For as much attention as Resistance: Fall of Man received at the PS3’s launch, and for as much acclaim as LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2 have received this fall, it may surprise many folks to learn that the best-selling PS3 title is in fact the launch game Motorstorm. Sony’s first-party racing game came from nowhere to give a new face to the offroad-racing genre, so what could its sequel, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, do to improve things? While “improvement” is a relative term, it’s safe to say Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, never forcing the reinvention of the wheel, but adding enough new elements to make gamers forget all about the first game in the series.
The most notable addition is just that: addition. Motorstorm: Pacific Rift adds 16 tracks, compared to the original’s eight original courses, each of which is divided into four elements: earth, fire, air and water. These stages each feature landmarks, challenges and opportunities that are unique to each element, another strategic addition to the gameplay that’s exclusive to this sequel. The first Motorstorm really felt like a rally game, with maybe a few little streams thrown in. By comparison, the full-on rivers of water AND lava in Pacific Rift make every race in the sequel feel like a new adventure.
Taking place on the Hawaiian islands, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift features plenty of contextual obstacles. On the fire levels, you have to avoid lava floes that will overheat your engine. On the water levels, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to cool your engine during those long boosting sessions, but you’ll have to balance that cooling effect with the fact that water (and mud) are slower substances. On the air levels, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to go over crazy jumps and fly through the low-hanging clouds, but that means you’ll also encounter narrow ledges that can lead to certain death. And the earth levels are full of thick jungles that provide great shortcuts for certain vehicle classes but roadblocks for others.
Ironically, those same shortcuts and roadblocks are the game’s only big weakness, mostly related to their graphic appearance. The game itself looks fantastic, particularly with all that tropical vegetation, but the color palette of all those plants is relatively monochromatic, so when you’re racing at breakneck speeds, it can be darn near impossible to find those shortcuts or gauge whether your vehicle is the right size to take advantage of them. The only way to find half of them, in fact, is to race blindly around seeing if you run through or into that bush, while the best way to determine whether your vehicle will slam into a roadblock is pesky old trial and error. Sometimes the very act of speeding (or jumping) through levels also seems to result in random crashes, even when the line or jump seems perfectly setup, which is inexplicable. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often.
Naturally, your familiarity with each map will help you decide which class of vehicle to use, because as in the original Motorstorm, Pacific Rift lets big rigs race alongside dirt bikes, and buggies race alongside ATVs. The greatest irony is that big rigs are the fastest vehicles in the game (God bless inertia), but they’re also the least maneuverable and have the slowest acceleration. Likewise, motorcycles are highly maneuverable, but you’ll have to find the driest shortcuts, because they’re also susceptible to water slowdown. Knowing each map, not to mention the specific obstacles and opportunities in each element, plays a huge role in vehicle selection for Motorstorm vets, but newbies will find comfort in the fact that no vehicle class is ever so crippled that it’s impossible to win while playing with it.
Another addition worth mentioning is split-screen play for up to four players. Although I personally don’t recommend it (it gets too hard to follow your own section of the screen with all that high-speed, vegetated action), its inclusion is one of those things that a few gamers called for in the original and are finally getting in Motorstorm: Pacific Rift.
Even with this addition, though, it’s safe to say most people will be playing online and in the single-player Festival mode. In the single-player mode, players earn a set number of points for placing first, second or third in each race, with the next “rank” being unlocked once you earn a certain number of points. It’s pretty darn linear, all things considered, and after a while the tracks start to feel tired and identical, but when the interest starts to wane, all you have to do is switch vehicle classes, and you’ll experience an entirely different game. Motorstorm is one franchise in which an ATV definitely doesn’t play like a buggy, motorcycle, monster truck (YES!) or big rig.
If you’re looking for a racing game on which to spend your holiday cash, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift definitely deserves a look. While plenty of attention this year was paid to street-racing games, Sony stayed close to home with Motorstorm: Pacific Rift and focused not on reinventing the original, but improving upon it in just about every way. From new tracks to new vehicles to new “elemental” races, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is bigger, badder and better than the PS3 launch game that spawned it. And when it comes to sequels, what more can you really ask for?
Buy MotorStorm Pacific Rift from Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.6
— Jonas Allen