We've endured a few minor delays in anticipation for MotorStorm. What was once planned to be a launch title, got delayed into January and then into March. But the wait has finally ended and Sony's finally let the game set-sail. Much like the recently released Formula One, MotorStorm was also one of the very first PS3 games demonstrated back at E3 2005. It too garnered skepticism for being an over-flashy tech-demo...and once again Sony has proven their harshest critics wrong. Developed by a group that is no stranger to mud and cars (WRC franchise), the folks at Evolution Studios worked on MotorStorm for over 2 years and the end result is a mixed bag. While MotorStorm is a good game, it isn't without its faults.
What MotorStorm offers is a really sophisticated package that's surely at the forefront of detail this generation. An intricate physics model makes sure that every crevice and imperfection on the road directly affects your car one way or the other. Likewise, Evolution has gone as far as exploiting a certain vehicle's weakness as it treks over a specific kind of terrain. Because of this element, the racing suddenly becomes a bit more strategic; in that it'll make you think twice before going about a certain path. If you're using a bike, your best bet will be to avoid muddy terrain, as that's only for the big boys to plow through. You're going to want to stick to the most solid ground possible, and that kind of tactical logic goes for every other vehicle you pilot -- but of course with their respective variations. And the physics aren't just limited to your interaction with the environment, but suspension physics of each car are also superbly done which creates a very realistic feel to the game.
The game's locale is Monument Valley, a real location out in Arizona, but with fictitious tracks created for the game. The game features 8 tracks in total, all of which have multiple paths, various obstacles, and varying kinds of terrain. There's no question about it that MotorStorm's track selection is limited. As incredible and precise these 8 tracks are, it's simply not enough. When you're playing the game's core (and only) single-player mode, you'll have played through all of the tracks within the first 2 hours (if not less). MotorStorm is disappointing in that it offers very little to the gamer in terms of value. There are no time-trial, practice, or quick-race modes, which is very unusual for a racing game. You simply have the Play mode (Festival) and Online - that's it.
That is not to say that MotorStorm is a bad game, it isn't. It's a pretty good game, in fact. The most important aspect that MotorStorm does right is that it's fun and it also offers a decent challenge. The first half, or so, of the Festival mode is fairly easy to trek through. But once you begin to enter the third tier of the mode, you'll feel the heat; recklessness and intricacy will become both necessary simultaneously. You'll need to be reckless in order to fight through the opposition, but you'll have to be careful to avoid destroying your vehicle and losing your position. So the game is no walk in the park, and depending on how you look at it, that's either good or bad -- can't dock the score for that.
But yet another crippling aspect of the game's limitation is that MotorStorm forces you to use a certain kind of vehicle during a race - the entire Festival is pre-determined. In other words, forget about wanting to play with a bike or rally car exclusively, you'll have to drive whatever the race's ticket says -- and being forced to drive a Big Rig isn't how I want to win. Speaking of slow things, it'd have been nice to have a bit more low-end punch from all of these vehicles. The acceleration is so slow that starting a race, or resetting your vehicle is an incredibly frustrating experience. Once the cars get going, and the boost is used, the speed of the game is acceptable -- but slow acceleration really hurts the pace. And while we're still on the subject of slow...the loading times aren't exactly terrific, either. Races can take around 30 seconds to load, vehicle-selection also takes time to load, but thankfully restarts are instant.
Regardless, the vehicles that you can race with are: bikes, rally cars, ATVs, big rigs, racing trucks, buggies, and mudpluggers. Within the seven vehicle types are a number of different vehicles you can choose, featuring various paint schemes and drivers. You'll unlock more vehicles as you progress through the Festival by completing events in first place. Thankfully, you can select your vehicle of choice when you go online. Up to 12 people will be able to compete, and the game comes complete with rankings and voice chat. Huge chances are that if you purchase MotorStorm, you'll likely get entangled with the game's online mode more so than anything else. I suggest running through a few single-player races just to unlock a few vehicles, but online is certainly where you'll spend most of your time.
Controlling the game is pretty standard stuff. You can use either the standard control setup, or the SixAxis' motion sensing. Motion sensing works surprisingly well, but you'll definitely have to spend some time practicing your technique. I've seen many demonstrations of people playing with motion sensing enabled, and they do a damn fine job of controlling the game. I, for one, can't be bothered to endure the frustration of learning the SixAxis, especially since MotorStorm doesn't really give you any modes to practice in. But for those who do enjoy learning something new, you'll certainly be pleased with the SixAxis controls.
You've all seen the screenshots and videos by now, and many of you have even played the demo. So, visually, you should know what to expect. Much like Formula One, MotorStorm is yet another fine example of what this generation of gaming is capable of bringing us...and within its infant stages, no less. Environments are painstakingly detailed to feature gorgeous textures, immense structural detail and the best damn mud ever. It's definitely impressive, because up until now, I've yet to see mud this good looking in a game. And as awkward as it is to talk so enthusiastically about mud, once you see it for yourself you'll understand where I'm coming from. There are tons of visual touches embedded into the game, such as realistic deformation of the tracks -- i.e. you'll see the mud grooves form when a car drives over the terrain. You'll also be able to destroy various structures in the game, such as shacks, signs, abandoned vehicles, and more.
As far as the big picture, MotorStorm is very pretty. Mud slings on your vehicle and even onto your screen. The picture is really sharp, and does a great job of displaying the clarity of the texture work. But there are a few minor issues that some keen-eyed gamers will notice, where as most won't. First are the random split-second frame drops. While MotorStorm does run at a consistent 30 frames, during hectic times, you'll witness the game slow down for a split-second. In my experience the bogging has been very short and almost instantaneous, but it is there. Lastly, the really keen-eyed will notice some mip-mapping quirks where the terrain's detail is filled-in just a few feet in front of you. In other words, as you approach a texture, you'll notice it goes from blurry to sharp - MotorStorm does this, and it can be a little distracting. Furthermore, the mip-mapping seems to be noticeable with only certain kinds of terrain too, so you won't be noticing it all the time. Still, at the end of it all, this is one really, really, ridiculously good looking game that'll surely wow even the most jaded breeds.
There's no doubt about it, MotorStorm has some pretty impressive audio work. Engines roar and explosions sound...well, explosive. The demo gave us a quick glimpse of the soundtrack as it featured Nirvana, Lunatic Calm, and Pendulum. The final soundtrack features 21 songs, most of which that fit the game...two that don't. The two songs by the horrifically bad Primal Scream should've never made the final cut, but thankfully they can be turned off. Having said that, the soundtrack for MotorStorm is:
Curve - Hell Above Water
Elite Force - Presha
Elite Force ft. Lunatic Calm - Leave You Far Behind
Everytime I Die - The New Black
Gluecifer - Automatic Thrill
Hyper - Hot Rockin'
Kings of Leon - Sprial Staircase
Krafty Kuts - Bass Phenomenom
Monster Magnet - Powertrip
Nirvana - Breed
Pendulum - Slam
Pitchshifter - Scene This
Primal Scream - Dolls (Sweet Rock 'N' Roll)
Primal Scream - The 99th Floor
Queens of the Stone Age - Medication
Reverend Horton Heat - Big Red Rock of Love
Slipknot - Before I Forget
Spiritualized - Electricity
The Experiment - Cost of Freedom
Trash Palace - Animal Logic
Wolfmother - Woman
If MotorStorm is the kind of game you know you'll play almost exclusively online, then this is an easy purchase to make. But if you're not the socialite you wish you were, then MotorStorm may not satisfy you for longer than 5-7 hours. As exciting as the races can be -- and really...it is fun to knock someone off their bike or run someone over with a big rig -- there just isn't enough diversity to keep things fresh. You'll witness all eight stages early on in the game, and from there on the Festival becomes an uphill battle that you'll either want to partake in...or not -- depending on your tolerance level for merciless A.I. Visually, this is a stunner. Vivid lighting brings the environments to life, and the physics are far too impressive to ignore.
It's hard to recommend MotorStorm to someone who is looking to spend a lot of time playing it offline - the core is painfully limited, there are no other modes, and the vehicular selection is forced. For you offline gamers, MotorStorm is a rental, at best. But for the online folk, you'll surely want to keep this game around for quite some time. The decision is yours.
3/4/2007 Arnold Katayev