Some of my earliest memories of the PS3 go back to the E3 footage from several years ago. One of the featured upcoming titles was Motorstorm, and man did it look awesome. It turned out to be an excellent game that received a great sequel in 2008 with Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. Evolution Studios is back with another Motorstorm this week: Apocalypse. The core gameplay is the same, but this time the extreme racing takes place in a quake and tsunami ravaged coastal metropolis.
Lunatics Unite (as they used to say)
Whether you are a returning Motorstorm fan like me or a newcomer to the series, it doesn't take very long at all to get fully accustomed to the insane arcade racing of Motorstorm Apocalypse (MS:A). Being a racing game with only a handful of modes, the goal to finish first is both familiar and simple. Tight, responsive controls mixed with well designed tracks, and an AI that isn't too punishing until later in the game, make this game easy to pick up and play. It helps that the load times are brief -- the only real wait is just in getting the event loaded up (thirty seconds or less) and then you're off. Restarting a race is instantaneous, too.
Apocalypse, like its predecessors, is split up into offline and online modes. The Festival, Motorstorm's campaign mode, makes a return. This is the core of the offline game. Here, players will get to experience all of the tracks, race types, and vehicles that the game has to offer. The Festival is split into three distinct sections this time around known as Rookie, Pro, and Veteran. Pro and Veteran are unlocked only after having completed the previous tier. The game does in fact have a story and characters, all of which overlap between the different tiers of the Festival.
The first part of the Festival is about Mash, a young, up and coming racer who is out to prove himself. He gets advice from Big Dog, a Motorstorm vet who you get to play as in Veteran mode. The Mash campaign leads into Ty's campaign nicely, both in terms of the story and the rising difficulty. I was able to at least qualify (finish in the top five), if not finish first in all of Mash's events on the first try. Ty's campaign gets a lot harder than that for a few reasons. One of which is tighter qualification requirements (finishing in the top three). Another would be the AI racers are more likely to ram you instead of letting you be, too. Another change, however, that you might not have guessed, is how the levels themselves change. Indeed, most of the race locations from Mash's events are reused for Ty. But, most of the time, that same event is altered by the quake or storms in the area, making the track a lot more treacherous and making it feel at least a little bit, if not a whole lot, different.
In some ways, MS:A reminds me of Split/Second, an outstanding racer from last year. Both games feature alternate paths and level-altering events that take place from one lap to the next. Between the two I'm not sure which game I find to be the most thrilling, but both are incredibly intense.
In between events in Apocalypse, a short, usually thirty or forty second motion comic runs to further develop the story. Basically, a massive quake has devastated this island. People were told to evacuate, but some refused and stayed. These fine folks are known as The Crazies. A private military contractor, Dusklite, has began to forcibly remove these people from the area, but the Crazies are fighting back. The thrill-seekers that they are, Motorstorm and its riders decide to come to the quake ravaged city for their next Festival. While racing, you will see (and run into, although fortunately with no blood/gore effects) many Crazies and you will also see Dusklite at work with attack helicopters. The natural disaster and weather, plus the war between the Crazies and Dusklite, are the cause of the track alterations.
As with the two previous games in the series, Apocalypse features a variety of motor vehicles, thirteen total in fact. These include super minis, ATVs, dirt bikes, super bikes, buggies, rally cars, monster trucks, mudpluggers, big rigs, racing trucks, super cars, muscle cars, and choppers, all of which you can customize in multiplayer with different parts and decals. Each vehicle is rated by its Speed, Handling, and Toughness. In Festival, your vehicle is chosen for you, but all other modes allow you to pick your vehicle of choice. Of course, none of these are licensed vehicles, but I think that's a good thing. On a similar note, there are no in game ads at all, which I'm happy about.
Apocalypse has Perks that you can assign for online play as well. You earn these and other unlockables including some 300 player icons and thirty-three different drivers -- by moving through the ranks. There are eighty ranks total, and as you advance you earn Chips. From what I can tell, the total number of Chips you can earn is 7000. Of course, with the PSN still down I'm not able to test any of the online features. That said, Perks include Burn Rubber, Swift Return, Up And Away, Critical, Parting Gift, and Cheap Shot. These Perks give you abilities such as increasing your grip, allowing you to stay in Critical Boost longer before blowing up, and emitting a shockwave in hopes of disrupting other players whenever you wreck.
Getting back to the offline modes, there are a couple of Special Events and a trio of solo or splitscreen events. The Special Events include the Hardcore Festival, which is the Festival but much harder. Each Hardcore Festival event is unlocked only after finishing first in the event in the normal Festival. The other Special Event is Time Attack which is all about posting your best time on a given track with a vehicle of your choice. The other offline modes include Quick Race, Chase, and Eliminator. Chase is similar to Eliminator in that you have a certain amount of time to get as far ahead of the pack as possible. The tail end of the order is removed after so much time passes.
Oh -- I should also mention that there are 150 Motorstorm 'cards' to find and collect throughout the game, too. Fortunately, the game does tell you how many cards are in any one race, but that still leaves you to find and drive over (or through) the cards.
It's been a long time since I've sat down with the two previous Motorstorm games but I found myself right back at home with Apocalypse. From the gorgeous visuals that run at a silky smooth framerate to the massive wrecks, Motorstorm has always been a visual treat. I applaud Evolution Studios for continuing to make Motorstorm as basic, yet as addictive as it is. In reality, besides the other racers and the environment, the only other gameplay element that you have to keep track of is the all important Boost meter. Boosting is an absolute necessity in Motorstorm and you will feel like you are going slow without it. Going all the way back to the original Motorstorm, the ability to Boost is always kept in balance with the temperature of your engine: too hot and your vehicle will literally explode. Using Boost and ramming other vehicles or running over fire will increase your engine temperature while running over water, driving in the rain, catching big air (and letting go of the accelerator while in air), are all ways to cool that engine down.
The Boost meter is easy to see out of the corner of your eye and visual and aural cues will let you know when you've gone critical. It's good that you never have to actually look at the Boost meter in the lower right corner of the screen because doing so would take your focus off of the road in front of you, which will get you wrecked in no time. There is so much going on in any one race in MS:A that it teeters on the brink of being too much. In other words, it's a hell of a thrill to play. Yes, you will wreck, and likely wreck a lot, but, recovery is quick and the AI makes mistakes too. However, as you get further into the Festival you can bet that mistakes do become more and more difficult to make up for. Overall, I think Evolution did a fine job in balancing the absolute insanity going on in the race with the amount of wrecks you are likely to encounter. Oh, and thanks to the 'ram left' and 'ram right' controls (Square and Circle) players can instantly make a short jerk to the left or right, which sometimes is precisely what you need to avoid that other vehicle or obstacle in front of you.
To the summary...