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MotorStorm: Apocalypse
Graphics: 8.4
Gameplay: 8.1
Sound: 8.2
Control: 8
Replay Value: 8.3
Rating: 8.2

MotorStorm is one of those games that whitens the knuckles and quickens the pulse, if only because we’re continually absorbed in keeping ourselves on the path. While past criticisms have involved loose control and other small gameplay issues, fans of the franchise typically revel in its all-out, chaotic off-road insanity that keeps the player glued to the screen. Evolution Studios takes the next step in regards this intensity, as they present us with a memorable, dynamic environment in which to race; an atmosphere that, in truth, is nearly unparalleled in the genre. It’s just a continuous blast from start to finish. The control can be iffy depending on the vehicle and sadly, the frustration levels can climb quickly, but Apocalypse remains entertaining and plenty satisfying.

Visually, it’s all about the backdrops. As most of you know, races take place in crumbling urban environments; the post-apocalyptic setting allows for some of the most jaw-dropping background occurrences ever seen. Ranging from falling skyscrapers to crashing airplanes, there’s always something to catch your eye and the detail and special effects are fantastic. Actual vehicle modeling isn’t as great, though, and I always felt the presentation was a touch muddy. After some time, I was looking for more clarity and sharpness, which I never really found. Still, when it comes to an environment dictating a race; i.e., forcing you to continually choose new paths – and always agog at the sights and sounds – there are few that can compete with the latest MotorStorm.

The lively soundtrack helps to bring out the on-screen action and although I’m not the biggest fan of certain music, these selections work. Provided you can get past the horrid voice acting (for future reference, Evolution, racers just don’t need this feature; it almost never works), your surround sound setup should benefit. The startling effects blend well with the soundtrack, which never sounds out of place or overbearing. There’s a solid balance inherent to nicely polished productions, and I won’t quibble when it comes to a few irritating tracks and mediocre voices. All that matters is that when flying down any given course, the technical elements succeed in encapsulating the player in madcap fun.

Let’s start with a big positive: track design. It’s just nuts. This feature clearly received the brunt of Evolution’s effort, and it shows. The courses are meticulously designed and downright gorgeous in some respects; when you factor in the utter maelstrom of chaos that afflicts every track, you get a mesmerizing setting. The ground on which you drive is constantly in danger of evaporating, whether it be from attacking gunfire from chasing choppers or yet another earthquake that rips through the landscape. All of this comes to the forefront in the game’s story-driven Festival Mode: three racers (Mash, Tyler, and Big Dog) set out compete in what appears to be a suicidal battle of the impending elements.

Tags:, Look and Feel Developer Diary, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Now, as you might expect, the story isn’t exactly deep or involving. The characters are sort of faceless and clichéd, we’re never really sure why we’re running from certain things, and we really have no idea why these guys insist on sticking around when the city is being evacuated. Presumably, it’s just for the thrill of the race. On top of which – and this may annoy those who require choice in their racing games – you can’t choose your favorite vehicle for a Festival race. You are assigned a vehicle that goes along with the story, which is understandable from a design standpoint in that they basically jam diversity down your throat. Don’t want to experiment with all the vehicle types? Too damn bad; we worked hard to put ‘em in, so you’re trying ‘em all. And trust me, you will want to test them all, because the vehicle type really affects your path through the mess.

I’m still not convinced that control for all vehicles is spot-on but you sort of get used to those eccentricities. And with 9 race environments and 33 separate tracks, along with the new paths that always pop up all around you, boredom doesn’t really lurk beneath the surface. However, my biggest issue is what appears to be a significant luck factor: too many times, I felt unfairly judged, in that I didn’t really make a mistake; the environment just swatted me upside the head. Personally, I dislike any game that causes me to fail for reasons beyond my control. It’s not really a matter of reflexes; it just feels that some of the destruction is absolutely unavoidable. And in particularly irksome situations, you’ll respawn at a terrible point on the track, which results in yet another crash.

This is one of those games where you laugh when you crash, but even so, this got tiresome after a while. Thankfully, if this gets on your nerves, you can try other modes or jump online. If you can get 16 players all going at once in a race, you’re in for an absurd experience. There are three race modes but the true entertainment revolves around the new perks, which include all sorts of power-ups that give you the advantage. Cheap Shot lets you bash opponents with less boost, for instance, and Swift Return means you’ll resurrect in half the time. That’s just a small sampling but believe me when I say that such perks essentially define the multiplayer element. You can also work to unlock new parts and customize your favorite vehicles.

Then you go and toss in the gambling idea and you’ve got a seriously tense online situation. You can bet chips on matches, which immediately lends a certain semblance of strategy to the race. …who’s your horse? Oh, is that why you went out of your way to target that guy? Once you’ve had your fill, head back to offline mode and revel in the collapsing wonder of those environments yet again. A lot of it is just so damn invigorating that it’s tough to drop the controller even for a few minutes. You’ve got the unbelievably visceral visual display, better handling (for some vehicles, anyway), the hectic and highly competitive multiplayer, and some of the best track design you’ll find anywhere. Isn’t that enough incentive to give it a whirl?

You just have to deal with the irritation of crashes that seem inevitable, bad respawn points, horrid voice acting, and inconsistent physics and mechanics that can – if only rarely – infringe on your enjoyment. But overall, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a boatload of fast-paced fun, infused with an energy that almost seems insurmountable. This energy alone is worthy of your attention.

The Good: Excellent, dynamic visual presentation. Extremely well designed tracks. Changing environment forces one to adapt on the fly. Multiple vehicles are a plus. Multiplayer is a blast.

The Bad: Voice acting is bad. Many crashes feel cheap and impossible to avoid. Story is boring. Physics and control seem just a touch off at times.

The Ugly: “Wait…that tiny upraised crack caused me to explode?!”

5/16/2011   Ben Dutka