Our Motorstorm review opened with the line, “Muddy Hell! This is racing.” And what we think now is, “Bloody hell, is this racing?” There’s a problem with Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, and it’s known as dilution.
To all intents and purposes, the first Motorstorm was a brilliantly raw, gorgeous-looking arcade racer with its own distinct identity and feel. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but for the PS3’s European launch we couldn’t have asked for anything better to fuel our petrolhead desires. Naturally, Sony and Evolution wanted to follow up on that success, and thus, 18 months later, enter Pacific Rift. Boasting twice the number of tracks, more vehicles, a split screen 4 player mode and far more visual variety, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the finished code. And now, a week after starting, we can’t find the energy to carry on.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Pacific Rift per se, it’s just that everything Motorstorm did right seems to have been washed away and replaced with new faults, although the loading times are halved. Sadly ,the underground, party atmosphere evoked by the first game is all but gone, so you no longer feel like you’re invited to something special. The consistent levels might have suffered some repetition, but now they’ve all been replaced by rejects from a FarCry 2 map maker, with the usual bright green trees, massive cascading waterfalls and oh-so-dangerous lava. It breaks up the monotony, but in the process has lost the uniqueness that Motorstorm so proudly championed. If there was a hoverboat to pilot we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Midway on the box, not Evolution.
In doubling the number of tracks the developers have halved the character of each of them, with a lot of routes appearing to share sections of the same tracks. If not intentionally, then purely on the way that trees and mud can only ever really look like other trees and mud when you’re flying past at 100mph perched on a motorbike. The best levels are interspersed with notable landmarks and some impressive jumps, and most are better played at the later stages of the evening’s light to appreciate the visuals at their best. But with some obtuse signposting and often muddy textures combined with over-busy roadside objects, it’s often simply too hard to find where you’re supposed to be going next. For a game that promotes the ability to create your own path through the levels, it’s frustrating to find yourself teleported back 100 yards because you decided to go through a river rather than over a bridge.
What has improved though are the vehicles and riders. Beyond a few bugs with the handling, such as the ATVs suddenly veering right (and no, it’s not the motion control) there’s a much clearer distinction between the suitability and the pros and cons of the key types of racer. Naturally, the lighter machines can jump further and handle tighter, but the heavy Rigs and the slightly novelty Monster Trucks offer a more destructive feel. Think Yoshi versus Bowser, except wearing tight leather and covered in mud.
The career mode structure remains almost the same and therefore is the final nail in the coffin of the underground atmosphere so expertly cultivated in Motorstorm. Again you’re limited to certain events until enough points are scored, but you’re free to mix and match with the four types of track as you require, keeping the game less linear than the original. It’s also handy if you prefer certain themed events over others. Later on, certain requirements are added to the staple “finish in the top three” goal and may involve setting a strict time for the laps, or avoiding wipeouts.
The major issue here is one of expectations; Pacific Rift falls well short of them. Motorstorm was a stellar introduction to the PS3 and the sequel feels like a watered-down, consumer-friendly game that doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. If you’re looking for an arcade racer there’s more on the market than back in March 2007, and many of these have made advances while Pacific Rift is stuck in Motorstorm’s beautifully realised mud.
The choice is yours – and you might find plenty to enjoy here – but in this busy Christmas period, it’s our opinion that Evolution hasn’t done enough.