MotorStorm: Arctic Edge

MotorStorm: Arctic Edge

While I personally love it from a design standpoint, MotorStorm’s success as a franchise has always seemed integral to the presentation allowed by its hardware. Yes, mashing together a diverse selection of vehicles and throwing them all into an arcade flavored racer was certainly fun and, despite some interface issues, competently constructed, but MotorStorm’s hook has always lived with its visual appeal. The sense of scale was incredible, and the expansive tracks, impressive draw distance, believable terrain deformation, and debris-raining explosions contributed to sense of astonishment that the last generation couldn’t have possibly provided. If you took away all of the present hardware generations technical amenities, what would be left? Would MotorStorm linger as just another bland rally racing game? Well, Bigbig Studios (the team behind the surprisingly good Pursuit Force games), look to test said hypothesis with their entry into the MotorStorm series, Arctic Edge.

Cold Comfort

Arctic Edge certainly starts out on the right foot. At first glance, the game doesn’t seem all that dissimilar from its console peers. The energetic festival theme returns, and within its single player campaign are a purported one hundred unique races that plow through eight ranks and on a spiraled race select menu. While Arctic Edge features a robust twelve tracks, the single player campaign stretches its content even further by imposing vehicle restrictions on individual races; while some are free for all, the limitations do well to force you into getting comfortable with each one of the game’s eight vehicle classes. Familiar rides like the bikes, ATV’s, dune buggies, rally cars, big rigs, and the pluggers join new, contextually appropriate vehicles like the snow machine and the snow plow.

As usual, the assortment of vehicle classes does well to extend the games replayablity. The new snow machines are quite adept at providing flashbacks to Jet Moto, and, together with the ATV’s and bikes, summon memories of Road Rash (thanks to your riders ability to throw punches at opposing racers). Arctic Edge also manages to incentivize the often maligned heavier vehicles by providing them with a raw feeling of absolute power. Absolutely nothing stands in their way, be it thick snow or smaller vehicles, and it can be gratifying to effortlessly (and literally) destroy the competition. A reasonable amount of vehicle customization is present, provided you win enough races to reap the rewards of new parts and other aesthetic options.

Thankfully, completing your goal isn’t always just a matter of finishing first. As a means to stretch the campaign even further, several other tasks are blended into select races. Certain races require you to finish in a certain time, whereas others entail remaining in first for ten straight seconds. Of particular interest is the new Time Ticker mode, where you and three other racers constantly accumulate points; your position, from first to fourth, makes your points climb faster, and the first to 1000 points wins the race. All of these special events earn you stars and eventually give way to unlocking special time-attack like course layouts, where you must adhere to a specific path by passing through predetermined checkpoints.

Though its implausibility removes it far from the sim end of the racing genre, don’t take that to mean Arctic Edge is a slouch in the difficulty department. Rationing your boost remains the game’s risk/reward slider, and knowing when and where to boost with each vehicle is crucial to advancing through festival mode. At E3, a big deal was made about being about to honk your horn and trigger and avalanche, but I found these to be an annoying gimmick rather than something that could supplement MotorStorm’s inherent gameplay. The AI predictably progresses from a push over to an absolutely ruthless villain hell-bent on ruining your life, but, by now, anyone familiar with the MotorStorm series knows this is typical fare.

If the festival mode starts wearing thin (or driving you mad), plenty of other options do their best to compete for your attention, Standard time trial and free race modes are present, but of particular interest are all of the game earnable badges. Similar to trophies or achievements, badges are earned by something as simple as wining an event without wrecking, or as difficulty as maxing out your online rank. Yes, you read correctly, Arctic Edge brings a full online infrastructure mode to the table. As of this writing I still can’t connect to the servers, but, given the lack of missteps in the rest of the game, it’s pretty safe to assume this mode will function with a reasonable amount of grace.

Terrain Game

A few oddities lie with a couple physics related issues. The way my vehicle handled was occasionally bewildering; sometimes I would land a jump sideways and watch my forward momentum have zero effect, while other times I would fall into a roll and have to reset my car. Arctic Edge isn’t exactly consistent with what it’s going to do or how the terrain is going to play, but it often leads to head scratching moments of what-just-happened rather than anger over inexplicable losses. The unavoidable loss of rumble hurts a bit on the terrain-perception end, but the game seems more forgiving in turn negotiation and vehicle resets than its console brethren.

Expansive tracks have always been one of MotorStorm’s highpoints, and Arctic Edge doesn’t disappoint. While the surreal draw distance has been dropped in favor of more manageable environments, the game does well to create the illusion of a wide open expanse with its diverse track selection. Yes, the snow aesthetic is omnipresent but, by setting each course on different parts of the alleged mountain where this is all taking place, Bigbig studios found a thematic loophole to switch up the art direction. Anguta Glacier is a fantastic mash up of rock and ice, and comes packaged with an aurora backing its night sky. Widow Maker is a dirt filled, craggy underbelly that seems to cut right through the base of the mountain, Snowgod Canyon piles the snow high and thick, and The Chasm pounds you through a relentless blizzard. The standout track is easily Vertigo, which blends the mountain peak with the warm luminescence of a setting sun.

Bigbig studios also did well to not let actual track design fall into the realm of contrived nonsense. While certain elements, such as the ubiquitous curved metal ramps, feel a little copy and paste, but the majority of design choices feel organic (I mean, no one anywhere would ever actually build any of these courses, but that’s not the point). True to form, each track features multiple pathways that cater to respective vehicle classes; the smaller, better handling vehicles fair better on stuff like undersized elevated pathways, while the hulking barges are quick to plow through heavy snow. You don’t necessarily have to abide by what may be best (and the time trials specialize in forcing you down uncomfortable paths), but, especially with the higher tiered races, taking every advantage possible often becomes a necessity.

In an era when Gran Turismo can only muster a maximum of four cars on screen, it’s comforting to look at Arctic Edge and see nine other vehicles on the track with you. And while the lack of tech can’t quite blur the lines of reality like its console peers and the vehicle damage and flying parts are moderate at best, the gameplay remains fast and fluid and rarely takes a hit on the frame rate. And with everything from explosions at every corner to hang gliders and airplanes soaring overhead, Arctic Edge boasts and impressive amount of on-screen activity.  While the visuals were technically downgraded (relatively speaking, Arctic Edge looks fantastic) to match the platform, the audio package managed to keep pace. Prodigy, Pendulum, The Hives, Queens of the Stone Age, Evil Nine, and Radiohead (!) contribute high energy beats to compliment your adrenaline. And if Arctic Edge’s twenty licensed tunes aren’t to your liking, then you’re in luck, because it also supports custom soundtracks.

Above all else, Arctic Edge still feels like a MotorStorm game. While that won’t do much to rope in an otherwise ignorant or uninterested consumer base, fans of the series should be positively delighted with how well the portable entry turned out. Few moments of interactive terror are as profound as blasting through a turn on a snow machine while a big rig crashes into a wall, explodes, and literally misses you by an inch as it flies over top. Arctic Edge is chalk full of moments like that, and its potential for a unique, memorable experience with each race is a tremendous success.

Eric Layman is available to resolve all perceived conflicts by 1v1'ing in Virtual On through the Sega Saturn's state-of-the-art NetLink modem.