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MotorStorm: Pacific Rift
Graphics: 8.3
Gameplay: 8.5
Sound: 10
Control: 8
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 8.5

There's no doubt about it that MotorStorm's popularity is huge. The game has a very dedicated online userbase, and PlayStation forums all around the internet have groups and frequent online sessions over a year after the game's release. Moreover, MotorStorm made a big sales impact for the PlayStation 3, as it ended up becoming one of the best selling PlayStation 3 games of 2007. Even today MotorStorm is an impressive game to look at and play, with stunning visuals, great physics, and that active online fanbase. Now, initially, the game launched missing an assortment of features, feeling a bit barren and not exactly worth $60. But through a series of patches, Evolution had fixed nearly every complaint gamers had and added a bevy of features on top of it all.  And now, 20 months does the anticipated sequel fair?

Very well, actually. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift takes much of what made the first one so great and brings it to an all new location...this time an island. The MotorStorm festival returns and has taken shape in an all new locale in the Pacific. The beauty of this island is that it boasts an assortment of environmental scenery for you to see, everything from lush greens, crystal-clear waters, scorching lava pools, and more for an overall color palette that really delivers the eye-candy. This locale is a stark difference to that of the original game's sandy-brown racing environment, so simply looking at MotorStorm 2 is a more pleasurable experience.

And then you get to play it. Gameplay will take place across 16 of the island's tracks, all complete with multiple routes for you to take advantage of. The courses vary so much in how many different ways you can mix your routes, as you have the ability to move from one route to another many times throughout each track. So once you've chosen a path, you're not stuck to keep it for the remainder of the lap. There is also a strategic element to keep aware of when choosing routes, pick the one your vehicle can handle. If you're in a bike, don't drive down a path with water. Likewise, if you're in a big rig, don't take the route with long jumps. Plan your path according to the vehicle you have, plan correctly and things will be much easier for you.

Speaking of difficulty, it's worth mentioning that there is quite a bit of frustration with MotorStorm to be had, yet again. The physics engine seems to be even more realistic this year, so if you're in a buggy, ATV, or bike, the slightest bump in the road or a road taken too fast will send your featherweight vehicle rolling or flying. Like me, you'll want to do nothing more than just smash your Dual Shock into pieces. But the smart thing to do is to use the speed of these vehicles liberally when approaching curvy or rough domain, dominate on straights, and choose the cleanest paths with the least amount of obstruction. Practice makes perfect in MotorStorm 2, so unless you have absolutely no patience, this may not be the game for you.

Furthermore, physics will also come into play with track deformation, as the feature returns as a staple of each race. How this affects the game is simple. Throughout each race, vehicles will carve up the terrain with various depths, largely pending on the size and weight of the vehicle. Carved roads will affect how the gamer handles the track with each lap, as smaller vehicles (such as bikes) will have a harder time driving through the carve-out of a big rig or monster truck.

Which leads us the all new vehicle trucks! ATVs, rally cars, buggies, motorbikes, race trucks, mudpluggers, and big rigs now have another contender to watch out for, as does the gamer. Before the release of MotorStorm 2, Sony was touting new and improved artificial intelligence that adjusted to situations on the fly. And I've noticed that to be true. The A.I. now reacts to the situation of the race by rationally choosing the best route, and adjusting their level of aggression based on the gamer's advances. For example, if an A.I. vehicle is in the lead, it is far less likely to take a daring time-saving route and will instead play it safe to maintain that lead. But what I also noticed was that the A.I. has no problem with putting up a fight to maintain its lead; when the A.I. feels threatened, they will not hold back when it comes down to start playing bumper cars.

Arguably MotorStorm's biggest appeal has been its online component, as it continues to bring in a considerable amount of gamers day in and day out. For the sequel, there are some changes you need to be aware of. Initially, Sony announced plans for 20-player online matches. Unfortunately, that won't be happening, and we'll have to settle for 12. On the other hand, we also get four-player split-screen racing, something many have been asking for since the original. Races can be separated by class, or mixed with all class of vehicles playable. PlayStation Network features include matchmaking, detailed statistics, and leaderboards, of course. Furthermore, downloadable content such as tracks, vehicles, game modes, themes, and tickets will be made available in the future, as well.

There's no denying that MotorStorm 2 is a frenzied experience that should not be missed if you were a fan of the original. Gameplay is very tense and often frustrating, but also a lot of fun and winning just feels rewarding. There's a lot to do both online and off, adding to Pacific Rift's replay value considerably.

I do have a bone to pick with the game's visuals, though. Sometimes I find myself in awe, others time, I'm not terribly impressed. Textures are a mixed bag, as you'll often see some really ugly and washed out ones that you won't be very proud to see on your PS3. The ground textures for some of the tracks average, while they can be poor for others. It's not such a problem when the blur kicks into effect and you're flying down the course, but when you're standing still (for whatever reason), it's not a pretty sight. Just keep the speed going as much as possible in order to avoid having to see the rough spots and you'll be better off.

On the other hand, the visuals can be a treat if only thanks to the amazingly vivid color palette in the game. The scenery in a lot of the stages is simply breathtaking, and the super smooth framerate really makes up for the drawbacks of the texture inconsistencies. Furthermore, the detailed damage model is driven purely by physics, and allows for the destruction of your vehicle in many different ways. Lighting is stunning, as is the rest of the picture quality, so rest-assured the 720p picture here is free of nasty image problems.

The audio is much like what you've heard in the previous MotorStorm game, but perhaps louder, with more of an emphasis on hearing what goes on around you. If you turn down the music, you'll be able to hear when nearby vehicles crash, or when nearby vehicles are approaching. But more importantly, you're probably going to want to keep the music up, seeing as how MotorStorm 2 supports custom soundtracks! So stock up on adrenaline pumping metal on your PS3's HDD and listen to it while you play. Simply enter the XMB via PS button and start playing the music, the PS3 will do the rest.

MotorStorm 2: Pacific Rift delivers the sensation and fun of the original, but with far less problems. Evolution has crafted an even more outrageous experience that boasts all sorts of chaos, speed, huge jumps, amazing track design, solid replay value, great audio, gorgeous scenery, and absurdly fun online matches. Even though the game can be frustrating, thanks to the all too touchy physics, and the visuals do have weak notable spots, the bottom line is that MotorStorm 2: Pacific Rift is still superb.

10/28/2008   Arnold Katayev