Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


(Sony for Playstation 3)

Taking off-road racing to a new level of intensity, Sony
's wildly over-the-top Motorstorm marks a new high water mark for the PS3 in terms of production polish and sheer entertainment. The game allows players to race a number of different vehicles ranging from bikes to big trucks. An impressive physics engine and aggressive AI adds to the mayhem. Motorstorm's single player mode is impressive, but the game truly shines in multiplayer mode, when races unfold with unpredictable, almost anarchic abandon. Slick visuals like slow motion crashes are another highlight with exquisitely rendered environments and detailed vehicles. Join us as we splash up some mud and find out why Motorstorm is the most polished PS3 racer to date.

First revealed at E3 two years ago, Sony's Motorstorm is probably one of the most-anticipated Playstation 3 titles to date. What's most impressive about the final product is how close the finished game comes to the target video that first wowed gamers in terms of visuals. Motorstorm has a cool, yet easy to understand concept. It revolves around an underground music and racing festival that takes place in the forbidding mesas of Monument Valley. It's quite an impressive setting, and the developers have done an excellent job in creating an underground, extreme-sports feel for the title. This might sound limiting, but the developers have done an excellent job in giving the game a great deal of variety. Players have the option to play a number of different tracks during the game, and can select them from 'tickets' that can be earned by qualifying in previous races. Each ticket contains several races, and each of these has a specific type of vehicle for the most part, though there are some open tickets where you can select from any available. There's a decent number of vehicles available at the start, but more can be unlocked as you progress through single player mode. Motorstorm offers several types of vehicles in each class and players can further customize them with different paint jobs and riders. On the surface, this might not seem like much, but the game's versatile and impressive physics engine offers a surprising amount of variety within its parameters.

This is readily apparent in the wide array of vehicle types which include all terrain vehicles, mud buggies, motorcycles, large trucks, rally cars and ATVs. Each vehicle offers a different and unique racing challenge that requires a different approach. The courses themselves are vast expanses that take several minutes to drive through and include large jumps, multiple paths and dangerous obstacles. Some of the initial courses seem like cakewalks early on, but can become much harder depending on the class and types of vehicles racing. Mastering the layouts of each course is essential to progression in Motorstorm, which adds to the game's addictiveness. The designs and layouts are surprisingly complex and many of the courses are quite narrow and give you little leeway, so you need to traverse the areas carefully. There are many ledges and blind spots that can leave you plummeting off the side if you aren't careful. In addition, each of Motorstorm's courses have rocks and walls that seem to come out of nowhere and require fast reflexes to avoid. During each race, you'll also have to watch out for your opponents, who will bump and stomp on you mercilessly. It's not such a big deal when you're racing against similar sized vehicles, but becomes a much more important factor if you find yourself on a motorcycle going against a fleet of heavier and larger vehicles such as trucks. This sense of heft and realism is what makes Motorstorm so engaging, you can see and almost feel the size of each vehicle, which makes for some intimidating competitors.

This realistic feeling is further enhanced by Motorstorm's superb physics engine. Each vehicle has a unique feel and different handling. For example, the motorcycles are faster and more maneuverable, but become harder to control at high speeds. On the other hand, the heavier trucks and buggies offer more grip on the track, but don't turn as easily, meaning their progress is slower and more deliberate. Since each race on the ticket requires you to use a certain type of vehicle, you need to become proficient at all types in order to advance. This is an excellent system that challenges you to keep yourself sharp. One of the key advantages of this system is that fact that is makes the same course feel completely different depending on which vehicle is used. When you ride a course with a motorcycle, it requires a different strategy than using a truck, and you need to take corners differently. Each course also includes different paths, which may offer better results and lines depending on which vehicles you use. Some are better in the muddy terrain while others need more sand and gravel. Deciding which path to use can make the difference between winning and losing. Motorstom allows you to check out all its vehicles and while this is basically an arcade racer, there are subtle differences that keep you coming back for more. The physics engine is quite sophisticated and allow each vehicle on the course feels and reacts as they would in reality, you can see the shocks and suspension being punished with each bump in the course. While you have to stay vigilant about your boost, you also cannot take to much damage, which adds to the sense of being in the seat of the vehicle, amplifying the danger felt during each race. Motorstorm's standard controls are superb and most players should have little trouble navigating the mesa using the standard d-pad and buttons. However, the game also supports the Sixaxis, which offers an interesting control system that's been markedly improved from the awkward system seen in the demo. The motion sensing isn't as accurate or intuitive as you'd expect, but it makes a nice change of pace from the normal interface.

While the physics and gameplay are fantastic, Motorstorm truly sets itself apart in its use of spectacular visual effects. Every element of the game, from its' realistic mud physics, to the incredibly detailed vehicles looks absolutely stunning. The renderings of each mesa are perfect, right down to the cracks in the dried pavement, gritty mud-spewing tracks and occasionally breathtaking views of the mesas themselves has been created with an exacting sense of realism. Motorstorm flows at a consistently high frame rate throughout which creates a sense of exhilaration that few other 'extreme' racing titles to date have matched. The game's light-sourcing is impressive with glare, reflection and sunlight used to create dynamic and incredibly realistic sensations that pull you into the action. You can choose either an outside or behind the wheel viewpoint, though some vehicles only allow you to get a closer zoom, which is slightly disappointing. One of the game's cooler aspects is the mud itself, which temporarily impedes your view at certain points, which adds to the sense of realism. As you'd expect from the demo, the game features a number of hard-rock and heavy metal tracks to accompany the action and they set the mood of rebellion and aggression perfectly. It's soundtrack and visuals are impressive, but the real icing on the cake are Motorstorm's slow-motion crashes, which let you see your vehicle smashed into thousands of pieces while your driver bounces off the side of the mountains in an impressive use of rag-doll physics.

It's a fairly dramatic effect that takes a page from the Burnout series, but surprisingly these massive crashes aren't as devastating as you think they would be. Motorstorm's AI has been programmed in a way as to make the races feel more like rubber bands than you'd expect. It makes the game feel a bit less realistic than it should, and while it can be great when you're behind the pack, it also has drawbacks. You can work towards a huge lead only to find yourself over-taken at the last second, which can be incredibly frustrating at times. However, the game is fairly forgiving and you usually only need to race a second time to usually take another shot at the trophy. Since you can usually qualify on a ticket to unlock the next stage by finishing in third early on, it makes things much easier than you'd expect. You can blow through the initial levels fairly easily with little effort which reduces the challenge until you come up against a sudden increase in difficulty about half-way through which is disconcerting and frustrating to say the least.

Despite some sudden shifts in its level of difficulty, Motorstorm remains the most entertaining, challenging and exciting Playstation 3 title to date. From a visual standpoint, the game's graphics showcase a remarkable level of detail, with stunningly realistic environments, realistic vehicles inside an intense off-road racer. The game's unique setting and premise is underlined by an excellent presentation with a hard-rocking soundtrack. The slick production values are great, but the fluctuations in difficulty and somewhat limited single player modes are sticking points. However, this is still a brilliant title that mostly delivers on its initial promise which makes it one of the most impressive releases for the console yet.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A-

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