After staging the mother of all dust-ups in the desert, cutting a ragged new set of tyre tracks around the Pacific Rim and committing vehicular assault on the planet’s polar regions, the Motorstorm series is finally deviating from its natural course and heading for the urban jungle.
On the surface, this may seem like something of a strange decision by developers Evolution Studios. The most memorable thing about Motorstorm has always been its show-stealing settings, and bringing the franchise’s rough and intense off-road racing to the civilised world sounds a little incongruous and, more importantly, unadventurous.
This being Motorstorm, however, the city driving here is set to be slightly more fraught than on your daily commute to work or school run, with much of the game’s appeal given away by its unequivocal sub-title. Apocalypse’s fictional metropolis is loosely based on the San Francisco Bay area of the United States’ western seaboard, completed with its adjacent fault line, which has finally unleashed the mega-earthquake it has long been threatening.
As the residents flee and the city is brought crashing to its knees it’s the ideal opportunity for Motorstorm’s anarchic rabble of adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers to move in. With their inspired brand of ultimate risk/reward racing, they’ll once again carve a set of awesome tracks out of the raw, and constantly shifting, landscape around them, clambering up, down and around toppled skyscrapers, attempting outrageous leaps across the gaps between crumbling buildings and diving down into the city’s underground warren of giant sewerage and subway tunnels.
It’s behind this cataclysmic facade of urban regeneration thought, that the real shake up in Motorstorm has taken place. As ideas and systems from other genres continue to leech into racing games, Evolution have taken many of their cues for Apocalypse from popular first-person-shooters such as Call of Duty, Battlefield: Bad Company, Halo and Killzone. The game’s single player Festival mode now plays much more like the campaign from one of those titles, with a linear progression to its events and narrative replacing the old hands-off approach of isolated races grouped together into different classes.
Set over the 48 hour period before the city is finally wiped of the map, Apocalypse tells the story of a trio of Motorstorm competitors – a Rookie, a Survivor and a Veteran – who inherently provide the game with its three different difficulty levels. As well as these central characters and their rival racers however, the game also features a supporting cast made up of two faction, a private military company and an enclave of ‘crazies’, who will intentionally and unintentionally attempt to hinder your progress.
Together with the shockwaves that continue to rock the city, you can be sure that these two groups will provide plenty of explosive eye candy across the game’s 40-odd races, while the festival’s persistent destruction means that if you return to a course later in the story it will be in the same state of devastation that you left it the last time.
On the multiplayer side, the game’s revitalised Wreckreation mode has also been clearly influenced by falling in with the FPS-crowd. Experience Points are now the currency that drives the action in the 16 player online races, which also accommodate up to 4 player local split screen support, and Evolution have gone all out to pepper Apocalypse with a broad range of enticing and entertaining unlockable features.
Vehicles can be with fitted out with three performance-enhancing perks (one handling, one combat and one boost), and customised with a wide selection of parts and designs, while there are also accolades and medals dished out for the completion of short and long term challenges and a custom mode where players can create their own race rules and then upload these for others to try and tweak.
The road Evolution Studios have decided to take Motorstorm down is certainly an exciting one, but it’s also littered with potential potholes and pitfalls. How this new direction will affect the old Motorstorm fun of matching widely varying machines – which now include supercars, superbikes and hot-hatches – with multiple routes through eye-catching environments remains to be seen. Like its racers, Motorstorm is pinning its success on nailing some decidedly risky moves. Hopefully they’ll put the series on the path to glory rather than the road to ruin.
Motorstorm: Apocalypse is due for release on 18th March 2011 in the UK & 12th April 2011 in the U.S.
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