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Review

Review: MotorStorm Apocalypse

Book your tickets.

Desert, jungle, arctic. Those MotorStormers certainly get around the planet, each excursion more dangerous and extreme than the last – and whilst this fourth title in the series returns to America, it’s in an entirely different setting than Monument Valley.  Apocalypse, as you’ve no doubt already gathered from the oodles of hands-on impressions we’ve been running over the last year or so, is based on the west coast of the US, in a city not dissimilar to a potent blend of San Francisco and Los Angeles; the twist?  It’s in the middle of a huge earthquake: reason enough, it seems, for Big Dog and his merry band of hardcore racers to base their next festival right in the middle of all the destruction.

The plot – such as it is – is as implausible as it is irritating, even if the central device, the reason d’etre, is sound enough.  These guys need somewhere to race, why shouldn’t it be in an ever changing, considerably more lethal locale than they’ve had before?  Sorting out the men from the boys is the basic, cliched mechanic here, told through clunky animated comic-book cutscenes that never seem to find their feet and remain eminently skippable even if doing so will render the single player story mode little more than a series of races.  Not that this is a negative, once you’re through the game once it’ll almost certainly be the choice of most for repeated play-throughs, but MotorStorm has survived just fine without this new element, and whilst it tries its best it just doesn’t slot into the game as neatly as we’d have hoped.


MotorStorm's comic-style cutscenes are a puzzling inclusion. They don't mask any loading and don't really fit with the rest of the game - a clunky story-telling device.
Thankfully, and much more importantly, once you’re onto the track MotorStorm Apocalypse is an absolute blast.  Sure, the first couple of races serve up little excitement (they’re more of a gentle introduction to the controls) but once you’re about four or five tracks in the action kicks up a few gears, the courses start to flex their muscles and, hugely impressively, the city starts to fall apart.

The game is split into around forty races in single player mode, divided up into three stories that act as difficulty levels, telling the same two-day tale from alternative viewpoints as they go along.  What this means is that although you’ll race on the same courses more than once, because they’ll appear at different times in each thread they’ll be, for example, at night rather than during the day, or suffering under different levels of the ‘quake.

This works brilliantly – the tracks evolve gradually over the storyline, new routes appear (and old ones become obstructed) and a few, like the Boardwalk track, show just what Evolution are capable of in terms of – literally – breathtaking visuals as the second and third iterations appear.  The courses are also really well designed: they’re all varied enough to be distinct but consistent enough to be part of the same city, even when they’re flicking between dockland, parks and massive long bridges – they’re definitely better than anything we’ve seen from the series before and the balancing period the developers must have gone through has resulted in some truly memorable and utterly raceable courses.

Info:
  • Third PS3 MotorStorm game
  • First in the series to have a proper story mode
  • Releases 18th March 2011
The controls fit perfectly too, the driving physics tuned to perfection, and save for a couple of oddities the game is designed to have the player at the very limits of each vehicle’s handling and grip from start to finish, all the while managing the turbo which, as we’ve seen before, is capable of turning your ride into a flaming wreck if pushed too hard.  A subtle switch to the cooling of the boosters (let go of both the accelerator and the turbo in the air) brings a minor element of tactics but for the most part it’s all out top-speed pedal to the metal racing, which a few corners designed for drifting thrown in.  It’s not subtle, and purely simple arcade maths under the bonnet, but it’s well suited.

Likewise, the sound is equally brutal: distorted engines play against a booming drum and bass soundtrack from the likes of DJ Shadow and Noisia that screams out for surround sound or a decent pair of headphones. But it’s the visuals that’ll make the loudest claims here: as we said above, the graphics are occasionally astounding, especially in terms of the destruction of the city, but they suffer from a slightly flat overall image (there’s little in the way of deep blacks and much of the game is rather muted) and some rough edges, but this makes way for a solid framerate with sixteen vehicles on screen, which is surely worth the compromise in fidelity. Don’t get us wrong, MotorStorm looks good enough, but it’s only during the big ‘wow’ moments that it really comes into its own.  That said, the game looks much better in 3D, the added depth really bringing MotorStorm Apocalypse alive and it’s easily one of the best examples of the new tech around just now – any compromises the team have had to make are, unlike most 3D games just now, invisible.

MotorStorm’s single player is a thrilling ride, the way the tracks play out is great fun, there’s only a couple in there that could be classed as filler and most are genuinely exciting, especially if you’re pushing for first place throughout.  The difficulty level is much easier than previous games, too, you’ll sail through the first story arc without any fuss, only meeting tougher opposition midway through the second, and although there’s no choice in vehicle types (you’re forced to use the given vehicle for each race) the new additions, like the Superbike, more than make up for this.  Finally, each track has a few hidden collectable cards dotted around that promote a little exploration, even if the rewards for doing so aren’t all that exciting.  A success, then, apart from the disappointing cutscenes and the enforced linearity which is a sudden change from previous games’ ticket systems.


The livery editor isn't going to bother Forza, but it's diverse enough to offer unique identities for your online personas. And it's per vehicle, which is nice.
The other half of Apocalypse is the Wreckreation mode, which is divided up into more single player options (in the form of hardcore challenges and a comprehensive, full open time trial) and the all important multiplayer section, which is as expansive as you’d like, with a few surprises.  For starters, there’s four player split-screen local multiplayer, and save for a few visual tweaks it’s just about perfect; but more impressive is the way you can take that split-screen goodness online and race against other players with a buddy by your side, all the while racking up points that go towards your overall rank and your ever growing medal count.

Online multiplayer races are much more exciting than the single player ones – the thrill of human opponents always is – but the presence of local split-screen is most welcome.  Online works smoothly too – you can search for games in the three main types (Perks and Betting, Racing, Chase and Eliminator) or you can set up private games and invite friends to the party via a simple but effective Friend list at the side of the lobby screen.  Once you’ve gathered enough racers, a track is voted on (from a choice of two) and vehicles, liveries and loadouts are picked before the countdown begins; of course, in private races you can tweak the settings and select whichever track you desire.

The perks are an interesting new feature – you can set up five loadouts, and each one contains three perks, one based on Handling, one on Boosting and one on Combat, and rising through the ranks will grant you more options.  You start with some basic ones, like better handling, the ability to boost for longer and use less boost when you perform a ram move, but as you move up through the levels you’ll get more and will be able to tailor your settings depending on the track and your opponents – a neat touch.  You’ll also pick up more livery options and more player icons with which to decorate your online persona.

MotorStorm, then, is a game that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, and what it is is a bombastic, relentlessly energetic rush through a series of courses that start slowly but ultimately end up making you feel like you’ve gone ten rounds with a heavyweight.  By the midpoint, when the game starts to get serious, the tracks get hard and the other racers become more aggressive and brutal in their racing – you’ll need a few restarts but it’s always worth the effort just to see what crazy ideas Evolution have come up for the next race in the story.  And with a comprehensive multiplayer portion we’re think this one’s a winner.

Pros:

  • Solid single player mode
  • Comprehensive online options
  • Split screen local multiplayer
  • In-game photo mode supports ridiculous resolutions
  • Stunning soundtrack
  • Perks system is clever

Cons:

  • Comic-book cutscenes don’t work well
  • Story feels a little tacked on and results in a linear path through the game
  • Load times can be troublesome
  • Rubberbanding is still a little cheap – cars ahead seem to crash more, whilst those behind drive better
  • Lacks the festival feeling that the first game offered

MotorStorm has come just at the right time: the PS3 needed a burst of frantic energy and Apocalypse certainly delivers.  It’s not perfect, but it represents pure arcade racing with a central device that never feels tired – the earthquake scenario managing to stretch itself over forty different events and still feel fresh at the very end, when the game turns everything up to eleven.

By then, as the city falls to pieces around you, you’ll be glad for the final credits – this isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you’re tough enough and reckon you can tame a superbike as a tornado whips around you, we’ll see you out there…

Score: 8/10

39 Comments
  1. kjkg
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    OK so I was reading this thinking ” Ill miss this out, Its just rehashed and I never really liked the originals too much” then I read this ->”there’s four player split-screen local multiplayer” and “take that split-screen goodness online”!

    SOLD!

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:13.
    • Darksidesystems
      Member
      Since: Aug 2010

      I’m about to throw a spanner in the works:- I loved the first two games but after having played the demo I will NOT buy this game. The lack of a “festival feel” or real soundtrack has just killed it for me. I really wish I could describe it better but it seems that whatever magic the originals had has been lost somewhere.
      I has a motorstorm sad… :(

      Comment posted on 13/03/2011 at 10:02.
  2. Dan Lee
    Common like the rest of us.
    Since: Jun 2010

    The Skyline track on a superbike is one of the most exciting gaming moments of the year so far for me! And yes, the music is awesome!

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:14.
    • Klart
      Member
      Since: Jun 2010

      About the music: I thought they let out the drum&bass and chose dubstep?

      Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:52.
      • Dan Lee
        Common like the rest of us.
        Since: Jun 2010

        Dubstep is in there. One of my fave tracks is the dubstep one that plays in the multiplayer lobby.

        Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:56.
  3. Jim H [Teabags]
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Glad to hear that the difficulty has been lowered somewhat; I loved Motorstorm and PR, but even when I was at my peak, I could only just grab 3rd in some of the later races.

    Online was also another double-edged blade for me. I loved the thrill of racing against other players, though the levelling system would penalise players who came in last place (or even below 6th in 12 player races.)

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:15.
  4. kevatron400
    Drake, baby.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Sounds pretty nice. I have never owned a MotorStorm game, as a newcomer to the series, what would people say is the best one? Note that local multiplayer is a big factor for me, so is any better than the others in that aspect.

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:16.
    • nofi
      One for all.
      Since: Forever

      This one.

      Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:17.
      • kevatron400
        Drake, baby.
        Since: Dec 2008

        Ha thanks. Job done.

        Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:19.
  5. Smallville2106
    Member
    Since: Feb 2011

    Thanks for the review. So excited about this. Even more so after reading this. Got it on pre-order so hopefully should get it a couple of days early.

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:25.
  6. maneorix
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    Great review. I’m glad they got rid of the ridiculous online system of Pacific Rift. I did reach max level in that, but it was terrifying more than fun!

    Only worry I have for this are the perks. I don’t like the idea, I’d much prefer to have balance across the board, *shakes fist at COD*. Rewards in the way of customisation and looks would be much more to my liking.

    I’ll probably pick this up sometime in the summer.

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:25.
    • kivi95
      Member
      Since: Oct 2009

      well their will be options too turn perks off.

      Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 10:31.
      • maneorix
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        You sure about that? I’ll happy if there’s an option :)

        Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 11:14.
  7. Samiro05
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    SPLIT SCREEN LOCAL MULTIPLAYER! I’m sold. Been so so so puzzled why it’s been omitted from almost every racer in this generation of console games.

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 11:32.
  8. teflon
    Community Team
    Since: May 2009

    When I played it last year, I completely agreed with each of those cons. Still, it’s a day one for me. Can’t wait!

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 11:36.
    • cam the man
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      Day one for me too. The two previous games had some good DLC so expecting the same for this.

      Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 12:47.
  9. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    The wait between multiplayer races in the beta is a nightmare.

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 12:02.
    • Kevling
      Member
      Since: Dec 2008

      The seemingly endless selection screens between races are annoying too…

      Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 17:06.
      • teflon
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        But at the same time, they don’t quite last long enough…

        Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 23:09.
  10. Sympozium
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    Buying this alongside Yakuza 4 can’t wait!

    Comment posted on 09/03/2011 at 12:08.

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