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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


MotorStorm: Pacific Rift (Playstation 3)

Sony's Motorstorm franchise returns in fine form with the arrival of Pacific Rift on PS3. It delivers a more expansive and deeper racing experience with more varied racing environments and elaborate track layouts. There's also expanded online play and a new vehicle class, Monster trucks. The sense of chaos remains and helps Pacific Rift builds on the successful formula of the first game. Most of the play action is similar, with a similar boost system used to propel players forward, while avoiding obstacles. New elements this time include volcanic lava rivers and deep mud pits that you must avoid or face instant death. The game's structure has been expanded with a new style-based ranking system that takes into account how you perform. This is a solid sequel that delivers the intense, action-packed racing fans have come to expect from the series.

While the PS3 launch title MotorStorm won a lot of plaudits from gamers for its intense, chaotic racing action and breathtaking visual design, some elements of the game weren't as polished as they could have been. One of the biggest problems in the first game was its desert setting that while impressively detailed and rendered, began to look the same after awhile. This problem has been addressed in the new installment, Pacific Rift. The developers have changed the setting to an abandoned tropical island which immediately makes for a more colorful and varied series of environments. Players will race along beaches, dense jungles thick with vegetation, through rivers, waterfalls mud flats, mountainous peaks and through volcanic ashes, each of which offers unique challenges to the player. Each level gives off a much more distinctive feel this time around, which helps to make Pacific Rift feel like a much deeper game. While the game's basic controls and play largely stay true to the first title, there are loads of options that extend it's replay value significantly. The basic objective is to cross the finish line before your opponents by whatever means you can. As in the first game, you have a nitro boost that you can use to give you added speed. It can be used at anytime, but don't overdo it, since you can easily cause your vehicle to overheat and explode if you aren't careful. You also need to avoid crashing into objects, falling off the sides of massive jumps while keeping an eye out for your opponents, who take great pleasure in knocking you off the track. It's a fairly simple and straightforward game on that level, but since the first title was immediately appealing to many gamers, you really can't fault SCEA's developers at Evolution Studios for staying faithful to what worked the first time.

Players can choose to play a single race through one of the courses, which is fun but doesn't unlock anything. In order to do that, you'll need to compete in multiple races in the Festival mode. These are grouped in several basic types of race zones - Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Each of these settings offers a unique challenge in terms of obstacles and environments. As you compete in these races, and earn medals you'll earn tickets that you can use to unlock additional tracks and courses in each section. This sound simple enough, but some areas can't be unlocked unless you have access to a specific vehicle class, which can only be used once you earn medals in the special Motorstorm events. There are a total of 16 unique courses in the game, but there are numerous races on each with different parameters to complete. Most of the game is fairly easy to unlock, though it takes time and patience. It's slightly more complex this time around, but the game's structure is still quite straightforward this time around. If you don't want to compete in a long series of races, you can also create custom race tickets where you can choose the course, vehicle class and number of races. As you win vehicles, they'll be added to your garage, and you can customize their skins and paint jobs and give them a closer look in this mode as well. Pacific Rift also includes extensive online support for up to 16 players simultaneously, split screen mode that supports up to three players along with other community features such as leader boards and trophies which add to the sense of immersion.

Before you begin each race, you can choose from one of several different vehicles to race, and your selection is important because Pacific Rift's multiple paths are geared for these specific vehicle types. There are seven unique vehicle types in the game including Buggies, Bikes, ATVs, Trucks, Big Rigs, Mudpluggers and this edition's big addition, Monster Trucks. Each vehicle class offers unique play in terms of handling, speed, acceleration, damage and more. Learning how to race with them effectively, and on which tracks is a key element to succeeding in the game. If you use the wrong vehicle type or choose the wrong path, you'll find yourself helplessly behind the pack. However, the tracks this time around seem a little shorter, which makes it less painful and it's a bit easier to catch up after minor mistakes as well. This makes for a more rounded title that should be slightly easier for casual racing fans to play. While the damage model is superficial in terms of performance which doesn't degrade after impact, the loss of time when you crash multiple times can make a big difference. It's fairly easy to find the best path, since the numerous signs usually point you in the right direction. Failing that, you can race behind the pack for the first lap or so and find a fast route by watching where your opponents drive. It also pays to learn the location of obstacles and dangerous sections at first, so you aren't caught off guard, which can happen frequently if you're unfamiliar with the track layout.

Once you get on the track, you'll find that the courses are more imaginative with numerous short cuts, massive jumps, huge gaps and multiple paths through each, which makes the racing feel much more visceral and keeps your interest level high much longer. For example, you can choose to take a higher route over a dense forest packed with dangerous trees and rocks, but the narrow ramps and huge gaps reduce your margin for error, making both paths equally difficult. As in the last game, the best path depends on which vehicle you choose, the heavy trucks aren't as nimble as smaller vehicles and their weight makes it harder for them to navigate the narrower sections of track. Conversely, the smaller vehicles are usually faster and more flexible, but they're not as stable, making them more difficult to control, which causes crashes to occur much more frequently. This gives Pacific Rift's vehicles a lot of balance and makes them feel like they're more evenly matched. The AI is smarter this time around with more aggressive opponent vehicles that will battle you relentlessly. In shades of the classic Road Rash series, players can now extend their arms out of the motorcycles or buggies to try and push their rivals off the track. It seems like a minor addition, but it adds to the rebellious spirit of MotorStorm. While it definitely retains the gameplay of the first game, there are some significant improvements this time around that make for a more visually impressive experience.

The basic approach is immediately familiar, but the new desert island setting allows for a much broader array of environments and locations. This increased diversity is complimented by an improved graphics engine that offers much greater polish in terms of presentation and action. The island location allows for a variety of new environmental effects such as water and fire to make for a dramatically improved experience overall. Pacific Rift's jungle environments are dense with plants and trees, causing a slightly claustrophobic feel in certain sections which makes the open areas all the more impressive. There are massive ramps and jumps placed throughout each level and these leaps can be quite breathtaking. However, if you take them the wrong way, you'll cause a spectacular crash, which stops the action so it can be viewed in slow motion. You can watch as your driver is flung around the level while the shrapnel of their wrecked vehicle twists and turns around them. It's an impressive effect that's been carried through from the first game successfully and makes crashing quite an impressive event. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift's graphics engine is quite impressive and runs at a consistent frame rate, making for some brutally intense racing action that unfolds at a relentless pace. It's hard-rock soundtrack adds to game's sense of anarchic glee, and compliments its brutal racing effectively. This is a spectacular looking racing title and improves its visual punch from the first game significantly, making it a good showcase of the PS3's power.

Gamers looking for a simulation or even any sense of realism are going to be disappointed, but the arcade-style physics and controls make Motorstom: Pacific Rift an excellent title that should please those looking for a quick adrenaline rush. It's open-ended structure makes progression easy, which creates an instantly enjoyable, but also deeply engaging game that allows you to go deeper and unlock numerous extras. The diverse tracks mark a big improvement from the first title, giving the races added punch. An increased number of hazards and traps makes the game less predictable, along with the AI which has been improved to make your opponents harder to predict. As an added bonus, dual shock support has been included, no download patches need. This makes for a solidly entertaining follow-up with enough changes and additions to please players who enjoyed the first game. Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is a solidly entertaining, deep yet accessible racing title that delivers an exciting experience for fans of action packed racing. - Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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