After ten minutes racing round the ModSpot, checking out the RaceStation and the CreationStation, marvelling at the joyous bubblegum characters and karts, I didn’t think there was a better game, no. As I mentioned in an earlier preview, this earlier preview, no less, ModNation Racers (MNR) is to me like an HD-version of my old favourite Skidmarks but with a track editor bolted on. But, it’s so much better than I had hoped.
Once the 2GB download is installed and booted, you get to sit through a lovingly animated intro movie, which showcases two of the game’s characters; a rather arrogant commentator and a brilliant statto. If MNR wore sleeves it’d have little heart-shaped stickers all over them. You can’t help but love the effort that’s gone into creating the world. It’s similar to what Evolution tried and failed to do with the Motorstorm Festival atmosphere, but MNR is chequered flag all the way.
Movie over and the screen shows you sat in your kart ready to enter the ModSpot. The ModSpot is the community hub of the game and is the gateway to everything MNR has to offer. If you’re impatient and don’t wish to drive around the ModSpot – where you can meet other online racers – then you can bring up the menu screen and select your destination there. You’ll be a boring dullard if you do though. To save you from that, I’ll give you a quick rundown here.
- Adjust brightness
- Adjust screen size
- Adjust volume of
- VOIP On/Off
- Subtitles On/Off
Advanced Audio – Not sure what constitutes advanced audio. Clever noises? Intelligent Sounds?
- Adjust volume of
- Kart sounds
- Dynamic Pit Radio
- Ambient Sound
- Object and Props
- Road Noise
- Player Vocalisations
- User Interface
- Your Partner
That’s a lot of volume adjustment, but it highlights just how customisable MNR is and also how awesome the audio will be. You’ll hear.
- My Online Profile
- My Stats
- Time spent – Stats showing how long you’ve been doing certain things in MNR
- Racing stats – For me, 0 wins etc
- Creation stats – I’ve got some of these though!
- Photo Mode
- Brilliantly, you can take a pic of your immediate environment and save it to the PS3 – pics below as proof, peoples
Tutorials is greyed out in the beta, but presumably will be able to teach numtpies like me how to race. There are also shortcuts here to get to the RaceStation, CreationStation, and Online parts of the game. But enough of this, let’s drive into the ModSpot and see what’s up.
When you drive into the ModSpot you’ll notice a few other people nipping around the central, circular area – occasionally jumping over it – which the sections of the ModSpot are arranged around. To your left there are TV screens showing online information, the Top Tracks and your Hot Lap records, while to the right similar screens show off Top Players, Top Downloads etc, plus a Showcase Series (User Generated Content) and an Upcoming (DLC, presumably) screen. You can drive up and interact with them or just take a look at the information.
Ahead of you to the left is the RaceStation, then the Top Mods (User Characters) and Top Karts (User Karts) podiums. There are already some lovely creations on display, so check them out. Further over to the right is the CreationStation, which boasts a Shop (not yet working) and the Create and Share areas.
For once, I found navigating via the game engine rather than menus to be more satisfying. It may take a smidge longer, but when you get to bump into other people along the way and have impromptu races around the ModSpot, who cares?
Talking of other people, if you get near enough you can press Square and an options pane opens up. From here you can check out a number of things: View Creations, Player Profile, Complaints Desk, Add To Friends, Send Message, Challenge (you can challenge someone to a race on your own track, an MNR track, or any tracks you’ve downloaded). It’s a cool system and you’ll get a little frisson of excitement when the scrolling message appears saying someone has challenged you. I ignored them because I needed to gather information, but I would have kicked their ass, no bother.
Being a frustrated Creative at heart, I decided the CreationStation was where I wanted to go first…
This is the area you’ll head for when you want to get creative with either your Mod (character), your Kart (Kart), or your Tracks (Tracks). There is even a Shop inside, but that’s not working in the beta. In fact, a large amount of the customisation options aren’t available in the beta, e.g. there are only a small amount of noses to choose from, a few pairs of trousers and so on, but it doesn’t matter one jot. You see, there are so many things you can change that even with the relative paucity of content in the beta you can easily create a unique-looking Mod or Kart. In fact, check out this TSA video showing off the customisation to see just what’s possible. It’s only a few minutes long and shows how to create a Mod, Kart, and a Track. Yep, it really is as straightforward as the video suggests.
You back now, huh?
I chose to create a Mod first. It took about five minutes to create a suitably red-wearing, top-hat toting Skeletor lookalike. I was impressed! Of course, now I needed a ride and that took a similar length of time. I decided to deck out my ride with twin rear licence plates, because I could.
And then the bit that I’d really, really been waiting for. The track editor. If you’ve watched the video – you have, right? – then you’ll be pleased to know that I can confirm it is exactly as easy as it looks. My first attempt had great bends and corners, changes in elevation, and long straights for overtaking on. Comparisons to LittleBigPlanet’s editor are unfair as MNR’s offering is highly focussed on one job and it does it magnificently. It’s absolutely seamless to go from editing to racing on the track. I can see this being a mammoth time sink when it’s released, and I wouldn’t rule out some special TSA competitions either.
To give you an idea of what’s possible, check out the screen shot of my Mod and Kart racing round my Track below. I’m flying up an elevated section, having sent a barrel I’d placed flying through the air. As you’re no doubt aware, to lay down track you simply “drive” and the track appears behind you. There’s a little map overlay that shows you the basic outline of your track, so you can see where you need to go to get back to the Start/Finish and so on. If you get stuck, you can even press Triangle and MNR will auto-complete the track for you. It’s a brilliant feature that comes in handy.
There are a few Global Settings you can alter to change the Tracks’s appearance, such as lighting, cloud cover, and water levels. They do make a difference, as some Tracks can be harder to navigate if the light is lacking, for example. The terrain can also be sculpted, by raising and lowering using different “brushes”. You can also “paint” the terrain with various patches, to make it look like a field of flowers and so on. You can even have as much trackside clutter as memory allows, filling the environment with trees, buildings, animals and more. Handily, MNR includes an auto-populate option for those of you who just want to get the race surface designed and forget about all the other environmental stuff.
Finally, after all that, you’ll want to actually race. Thankfully, MNR takes all the gorgeousness of the CreationStation and whacks it smack-bang in the middle of the best Karting action the PS3 has seen. Ok, so it hasn’t seen much, but whatever; It’s ace!
In true Karting style, the handling is very forgiving and therefore it’s easy to compete. It’s not easy to win though, as the rush for those powerups (weapons and boosts) is never ending, as is the pursuit of the best racing line that will take you straight through booster pads. You receive points for cool driving, like drafting, and this fills up your Boost Meter. Use it wisely, because every other driver will send everything they have at you if you take the lead. It’s fast and frenetic stuff, but never too much that you feel overwhelmed by it all. Of course, goodness only knows what it’ll be like once all the User Generated Content (UGC) starts to hit.
The beta allows you to play either Ranked (for XP) or Unranked races, and you can host your own Unranked games as private or Friends only affairs. There’s even the excellent option of having a Pure Race, which is a race without the Weapons and such – my idea of Heaven. I tried a few online games and managed to connect without any problems. The races were smooth and lag free, and I even didn’t come last – go me!
Software of this quality deserves an audience. The developers have poured such love and attention into it that I think it only right you all rush out to the shops and buy it on release. It’s a sign of the depth of content that the PS3 plays host to that something like MNR is available at the same time as Heavy Rain. We really are spoiled, aren’t we?