The MotorStorm series has already made stops in the desert and a tropical island (as well as the Alaskan ice on PSP and PS2) and to keep things different, this time around The Festival, which is the primary single player mode, takes places in a mostly deserted city. Oh, and the city is being ravaged by earthquakes. For the first time in the series The Festival has a story to go along with it, and while it is very shallow and leaves many details deliberately vague, it does a serviceable job breaking up the races and providing some back-story.
The story is told through a series of ‘motion-comics' shown between races and follows the journey of three Festival participants; Mash (the rookie), Tyler (the pro) and Big Dog (the veteran) as witnessed by the Festival cameraman. The Festival runs for two days and you get to experience it from the perspective of each of these three characters, with increasing difficulty for each one. Unlike previous games in the series, The Festival is very linear. You start as Mash and must finish in the top-5 in any given race in order to progress to the next race. When you're playing as Tyler or Big Dog, you not only have increased difficulty to worry about, but you also have to finish in the top-3 to progress to the next race.
There are a couple of new and expanded modes too. Winning a race in The Festival unlocks it in a new hardcore mode where your rivals are much more aggressive. These races can be played in ‘Wreckreation', which is the place to go when you need a break from The Festival. Along with the hardcore races there is also a Time Trial to play with. I must admit that racing against the clock doesn't really interest me so I didn't spend a lot of time here, but one cool thing you can do is import the ghosts of up to three other racers (such as the best-recorded time, or a friend's) and go head-to-head against them. Theoretically this can be a great way to find short-cuts in races, though as I say I didn't spend much time here so I can't testify to its usefulness.
Speaking of tokens, they are the currency used to rank up in online modes. You earn them for just about everything you do online; the position you finish, completing a race, wrecking other racers, and any drift or air you get. When you earn enough tokens to rank up you are rewarded with items such as car parts, stickers and paint-jobs, which you can use to stand out from the crowd if you're into that kind of thing. Any customization you do is just a visual thing; you (quite rightly) don't get any performance boost from it. More good news is that the game performs wonderfully online, with no technical issues such as slowdown or other graphical glitches, regardless of how many racers were taking part. The one minor gripe I have here is that you're never told how far ahead or behind you are during a race. I can't remember the last racing game I played that didn't have this in it, and I found it surprisingly off-putting, particularly when I was lagging behind.
For anyone new to MotorStorm it's worth mentioning again that to play this game is to crash. Until you learn the tracks, and probably even after that, you'll be crashing a lot. Perhaps then, it is no surprise that there is usually little penalty for crashing; you're promptly restarted in the middle of the track just a fraction of a second behind where you were pre-crash. In fact during Festival races as Mash (i.e. with rookie difficulty) you often improve your position by crashing, which can be weird. If you ever find yourself off the track or heading in the wrong direction you can press the select button to be restarted on the middle of the track, though you start from a standstill rather than moving as you do after a crash. Both of these mechanisms make the races flow smoothly and limit your frustration at the large number of crashes you will have.
I also take umbrage at the occasionally sadistic track layout that causes you to crash unreasonably; some objects (like select guard-rails and street-signs) are nearly impossible to see, a few jumps send you into trees or signs you won't see until you're in the air, or the out and out physics errors that send your vehicle flying after driving over a slight rise. Then there are the times you don't crash even though you hit a wall at high pace, and other times the game registers you as crashing because you were airborne for too long after a jump. The physics errors occur less often in Apocalypse than they did in Pacific Rift, but they are still annoying. Even though the penalty for crashing is usually minor, the hit to your psyche because of all the crashes is much bigger.
Outside of the crashing, some issues include the lack of an efficient way to re-try races in Festival mode, not having the choice of vehicle in Festival races (which is worse because the game makes some shocking choices early on – trucks on rooftops anyone?), fewer races types than in Pacific Rift and the very shallow story. These are minor issues no doubt, but they're definitely areas to improve next time around. The last I want to mention is that if you're not going to play online, Apocalypse is still quite short. Festival is fun but you'll finish it in a couple of days and unless you like to race against the clock there's not a lot else to do.
The weather too is a consideration, as rain, sun and cyclones, not to mention the large-scale earthquakes all play their part in influencing a race. Some of the bigger effects, like building or bridge collapses, will change the track mid-race and you'll have to find a new path through all of the destruction. It all looks absolutely fantastic, and is a step above anything we saw in Pacific Rift or Split/Second. Races take place at all different times of the day, and whether the race takes place in the morning, afternoon or night it always looks wonderful. Some helpful soul has even placed flares on the track during night races to help you see the path, which believe me is not easy at the speeds you're traveling. There is solid variety in the race locations as well, there are gardens, a beach, cliffs, roads, tunnels and rooftops to traverse, and this variety helps keep things interesting. The motion-comics have a distinctive and interesting art-style, with a couple of standouts among them. It's a shame the story isn't more interesting because most people will tune the comics out after a while, and the art, at least, deserved better.
The music and sound do a great job of setting the mood for high-octane racing. You may not pay particular attention to the pumping tunes, but they keep your blood racing and your head in the game throughout. There aren't any big name bands at work here like there was in Pacific Rift, but what's here is nearly as good. The sound effects work well, from the roaring engines to the sounds of breaking glass and crushed metal that accompany your many crashes. The voice-acting isn't especially charismatic, but the script isn't very deep which may account for that.
Overall MotorStorm Apocalypse is an improvement on its predecessors in many ways. The high-speed races are as addictive as ever, the visuals are extremely impressive and the multiplayer game has had plenty of content added. There are some minor disappointments but these are more than matched by the fun you'll have. Anyone who enjoys arcade-style racing games, or enjoyed the previous games in the series is bound to love this too. Well worth checking out.
Review By: Mike Allison