Motorstorm PlayStation 3 detailed video-game review – 8/10

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★★★★★ ★★★

Difficult to rate racing game that showcases some detailed and spectacular graphics, surround sound (until you do the 23rd March 2007 patch!) and physics, some eventually visceral racing action and introduces a terrific idea with complex multiple-route tracks and simultaneously-racing multiple vehicle types but nearly wastes it by not delivering an equally interesting game structure. The lack of any replay facility is unforgivable. The free Time Attack is largely well done and adds a star.

Slimm Says

MotorStorm is a good game but it’s all about potential. MotorStorm 2 should be amazing.

Content

12+. Sexual swear words and adult dialogue in songs. Offensive and provocative gestures. Violence.

Difficulty: Rock

Anyone who’s played one of Evolution Studios excellent “WRC” games know that Evolution makes hard games. MotorStorm doesn’t feature the Easy / Normal / Hard / Extreme difficulty levels of those games. So is it easier?

The single-player mode is made up of races of ever-increasing difficulty. There are eight Level 1 races, eleven Level 2 races, twenty-four Level 3 races and twenty-three Level 4 races. The first two single-player levels are surprisingly straight-forward and do not really require you to know the different routes through the courses too well and allow you to win any race without too much trouble.

Once you hit Level 3 single-player races you the game either becomes too hard or much, much better depending on how much you like racing games to be challenging. Here the AI starts to race much more aggressively with the effect that there are significantly more accidents happening all around (which frequently end up with you in them as an innocent drive-by-er) and they will often attempt to disrupt your race whenever you are close together.

Level 4 races sees the rubber-band AI tightened right up meaning that most mistakes will see the entire field come barrelling through and you being respawned in last. The rubber-banding is so blatant that the entire width of the track will generally be filled with 2nd to 15th place all in a line. The mistakes are usually yours but sometimes you will come off worse against an AI opponent. However, this isn’t as much of a disadvantage as it sounds as a slightly clearer track means greater momentum and you will generally catch up to the pack very quickly. With the added momentum you can frequently go from last to podium when you do. All you have to do is stay there.

It is this last level of difficulty which is often mentioned in reviews as a negative point with regard to ‘making a single mistake and the entire pack goes by’. As I’ve mentioned, the effect isn’t as bad as it sounds and, frankly, it can generally be avoided by not making a mistake. Don’t misunderstand, though, Level 4 is properly rock hard. Just count the number of times you blew your car up during the race before blaming the AI. It will almost never be zero.

It should also be noted that, by and large, the AI opponents are fair in that they too blow up when they smash into a wall or overuse their turbo. They seem to travel at more or less the same speeds as you. They struggle with the bouncy terrain just like you. They push you off the cliffs just like you push them off.

The only thing that doesn’t affect the AI and does affect you is visibility. So night-time races (which look fab despite there being no head lights or lights of any kind on the track) are harder for you but not for the AI. The frequent dust-clouds and mud-spattered view affects you very badly (you drive on instinct which is really exciting and cool) but doesn’t affect the AI (this little detail also made the one-on-one rally races in “Gran Turismo 4” completely unfair).

Also, if you have a big rig right behind you on the third person driving view (the only really usable view with the motorbikes), you cannot see your car or the track ahead. That is also really exciting but, again, something an AI opponent doesn’t have to deal with.

On Level 4, it is incredibly difficult. You can’t gain yourself an advantage by shoulder-barging 2nd place into a handy rock face as 3rd to 15th will simply pass because you slowed yourself down a bit too. Most of the races can be won with practice, intimate knowledge of the tracks and vehicles and, naturally, a bit of luck. Now that is great, as these are things that are required in real racing. But Level 4 is probably just a touch too harsh for a lot of players, even off-road racing game veterans. It produces some thrilling races but you always feel that your victory owes more to luck than to skill. The balance is, therefore, slightly off.

To complete all golds on Level 4, the infinite turbo tip (removed in June patch) is highly useful. I ended up using this technique on about four races as I always tried to win by using the turbo in a more regular manner and the turbo trick does feel a bit like cheating. (Tap the turbo button, don’t hold it down. You only get a percentage of your top speed but your turbo never overheats. You also never get the cool flame visual or sound effects.)

Despite the potentially off-putting difficulty level for a casual racer, perseverance is rewarded. The satisfaction of getting to know the courses inside-out is genuine and the racing at this level is consistently visceral. Like the “WRC” games the difficulty level is pitched high but it is possible for a committed and / or talented racer to accomplish. People who can achieved all Gold medals on MotorStorm’s single player can feel rightly proud, especially if they did it without using the infinite turbo tip.

Graphics

MotorStorm is a great-looking game. It looks instantly superb but playing it for some time, or watching someone else play it, reveals just how good this looks and you never tire of looking at.

The only significant complaint about the graphics is some frame rate problems in especially tight single-player races. This will only become really noticeable in Level 4 races as the pack tends to travel around in blocks of 15. It never badly affects playability but it always disappointing to see slowdown. I’ve never experienced it during online play.

On top of the game itself, MotorStorm comes with a few HD videos that also look astonishing. There’s the intro with the excellent trailer-man and his ‘voice of God’™ but there are is also some clean HD aerial footage of Monument Valley that is astonishing in its clarity.

  • Cattle Drive / Bugged Out might have the most impressive ambient lighting in the game. It is truly stunning to behold. If only “Formula One Championship Edition” hadn’t come out at the same time, it would be the most impressive lighting effects in any video game to this point.
  • Mud looks amazing. It glints in the sunlight, it looks wet and sticky. The way it emerges through the remaining wheel tracks of the racers lap after lap never ceases to impress.
  • Time of day lighting is superb.
  • Who would have thought fluttering translucent flags would look so amazing?

Audio

Motorstorm’s audio is outstanding.

All too often in contemporary racing games, you can’t hear your own engine, particularly when competitors are near. This is a ridiculous implementation of supposed realism but I’ve never yet been in a car where there wasn’t engine or tyre noise. Even when a car is oddly quiet, like a Lexus or Rolls, the noise of other cars is also quiet.

Not being able to hear your own engine noise is not a complaint that can be levelled against Motorstorm. This game produces neighbour-hassling engine sound that can bring a grin to your face all by itself.

The sound of your competitors is accurately placed but never feels louder than it should.

There is one minor complaint about the audio but it’s a design choice not a technical inadequacy. In the menus, the music is played as if you are in the middle of a desert festival. Which is odd. Especially as during the race, the music is played entirely normally. Surely that should be the other way around. Given that the ambient audio processing technology was in place, how much cooler would it have been to have a couple of places on the track that are playing the music through big speakers and for it to get louder and clearer the closer you get to it and then fade to nothing as you enter the valleys or drive around the other end of the track. Missed opportunity there.

Physics

MotorStorm’s handling is exceptional. It is entirely convincing 100% of the time. The handling never takes you by surprise and it always feels right. If you smashed into a cliff-face, it’s because of your input that it happened.

While it is possible to send your vehicle flying what feels like hundreds of feet in the air by glancing a cliff or rock, it is entirely consistent within the game. There are areas like these where the handling leaves anything resembling reality but always stays within Motorstorm’s defined set of rules. These rules are instantly obvious and completely natural. It’s not like a lot of track racing games where if you leave the track (either in the air or across grass or gravel), you get a whole new set of rules and physics unlike anything else in the game. Motorstorm strongly defines the rules and sticks to them.

  • Different vehicles feel individual and convincing and the control is, basically, perfect. It really feels like driving whichever vehicle through whichever terrain be it rock, sand, or mud. Whichever vehicle you pick, it instantly feels right.
  • Banked corners are the best ever I’ve experienced in a game. Frequently, banked corners are harder for cars to go around in video games because the lateral angle of the road surface is not truly taken into account by the physics engine. Here the banking has a convincing effect and so on Sidewinder you can barrel around the banking with control and utter glee.
  • All the physics that apply to also appear to apply to the AI cars.

Tracks

The tracks in MotorStorm are excellent, a couple of them outstanding. Remember that there are seven different vehicle classes to cater for and each track allows for competitive play in any vehicle class.

Contemporary critics moaned about the lack of tracks (there are eight) and lack of reverse playability. I don’t particularly agree with that. I suppose you can never have too many tracks. However, MotorStorm requires a fairly intimate knowledge of most of the tracks to learn their intricacies relating to each vehicle class. The number of tracks is just enough to provide different layouts and few enough that you do get to learn them well. Perhaps the real problem is more likely that there is just the one setting: the Utah / Arizona desert. While some tracks are set atop the mountainous ‘monuments’ of Monument Valley and some in the mud down below, the constant use of the single setting may make you feel that all the tracks are the same.

I didn’t have that problem. The tracks are superbly designed and instantly distinguishable. The problem with the tracks, for me, was that Evolution Studios don’t give you enough to do on them by only offering a single game mode. They addressed this later by offering a free, comprehensive and well-designed Time Attack mode.

My two favourite tracks are both set atop the monuments: The Rock Hopper and Raingod Mesa. I don’t think that their setting being the same is a coincidence.

The Grizzly

This the most complex track in the game and, oddly, the first one you meet. It is also the only track in the single player festival where you can select which vehicle class you wish to use. This fact is somewhat remarkable.

Coyote Rage

This is a deceptively simple track that only has six corners on it. Because of this races here are always frenetic because you may not have enough race mileage left to get back to the front after mistakes.

Scenery seems unremarkable but it is the little things that you remember and you can always tells where you are on the track. There is little ramshackle bridge at turn 3 (and a little hut). The last and first corners have a nice open feel that is different from the rest of the track and there is a giant coyote skeleton at turn 4. Though if you are looking at that, you are probably about to have a massive accident.

The Mudpool

Well-named, no question, as this is a difficult track for the vehicles that do not like mud. Bikes and Buggies have to stick to a very challenging and interesting higher road that leaps and crosses over the mud track below before all the vehicles come together for a mad dash across the line through some narrow hoop bridges.

This is probably the easiest track to start getting decent results on but the later difficulty levels reward you handsomely for learning the alternative routes. The alternatives routes feature a nice satisfying jump which requires great accuracy and a tight gap you have to squeeze through after a banked curve that can ping you off and back down to mix it with the trucks if you get it wrong.

The Rock Hopper

Another great track. There are a plethora of routes and the scenery is, again, spectacular.

There are two significant technical aspects to this layout. One is these wonderful suspended banked corners and the other is the large number of large jumps required to get around this course. The banked corners principally look cool but require little guile to navigate. The jumps, however, are another matter entirely. A misalignment on take-off or a misjudging of speed can cause all sorts of trouble for the landing and subsequent momentum. Maintaining momentum is the key to success at this track.

Not only is this track fun to drive and spectacular to watch but it is fun to race both online and off as racers split and converge as they make their way around.

This is probably my joint-favourite track.

The Tenderizer

Aptly named, The Tenderizer is a canyon track which punishes any mistake by bouncing you onto a completely unwanted line at best or, more often, smearing you against a rock face. Agreeably, this also means that you can gently nudge competitors into those same obstacles with glee.

This is probably the most confined and enclosed track in the game and, as such, doesn’t offer too much scope for wide-reaching vistas. It does feature those wonderful translucent, gently flapping flags which you can appreciate in close-up as you whiz underneath them down the last straight.

Dust Devil

Dust Devil is all about temptation.

This is a wide open canyon track with all sorts of minor not-shortcuts and a couple of massive jumps which you really want to take even though you know they might be slower. The final jump is the biggest in the game and, on lap one, sees you crashing through a sign in order to land. Spectacular stuff.

Sidewinder Gulch

Sidewinder Gulch looks like a really long track and feels like it but the lap times don’t reflect this. It is probably the hardest track to learn and master. Even when you have decided on the best route for your vehicle, staying on the route is very challenging.

The lighting here is, again, superb with there being a real feeling on driving in and out of shadow and those lighting changes make a difference to the challenge of the shadowy sections with walls usually jutting out a little more or bumps being a little more severe than you anticipate.

Sidewinder Gulch also features the best banked corners in the game (in any game?) because they really do feel as if gravity is helping your car around the corner. This allows you to take these couple of corners at far greater speed than if you were on the flat. Still, great finesse is required in control because the bank doesn’t last long and when you come off you may be traveling too fast to make the next corner you need to.

Raingod Mesa

This is the one that most caught the eye on prerelease video footage as most of the track is conducted right on the cliff edge. At one brilliant point, the cliff face forms a banked curve that you can use to your advantage. It’s just a question of how low do you go before the benefit of the shorter distance and your cohesion is negated by the effects of gravity.

Elsewhere the track features a trickier than-it-looks sequence following a hairpin where you go up a stair of rocks using a couple of jumps. The ‘straight’ after that also requires significant attention as there are some fast ways across it and some slow ways thanks to the bumps and lumps beautifully modeled on it.

Those crafty developers also leave in a shortcut which doesn’t gain you any time and is remarkably difficult to get through.

This is a terrific track and a lot of fun, particularly in rally cars and buggies.

Perhaps the only complaint comes from when your car does inevitably plunge off the side of the cliff. It is auto-replaced pretty quickly. While I understand the gameplay need to get you back in the race quickly, it may have been even more impressive for the car to fall much further before it gets magicked back on track.

This is my joint-favourite track.

Links

Official MotorStorm Information page

HD wallpaper I produced from the official 1280×1024 wallpaper.

Slimm Says

MotorStorm is a good game but it’s all about potential. MotorStorm 2 should be amazing.

2 thoughts on “Motorstorm PlayStation 3 detailed video-game review – 8/10

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