the presentation has
– Forces you to use less popular vehicles throughout the campaign