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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Motorstorm: Apocalypse (Playstation 3)

MotorStorm: Apocalypse leaves the off-road courses behind for a destroyed urban dystopia that offers new challenges for players. The new setting dramatically alters the gameplay experience, with crumbling office towers and dangerous seaside parks to traverse. There are still clashing vehicle types with monster trucks battling against motorcycles, but players now have to contend with crashing buildings, flaming debris and some spectacular cinematic set pieces.  These changes makes create a different experience that's more arcade-oriented, and gives the game instant visceral appeal and we're happy to report that this approach delivers a fresh injection of excitement to the series.

Changing the setting from previous titles, Motorstorm: Apocalypse takes the off-road racing series into a new environment filled with crumbling buildings. In the new game, the racers have descended on a deserted city that been evacuated following an earthquake. As if this disaster wasn't enough, the city also endures other disasters such as tornadoes and other calamities while the racers are competing, changing the courses themselves, eliminating short-cuts, creating new paths and changing on the fly. Reacting to sudden changes, such as collapsing buildings or crashing trains gives the game a new level of visceral excitement. This approach contrasts from the first two games, which were off-road racers set in natural areas. Motorstorm: Apocalypse feels like a big-budget disaster movie which increases the intensity and danger of each race dramatically. The clash of different vehicle types has always been one of the series' trademarks and this installment is no exception. Players can race one of nearly 2 dozen different vehicle classes, including mud-pluggers, choppers, dirt bikes, rally cars, super bikes and more. Each vehicle has a unique set of handling and other options. Each class includes several different vehicles. Some of these are available from the start but others need to be unlocked.

There are more than a dozen vehicle classes in the game, each on with its own strengths and weaknesses, which affect not only how they compete against other vehicles, but which paths you take on the courses. Each of the courses features multiple branches and paths, some of which are better-suited to certain vehicles. Learning where to go is a process that may take a few rounds, but some of the techniques, such as using the slower, more-resistant vehicles in the underground musty courses and saving the nimbler ones to the faster tracks is fairly obvious. Each vehicle is ranked in various areas, so you can know what you're getting into ahead of time. These attributes apply to different vehicles in that the faster smaller vehicles like the motorcycles and buggies are more maneuverable but are also more prone to crashing with collisions while the slower vehicles absorb more damage but aren't as nimble.

This plays into the most entertaining aspects of Motorstorm is its arcade-style game engine with it exaggerated physics and in over-the-top crash animations. When you crash, you don't simply hit the wall and restart, the game pauses and shows you the effects of your mistake in vivid slow motion. Its still a pretty cool effect after all these years and enhances the game's attitude. Not that anyone would crash on purpose to see these animations, but they're definitely fun to watch. Once you've re-spawned, its back to the race. Unlike other racers where a single crash can be catastrophic, Apocalypse treats these as minor bumps in the road. The AI is a bit rubber-banded, which lets you catch up quickly, but also allows opponents to beat you at the last second, which can be frustrating. Motorstorm's approach is definitely tilted towards action and this makes for a fun vibe throughout, one where you don't really need to be perfect on every lap.

Controlling the vehicles is fairly easy and the dual-shock controller is well-suited to the task, which is a good thing because the chaos the unfolds on each track requires split-second reactions. While you have to maintain an eye on your fellow drivers, who will knock you around, you'll need to pay close attention to the tracks themselves. There are numerous short-cuts and jumps that you can use to cut seconds off your lap time, and as usual you have a speed boost that you can use to turbo charge your vehicles. However, this time there's a twist in that the environments can play havoc with your engine's temperature level. Driving through burning debis and fire increases your temp quickly, which increases the danger of overheating dramatically. On the other hand, when you find a pool of water, it lowers your temperature quickly. You'll also have to be careful of the large gaps in between buildings and other objects, and time your jumps so you won't plunge into the abyss.

The tracks themselves can also be narrow and there are evolving events which alter or block paths and create obstacles in certain sections, such as collapsing buildings, high winds from tornadoes and floods that you have to navigate on the fly. Add in the fact that the crumbling city is in a constant state of flux and you have a racing game that's surprisingly challenging. You can't go on auto-pilot because there's no consistent path and the events can completely change sections of the track without warning. Additionally, while some tracks repeat during the course of the game, they're significantly altered from level to level, so you can't memorize layouts and go on burned-in auto-run through the later stages as you can in other racers. If all this sounds chaotic and over-the-top, that's because it is - and this is a key part of the game's appeal. Motorstorm: Apocalypse isn't a subtle game, and its manic pace and exaggerated physics make the races all the more exciting.

Motorstorm's story mode is called Wreckreation and is the most elaborate part of the game. This allows you to play through a series of races as a single character and watch as their plotlines unfold. Each race has a different vehicle and assigns you a qualifying position to finish. The early stages aren't too difficult, but once you gain a bit of experience, the difficulty level begins to ramp up. Playing through this mode successfully is the only way players will be able to unlock additional vehicles and makes the game more challenging. It's a bit of a slow-starter, but its quite fun in its own way. Players who want to get right into things for quick play can choose the festival mode where they can choose any unlocked vehicle or track and you can also select the number of laps and opponents. You might want to max the opponents for the most exciting race. This mode is a good way to practice and learn the tracks you'll be facing in the story mode, and can also be a good testing ground for the online modes.

Motorstorm: Apocalypse offers the usual array of standard racing modes, but there are a few interesting variations that keep things interesting., The first of these is the elimination mode where the player in last place at the end of each lap is eliminated while the follow the leader mode has you competing against a rival one-on-one. Apocalypse also features an extensive array of online modes where you can race against 16 other players simultaneously while earning extra items as well. The game also supports leaderboards and the company promises to add some DLC content to the game down the road. This gives the game players a ton of content to go through and makes for a surprisingly deep racing game. With its overheated volcanoes, tidal waves, stormy tornadoes and earthquakes, the game sets and epic stage of destruction on which its races unfold. While you have to keep your eyes on the road for the most part, its hard not to be impressed by the dramatic and cool set-pieces you'll encounter. Racing over the tops and through falling skyscrapers and tall buildings, avoiding tons of falling derbris and literally racing over bridges seconds before they collapse is a lot of fun. Avoiding smashing into walls, avoiding rails gone off the tracks as while you scream through underground train tunnels makes things incredibly exciting at certain sections, with instant reactions and reflexes required to win.

Most of the races take you through a destroyed city, though there are a few sections, such as a beach and suburbs that you can blast through which gives the gameplay plenty of variety. The visuals are quite impressive throughout, with detailed renders of the city, impressive light sourcing and most importantly, a smooth, fast frame-rate throughout that makes the game fly by in a blaze of destruction and speed. There's definitely a cinematic flair evident in the game and its orchestral score only adds to the game's summer-movie feel. This makes the game immediately enjoyable and entertaining. You won't need to spend long hours in tedious practice rounds or license tests. Instead, you press down on the accelerator and race into a wild and intense race. Motorstorm: Apocalypse is definitely a little more cartoonish and exaggerated than the previous games. Replacing the semi-realistic jungles and cliffs of the first games seems to have opened up things a little more. Its more exaggerated setting and storyline makes it feel more like an arcade game. Many elements that made the first game so much fun have returned, but it feels less self-serious this time, giving it a more immediate appeal. Longer term, it's online play, DLC content and multi-branching courses extend its replay value. While its' not the deepest racer on the marker, Motorstorm: Apocalypse is an immediately fun and challenging driving game that delivers an exciting and fun gaming experience.

- Michael Palisano 

Grade: B+

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