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May 4, 2011
Motostorm Apocalypse - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
17/3/2010SonySonyEvolution Studios1-42-16
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Motorstorm Apocalypse is an impressive game.
When it comes to the MotorStorm series there have always been a few constants; state-of-the-art graphics, insane speeds and crashing, lots of crashing. Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that all of these elements have returned, cranked up even further truth be told. If you're in the market for an adrenaline-fuelled high-octane arcade racer then MotorStorm Apocalypse will definitely meet your needs. If you want to know more about the third installment in the series, keep on reading...

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.

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Turning the corner...
Developer Evolution Studios have made some additions to game this time around, but they have also taken some things away. In terms of what they have given there are five new classes of vehicle including superbikes, choppers (the motorbike variety, not the flying one) and muscle cars, taking the total number of vehicle classes to thirteen. Still present are quad bikes, rally cars, racing trucks and monster trucks among others, so there is no shortage of choice here. In terms of what they have taken away; you can no longer choose a vehicle in Festival races and there are fewer race-types overall. As far as race-types go, there are three to play – normal races, Elimination and Chase. In Elimination the car in last position when the timer hits zero (which happens every fifteen seconds) is exploded and the race continues until there is one car remaining. In Chase races you have to stay within a certain distance of the race leader or you fail – simple really.

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.

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Buildings crumble in Motorstorm Apocalypse...
In terms of multi-player options, you can still play either two-player or four-player split-screen locally, though whether or not you'll be able to see well enough to steer on the reduced screen size is another matter. There is no doubt that, whether you have the perfect view or not, local multi-player games are a stack of fun so it's great to see this included again. The online multiplayer options have been expanded this time around too. You and a mate can play split-screen online in races containing up to sixteen racers, which is a step up from the twelve available in Pacific Rift. The match-making is efficient, though it's not always easy to find a bunch of available racers (though bear in mind the game hasn't been released in the US yet). Once the field is set you all vote on the track and then choose any vehicle from those you've unlocked, freeing you from the specific car restrictions imposed on you by The Festival. At this point you can choose yourself a set of perks, which are things like faster re-spawning after a crash and more boost time in the critical zone before exploding. The final choice you have is whether to place a bet on yourself to beat your choice of the other racers. Higher ranked opponents, or those on a hot-streak, will earn you more tokens if you win, which encourages you to take risks with your bets.

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.

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Detail in Motorstorm Apocalypse impresses.
In terms of the actual racing much remains the same as it has been in previous MotorStorm games. You still have boost, and you'll use it heavily to keep pace with your rivals and shave milliseconds off your lap records. Like before, boost is not unlimited; use it for too long and your engine will overheat and your car will explode. Water, whether from puddles, rain or barrels, will cool the engine down, therefore extending your boost time, while fire will still speed up engine overheating. There have been a couple of notable changes to boost use in Apocalypse too. The first, and less significant of the two changes is that you can now use some of your boost bar to ram opponents left or right, which is a great way to wreck them or send them hurtling off an edge. Ramming can also be used defensively, to dodge the small objects that litter the track if you've noticed them too late for normal steering to help. The other change is that if you release the accelerator when you're airborne, the boost bar decreases much faster than normal. This puts a premium on utilizing jumps as opposed to sticking to solid ground in order to maximize your speed. It's a fun little tweak, and certainly adds a splash of strategy to your racing.

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.

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Tearing through the streets on a motorbike.
One unintended consequence of the quick restarts from crashes is that, perversely, minor crashes are penalized more harshly than major ones. For example, if you hit something and are spun sideways, your car is not restarted in the middle of the track because you haven't actually crashed, and you lose valuable time getting back into the race and up to full speed. Also, because you're still technically on the track, pushing select doesn't do anything. In cases like this you would have been much better off to wipe out hard. I found that as I improved at the game I had more of these minor crashes and fewer major ones, but the end result was that I was being punished for it.

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.

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Motorstorm Apocalypse is a PS3 exclusive.
With those quibbles out of the way, let's get onto one of Apocalypse's strength – its graphics. Although all previous games in the series featured real-time track deformation to one degree or another, Apocalypse takes it to an entirely new level. There is a phenomenal amount of ‘stuff' going on during a race, from pools of water that splash your car as you go through them, to cars on fire spewing smoke, to falling rocks creating dust swirls, as well as locals who shoot at you and hurl Molotov's, and a military force who will occasionally shoot missiles at you from a helicopter. Then there are the major effects like buildings and bridges collapsing, the road warping as you drive along it and maybe even a plane crash-landing at the end of one particular race. The sheer amount of what is going on at any given time is jaw-dropping and the frame-rate never misses a beat.

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.

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Coming 4th, time to move up...
NOTE: MotorStorm Apocalypse features stereoscopic 3D visuals but these were not tested for this review. One day Sony will send us all 3D TVs... (Actually I've played this game in 3D for a while and found the game to be one of the most immersive 3D experiences I've ever had. While it certainly wasn't enough playtime to give a definitive review of 3D and if we'd continue after hours of use, it certainly has that wow factor that if you have a 3DTV you'd want to check this out - Dave).

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

GRAPHICSA phenomenal amount going on at any given time, and all of it looks fantastic (as does 3D - Dave) while there is plenty of variety in locations too. Two and four-player split-screen is available – awesome!
SOUNDNo big names bands like in Pacific Rift, but still a fitting soundtrack. The sound effects are great, and the voice-acting just ok.
GAMEPLAYCan be frustrating but, crashing issues aside, this is fast and furious racing and the new boost tweaks add some strategy.
VALUEIf you're not going online then you might feel short-changed as most additions have been made to online multi-player, which is much-improved.
OVERALLFast and furious, and mostly fun, MotorStorm Apocalypse is a worthy sequel, and a fine game in its own right. If you like arcade-style racing, you'll get a kick out of this.

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