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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


ModNation Racers (Playstation 3)

Taking a page from the successful Little Big Planet, Sony's new kart-driving title ModNation Racers gives players a fairly interesting sandbox to play with. The game features a fairly decent set of standard racing tracks and karts and a good single-player career mode. However, the game goes further than this and it allows players to create and use their own modded cars on custom tracks. The creation tools are easy to use and accessible and once created and saved, these can be shared with other players online with an extensive community as well. This gives Mod Nation plenty of replay value, which makes for an appealing title. Its solid gameplay mechanics are also finely produced, making this an entertaining game for racing fans.

There have been probably dozens of kart-racing titles produced over the years and while ModNation Racers looks like another in this long line, go a little deeper and you'll discover plenty of innovative features under the hood. If you log in and begin playing right away, you won't notice that much. The single-player mode makes for some interesting and challenging gaming. At its core, ModNation Racers is basically a well-produced kart racing game but offers much more than you'd expect. Most of the gameplay mechanics are standard for the genre and players who enjoy the kart genre will find a fairly satisfying experience. The selection is fairly good with 25 tracks and these default solo player tracks are smartly designed with a good variety in design and presentation. The career mode is fairly decent and allows you to build up skills and points through a series of races. Each race has its own goals and defeating them allows you to earn points for performing acts such as knocking out a certain number of opponents or finishing in the top three. The courses themselves are fairly decent, with plenty of twists and turns, tight corners and other obstacles to navigate. Some courses feature short-cuts and other secret sections that you can use to improve your lap times or evade enemy attacks. You'll also have to contend with other racers on the tracks who will relentlessly attack you with their weapons to try and knock you off course. There are loads of weapons and other power-ups to collect on each course, and they offer a wide variety of uses such as zapping opponents and stopping them cold with electric shocks. These allow you to get ahead of opponents and knock them off the track fairly easily, and also can be used to impede your progress.

While its not the deepest racing titles you'll ever play, ModNation's accessible gameplay makes it easy to get into. The game's physics are decent, with drifting and drafting techniques that add a semblance of realism to the gameplay. In addition the track designs offer obstacles such as bombs and moving walls that you need to avoid. Players can also gain temporary speed increases by driving on boost pads or by hitting its jump ramps that propel them forward at much faster speeds. These gameplay elements combine to give ModNation Racers all the traditional trappings of kart racing and on this level, the game is fairly successful in bringing a decent kart racing title to the PS3. All of this is wrapped around a silly, yet entertaining plot line that unfolds between races, presented in a humorous series of sequences that introduce you to the characters and events in the Mod world. It's a lot of fun to play these first few rounds, but go a little deeper into the menu system and you'll discover that ModNation delivers much more than the first few solo levels imply.

The ability to create, share and play your own levels was an incredible innovation with LittleBig Planet and applying this approach to kart racing proves to be a successful idea. The game's customization options are extensive, so we'll begin with outlining the basic creation process. Players can start with their own character or mod, with their appearance and personality tweaked using a simple menu interface. There are loads of different clothing options, face tools and hats that players can use them to create their mod character, and once complete, this character can be used throughout the game's different modes. You can then move on to your kart itself, and select different body parts, paint jobs, wheels and other accessories to create your own custom ride. This is another cool feature that allows you to make a distinct look as you race around the tracks. Beginning with these features, you can get the hang of the basic interface and tools that you'll use later on for more complex tasks. When you're done creating your character and their kart, you can take them onto the track and use them to win races and, more importantly, earn points that you can use to purchase additional items to upgrade your mod and vehicles. As you gain access to more of thee items, you can return to the menu system and further edit your main character. These initial character and kart modifications gives you a good tutorial in using the game's basic set of tools, while introducing its creation interface, but now it's time to move to the big time.

Creating your own track might seem intimidating at first, but ModNation Racers makes it a fairly easy to understand process. You begin by laying out your track, which is done easily enough with a rolling truck that paves the path you want to use and then lets you manually move forward, creating turns and pathways as you move. You can edit the height and depth of the track layout on the fly by pressing the shift buttons and also create banks and drops as you go along as well. You can create either a very short course with easy corners or a long one that has many difficult turns. Once you've completed your basic track layout, you can add some personality to it by populating it with roadside scenery such as trees, building and lights. Each of these items can be scaled, turned and moved on the track manually, or you can let the game auto-populate this if you're in a hurry. Finally, you can add other track items such as speed boosts, ramps and obstacles to your course. After you're done creating your basic track layout, you can edit and tweak the settings until you're happy with the results. The game allows you to test drive and race on your created tracks so you can see what's working and what isn't. You can then go back and edit each section and element of the track manually, and try and improve your creation. Using the track design interface is a fairly easy task if you want to create a basic layout, but more elaborate courses require you to go a bit deeper into the interface, which can be a little bit confusing until you get the hang of things. It's a fairly easy to learn set-up that gives you plenty of options and versatility once you get the hang of its menu and navigation system. Once you've created a decent mod, kart and perfected your course design, you can then move on to the final step and share your creation with the outside world.

ModNation Racers' extensive online community is one of its strongest features. Instead of creating and playing in isolation, the game gives you the opportunity to share your creations with other players. Conversely, you are also able to play and use other users' tracks as well. This opens up the game and creates an expansive online experience. You navigate through this in a similar way to the main game, driving your kart around the main hub and entering various sections. The game's servers show the top karts and mods that users have created and others have ranked, and gives you the ability to test drive tracks that others have made. This adds to the fun, and can also offers inspiration for you when you design your own tracks, creating a win-win situation that benefits both the individual gamer and the larger community. You can then download these onto the PS3's hard drive and play them in other modes as well. You can also enter numerous online contests and tournaments, including the Hot Lap mode where you compete with other users online to see who has the fastest lap. Players can also see which users are on top of the rankings in terms of races won, try to increase their rankings by winning races and gain more by sharing their own created content. While the offline game includes a split-screen mode, the game goes further than this. You can also compete in multiplayer matches with other players, and battle it out to see who ends up on top. Online races can take place on either standard or created courses and the game supports up to 12 players simultaneously, which makes for some fairly exciting matches. Using and navigating the game's online features is fairly easy and setting up and playing matches is easy, online rooms and match set-ups can be done automatically which makes for a smooth experience for the player without a lot of glitches. The design and presentation of the online hub is very smooth and polished and matches the look and feel of the main game, making the transition nearly seamless. We did encounter a few matches that seemed a little weird with some off-putting course designs, but nothing that really ruined the experience. This solidly implemented and innovative online component is ModNation Racers' most impressive feature, creating an expansive and fulfilling experience that consistently streams refreshing and interesting free content to download and play.

From an aesthetic standpoint, ModNation Racers is fairly decent by PS3 standards, though its more cartoonish appearance and somewhat simplistic track designs, by design, don't have the visual thrust and impact of some other PS3 titles. Its music is surprisingly different from the tinker-toy songs and substitutes a jazzier feel for its slightly older audience. The biggest problems most players will have are the somewhat long loading times between races and when jumping between the creation and racing modes. This slows the momentum to a degree, but this shouldn't really be a major deterrent for most players. Its worth the occasional wait because ModNation Racers delivers an innovative gaming experience that gives you much more freedom than most other titles. Its basic kart-racing mechanics are solid and entertaining, but these are only the basic building blocks. The real enjoyment most players will have with the game comes in creating and using their own unique characters, vehicles and tracks. The easy to use navigation system makes creating and editing content a simple, straightforward process. You can create and use an elaborate course in a few minutes and then share it with a large community of gamers. These community features also allow you to benefit from a massive amount of content, giving the game an expansive set of tracks and racers that should keep growing as more users join in. Its basic gameplay mechanics are fun and accessible and the challenge of keeping up with other players online makes ModNation Racers a title that offers an almost unlimited amount of replay value and depth.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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