Over the course of four iterations, the MotorStorm franchise has established itself as the quintessential PS3-exclusive racer, thanks to its winning formula of rough and rugged off-road racing. From its initial controversial CGI trailer in 2005, the series still lives on today having taken us for a reckless ride through the Monumental Valley desert, the tropical paradise of Pacific Rift and the icy wastelands of the PSP exclusive Arctic Edge.
For the fourth instalment, Evolution Studios felt it was time to shake things up a bit. As revealed in their Eurogamer presentation last year, the team was working on an unannounced city racer called Urban Smash during the development of Pacific Rift set in real-life cities like Washington DC, but this was soon scrapped in favour of finishing Pacific Rift. Suffice to say, the project was revisited and developed into an all-new MotorStorm.
Of course, this being MotorStorm everything has to be bombastic, so a standard street racer would never have been satisfactory. Keen to differentiate itself from the overcrowded market, Evolution Studios aims to merge the action and racing genres by bringing the infamous MotorStorm racing festival to a deserted urban city in the midst of a ravaging earthquake that is tearing everything apart. As the lunatics unite for their most outrageous undertaking yet, can MotorStorm Apocalypse continue Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s success of turbo charging the arcade racing genre?
In an attempt to add some context, MotorStorm Apocalypse features a narrative for the first time in the series. You play as one of three characters that take part in the two day festival, each exaggerated persona representing a difficulty tier of Rookie, Pro and Veteran.
The story of each character is told via a series of inane cut scenes complete with comic book style artwork and cheesy voiceovers (voiced by a cast member of Bulletstorm no less) that don’t really gel with the tone of the series. They don’t outstay their welcome, mercifully, but still feel jarringly tacky nonetheless.
What the story does add, however, is a keen sense of progression – as the difficulty ramps up, so does the mounting destruction as the city visually decays throughout the earthquake, resulting in multiple variations of the treacherous tracks. Apocalypse drops you right in the thick of the action too, as your vehicle is carried by helicopter before you immediately start the race on the beaches leading to the doomed city, until the frantic finale where you make a bid to escape before the city collapses.
It’s these sequences that define the game: make no mistake, this is the most insane, OTT and cinematic MotorStorm game yet, taking its cues from all the best Hollywood disaster flicks – 2012 instantly springs to mind. In fact, this is probably about as close as you will get to reinacting the aforementioned disaster film in a video game, bad acting and all.
As you jostle for position against the aggressive AI, the earthquake can strike at any time: entire buildings crumble to the ground obscuring you in a huge cloud of dust and rubble, bridges dismember and the road ruptures, forming new routes in every lap. You might be sceptical about the potential of MotorStorm ditching the mud for traditional tarmac, but in actual fact it retains everything the series has stood for: thrilling, unbridled lunacy that will leave you in awe. For sheer eye-popping spectacle, MotorStorm is unmatched.
Mind you, comparisons to last year’s Split/Second are inevitable, and there are indeed some remnants of Disney’s blockbuster intact, particularly when you are avoiding toppling lighthouses and helicopter gunships once again. Both games are enjoyable in their own right, but MotorStorm’s spectacular scale of destruction obliterates any competition. Yes, Split/Second can be commended for starting the trend but MotorStorm towers above and drops a skyscraper on it.
MotorStorm adopts an entirely different approach, however. Whereas Split/Second relied on well-executed power ups controlled by the player on a film set, here every driver is in the same danger of Mother Nature’s recurring rampage, making the races an enduring test of survival.
This certainly won’t appeal to everyone, as it can detract from legitimate racing strategy when you get caught in the wake of a crash landing helicopter without warning. Boosting is once again paramount for success, though you still have to ensure it doesn’t overheat. In an inspired touch, it can now also be cooled down with a simple lapse of the accelerator whilst in mid-air in addition to driving through water.
Innovative track design has always been a MotorStorm staple, and this holds true in Apocalypse for the most part throughout the nine zones of the city. The Skyline stages are a particular highlight that has you soaring over severed skyscrapers whilst battling through the office remains, and the atmosphere of the Docklands is genuinely breath-taking with its raging tornado wreaking havoc throughout the duration of the race.
The only downside is that only around half of the 30 total tracks feature these earth shattering set pieces, so some of the remaining tracks consequently feel uninspiring and all too reminiscent of the generic street racing ritual Evolution wanted to avoid. In some cases, it felt more like an apocalyptic version of Flatout.
It’s a similar story with the visuals. While the effects seen in the environment devastation sequences often look mesmerising, some of the remaining elements fare less well. Tracks sometimes appeared low-res with little in the way of fine detail, and the comparatively drab colour palette of the city is grating when put against Pacific Rift’s rich colour palette.
Whereas Pacific Rift introduced us to monster trucks, Apocalypse ups the ante with four new vehicle classes spanning Super Bikes, Supercars, Muscle Cars and Hot Hatches. The differences between the handling of each class are once again distinct, although the handling model feels loose overall if you are used to the likes of Burnout and Need for Speed.
Once you adjust, controlling the light weight Superbikes at top speed through narrow office blocks becomes a terrifying yet satisfying prospect, and the Muscle Cars are also noticeably tail-happy and therefore fun to drive. And yet despite the influx of excellent new classes, there are only three vehicles available in each class which amounts to significantly less overall vehicles than Pacific Rift, despairingly.
Once again each vehicle class have their own advantages which makes the races balanced You still won’t find another racing game with a vehicle range as diverse and eccentric as MotorStorm, with a mix of cars, bikes, trucks, buggies, quads etc tightly packed into one race.
It also felt comparatively easy – only in the last few events did I struggle to come in a podium position, but this is something of a blessing as my main complaint about Pacific Rift was its absurd difficulty spike. There is some incentive to repeat, however, as coming in first will unlock a “hardcore” version of the event that challenges you to complete it against tougher opponents within a tight time limit.
It’s also a shame that playing through the Festival doesn’t unlock any extra vehicles either, which deprives it of any sense of achievement somewhat. Instead, you have to complete specific vehicle challenges online to unlock anything new – like all too many games this generation, you can tell the focus is really on the online multiplayer.
At the time of writing MotorStorm’s online was not functional (and probably won’t’ be for some time now link), but it’s clear that this area has been supremely fleshed out. COD-style perks, featuring boost upgrades, can be equipped after ranking up, and novice drivers can even bet on higher rank players to win a race to earn some XP.
Ranking up will also unlock items for the surprisingly extensive vehicle customisation settings. It’s certainly no ModNation racers (you can’t determine the exact position of stickers for example), but most body panels can be changed and paint jobs can be customised with vinyls. There is enough material to conjure up some unique online identities.
Offline multiplayer has been sorely lacking this generation, so it’s uplifting to find that MotorStorm still refuses to neglect it by supporting split screen and online co-op for up to four players. It works well too, somehow managing to keep the destruction sequences without a hitch, although there are some intrusive borders in place during two player split screen to perhaps compensate. Players can also utilise the game’s photo mode (all of these screenshots were taken with it) and photos of your most absurd moments can be exported at ridiculous resolutions.
Unfortunately, I don’t have more money than sense to buy a 3D television, but from my hands-on at Eurogamer I can testify that, unlike the majority of titles, its utilisation of the technology was wholly justified.
MotorStorm Apocalypse’s sheer spectacle is worth the price of admission alone. While purists may argue that MotorStorm’s new-found emphasis on urban racing strays too far from its muddy roots, this is likely to be the most adrenaline-fueled racing game you will play all year.
MotorStorm Apocalypse’s sheer spectacle is worth the price of admission alone. While purists may argue that MotorStorm’s new-found emphasis on urban racing strays too far from its muddy roots, this is likely to be the most adrenaline & dash fuelled racing game you will play all year.