Chaotic madness has seldom looked so enticing
The MotorStorm series is well-known for providing loads of challenge and threatening the well-being of DualShock 3s worldwide. Since its 2007 bow, thousands of gamers have experienced the thrill of narrow victories and the agony of being shunted into a wall and out of the last qualifying position. After a sound PS3 sequel and a handheld spin-off, the series returns to PS3 with MotorStorm: Apocalypse, a title that carries on the tradition of its predecessors, albeit with new bells and whistles.
Since 2008’s Pacific Rift, we’ve seen two hugely action-driven and cinematic racers in Blur and Split/Second. Their influence is pronounced in Apocalypse. The scenario throws you into a massive faux-San Francisco city in the midst of a major disaster. The urban turmoil is a fine diversion from the “Burning Man-as-race” and “tropical paradise-as-race” motifs of the first two PS3 games, and allows for more tension and peril.
MotorStorm games follow a few simple rules: They’re unforgiving and relentless and favor judicious use of speed bursts and aggression to bypass your opponents. Additionally, the open tracks ensure that environmental elements are as perilous as the competing big rigs. The series’ signature hook is probably the engine management. As you boost, your engine risks overheating, which you’re always cognizant of as you shunt a rival driver to pass.
Although Apocalypse touts its story and rapidly collapsing environments as its biggest new additions, one new tweak to engine management transforms the series dramatically. Pacific Rift introduced water-cooling, which allowed you to drive into puddles and temporarily slow down or remove all engine heat. Apocalypse introduces airborne cooling. Essentially, when you hit ramps and snag big airtime, letting off both boost and accelerat will cool your engine in-air, which gives you a significant advantage in maintaining your speed once you land. Make no mistake, it’s a genuine game-changer. I tried to go back to Pacific Rift to refresh my memory after several hours on Apocalypse, and found it near-unplayable without the airborne cooling feature.
The aforementioned campaign is an attempt to reinvigorate the typical system of “race, unlock, progress.” Not unlike Fight Night Champion’s recent attempt at dramatics, Apocalypse gives you three interweaving tales of racers participating in the three-day event, from a young rookie (easy mode) to a prime-of-his-career racer (medium) to a grizzled champion (veteran), with the progression designed to help you with the series’ notoriously unforgiving difficulty. This makes for a gentler learning curve than in past games, though the hokey and forgettable cut-scenes feel more like an online Flash cartoon than an engaging tale. It also doesn’t help that you have to endure long loads between those cheesy cinematics and your next race.
The environments, though at times too dazzling for their own good, feel like traditional MotorStorm stages fused with tidbits of the disaster-driven elements that made Split/Second a cult hit. You’ll race through some dazzling theme park-like setpieces of destruction. Within campaign, the second day of each event brings more natural disasters, which you notice not only within the campaign cut-scenes, but in the gray skies and increased sense of peril. A few pulse-boosting moments include barreling around beach boardwalks as hurricanes threaten to blow you into the ocean and hitting the makeshift exit ramp of a damaged skyscraper, only to discover that the street has collapsed and you’ll have to race through a subway station to hit an exit before it crumbles.
The high cliffs and volcanoes of prior games provided intensity, but the combination of tough difficulty and maintaining focus amidst chaos does wonders to boost the tension. If there’s a real setback to these big moments, it’s that some stages just feel too chaotic and Apocalypse lacks a certain visual coherence to distinguish between a light pole you can drive through and a telephone pole that will wreck you. Inevitably, you will be frustrated.
The game effectively adapts the now-standard XP system into its online racing. You earn betting chips in every race that you participate in, and you can use those chips both to gamble on your chances of beating other racers and to unlock different perks, such as increased grip strength, faster engine cooldowns, or faster respawns. It can also be used to purchase vehicle upgrades, a slickly implemented feature that will ensure that people continue to participate, though I wish it also let you earn XP in campaign or time trials.
SUMMARY: The new urban locale provides a refreshing take on Evolution Studios’ intense (and still tough) racing formula.
- THE GOOD: Implements meaningful improvements to the formula
- THE BAD: Campaign is hokey and forgettable
- THE UGLY: The snack you microwaved while waiting for a race to load