It seems like every console debut needs a racing game to highlight the system’s power, a role filled upon the PS3’s launch by genre newbie MotorStorm. The choice was somewhat surprising, considering the PlayStation hardware is the exclusive home for Gran Turismo, but MotorStorm more than held its own. Its mix of on- and off-road racing, multiple vehicle classes and some of the most gorgeous environments console owners had seen was outstanding, a tradition Sony has tried to uphold with each passing entry.
The latest outing, MotorStorm: Apocalypse, tries to put a bit more of a narrative spin on the racing action, but it feels pretty forced to be honest. An island is crumbling beneath the racers’ feet (wheels?), and they have to race across the island before it disintegrates. The story is told from three different viewpoints, and PS3 owners play as all three to help piece together the narrative and get a different gameplay perspective. But really, the big question is why hopping on a ferry or turbo-prop airplane wasn’t the first action they took to hop to safety….
Anyway, the narrative hook has a few consequences that affect the overall MotorStorm: Apocalypse experience, most notably the removal of vehicle choice when running through the plot and the mass amount of stuff going on on-screen at any one time. There are good and bad points to both of these.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse removes some of the freedom from the previous MotorStorm games by forcing you to drive three vehicle classes (each represented by one of the characters). On the one hand it’s nice to get out of the “always an ATV” comfort zone, but dictating which vehicle I’m racing when the choice is technically there isn’t my cup of tea. It certainly highlights the differences in handling and the advantage of strategic route selection, but it seems like a cheap way for the developers to show off their bells and whistles than it does a mechanism to let gamers play how they want to play.
In terms of the amount of on-screen action, MotorStorm: Apocalypse outdoes anything environmentally that the previous games could’ve even conceived. With the island crumbling before your very eyes, the dynamics of the track and the ambient graphics are truly something to behold. MotorStorm has always been a graphical powerhouse, and Apocalypse is no different. However, the dynamic destruction lead to some on-the-fly track changes that require split-second reactions, and anything less than perfection leads to an epic crash. Yes, MotorStorm crashes are the stuff of legend, but at a certain point they get in the way of racing. Frustratingly so, in fact, when they result in delays that force you to try the race again.
Take the game online, and you can at least share some of those frustrations with 15 other people, maybe even laugh about them a bit. You can also bet chips on certain aspects of multiplayer matches, which introduces a bit more intrigue than the normal “drive like a bat out of Hell” strategy. There are also other offline modes than the forced-class narrative that let you enjoy your time. However, even with all those aspects and the insane environments, I found it too hard to overcome the crashing. I’ve played games in other genres that “yank” players out of the experience, but it’s not happened often in the racing arena. With MotorStorm: Apocalypse, it does, and specifically because of the crashes. If a patch could “loosen” the physics only on environmental crashes, I’d score MotorStorm: Apocalypse a bit higher.
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3