It’s fair to say that MotorStorm was one of the main reasons that led me to buying a Playstation 3 at launch. Developed by Evolution Studios, who are formerly known for the acclaimed WRC series, MotorStorm’s unveiling at E3 back in 2005 instantly sealed my attention, and I was subsequently longing for the day of its eventual release.
Predictably, after finally being released alongside Sony’s shiny new plaything in 2007, it instantly won me over and rapidly became one of my most favourite racing games, thanks to its refreshingly rampant racing style. And yet, despite this, the game somehow felt unfinished, as if it was cut short in time to become Sony’s showcase.
Mercifully however, the sequel continues where the original left off, adding with it a slew of additional content and features, whilst simultaneously remedying some of the original’s shortcomings – but is this enough to cement MotorStorm’s legacy?
After being greeted with the most melodramatic introductory movie to ever grace a racing game, we find that the seemingly suicidal racers from the original MotorStorm’s desert environment have migrated to an island “born from fire, shaped by the elements, claimed by nature and abandoned by man,” as the announcer helpfully points out.
Whilst the original’s more rough and raw terrain felt like the ideal setting for a brutal off road racing experience, Pacific Rift’s selection of tropical tracks often outshine the previous game’s selection with a more varied set of enriched locations, as well as offering twice the number of tracks to bring the total up to a generous 16. These new tracks are also divided into 4 distinct categories, starting with Earth which consists of the more muddy circuits that feel the most akin to that of the original game, along with Air which provides a familiar array of massively implausible jumps.
The remaining categories of Fire and Water will come across as unfamiliar to MotorStorm veterans however, acting as an excuse to implement Pacific Rift’s new boosting mechanic. Boosting is an ever more potent key to success in Pacific Rift, as preserving and initiating it at the right time can often be the difference between victory and defeat, but the danger of overheating is still present, as overly excessive boosting will once again result in a fiery explosion.
However, Pacific Rift’s new Fire and Water tracks bring forward a whole new element to consider, as the environment can be manipulated to work in your favour. Trundling through water will act as a coolant to your engine and will therefore preserve your boost, allowing you to shed precious seconds, whilst fire on the other hand will have the opposite effect by heating up your engine.
As a result, these new elements instigate a welcome opportunity for strategy, and the variety of tracks keep the game fresh as you traverse through windswept cliffs to molten lava-laden landscapes.
Many of the tracks are terrific examples of design work, comprising of elaborate scenery and multiple branching paths throughout. Sugar Rush for example is just one of many highlights, as you plough through dense vegetation and careen through hazardous buildings that encompass multiple levels. Another favourite is Colossus Canyon, which commences through a narrow forest area (rather similar to a certain Speeder Bike chase from Return of the Jedi I might add) and ends up with you plummeting precariously down a surprise waterfall if you happen to overstep the corner – it really is a wholeheartedly thrilling experience.
The only downside to this ambition is that the tracks can sometimes feel just a little too vast for their own merit, with the multiple routes often becoming difficult to navigate at times. Of course, you will grow accustomed to this once you have successfully memorized the optimum layout of each track, but it can nonetheless be as frustrating as it is exhilarating.
Cast back to the speeder bike analogy from Star Wars, and that is exactly what Pacific Rift feels like – it’s a near constant onslaught of utterly intense off road thrills where danger can lurk at any given moment, be it protruding environmental objects or the sight of an intimidating truck pulling up alongside you. It certainly demands quick reactions as you hurtle at breakneck speeds through these unpredictable environments, and your opposition only adds to this intensity.
Unlike the majority of racing games, MotorStorm actively encouraged contact, and Pacific Rift once again pits you against up to 11 racers who are equally intent on winning by any means necessary. As you jostle for position against these fellow lunatics, no race is ever the same, thanks to some aggressive AI which will often have no qualms with maliciously ramming you into the path of a conveniently placed rock.
This makes for many memorable moments, with an abundance of heated duels and spectacular crashes – witnessing the flying wreckage of a fellow racer hurling towards you is gratifying, especially after scarcely avoiding it. It all looks brilliant too, as Pacific Rift’s graphics continue to shine gracefully. The track detail is outstanding with subtle water effects, convincing foliage and notably improved lighting, but it’s the fluidity that truly impresses, since the fast paced action is complimented by a deliciously solid frame rate as your vehicle thunders along, all adding to the immersion.
It’s this sensational sense of speed coupled with unforgiving AI and the overriding no rules racing vibe that MotorStorm encapsulated so well which made it so endearing, and thankfully Pacific Rift shows no signs of slowing down. Truth be told, it’s terrifying.
Another attribute that set MotorStorm apart in a class of its own was the sheer variety of vehicles. Pacific Rift continues with this trend, once again staging races that combine rally cars, bikes and big rigs to name a few, and it is an epic, if downright absurd, sight to see such a variety of vehicles competing in the same race. And yet the competition never feels unfair as each vehicle has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Bikes, for example, are nimble but vulnerable whereas big rigs are slow but unstoppable, and some smart track design also ensures that multiple paths cater for different vehicle types. There’s a whole new vehicle class too – monster trucks. Whilst it’s fun to obliterate the competition in these menacing machines, their top heavy nature means that they are somewhat troublesome to handle, but thankfully each vehicle class has a distinct handling characteristic making it easy to pinpoint your favourite vehicle class of choice.
Overall, the handling feels more pronounced than MotorStorm in terms of the differences between each class, but individually there is still a lack of tangible difference between each vehicle in a respective category – every rally car seemingly handles the same for example, meaning your preference will rely purely on aesthetics. The visual damage that you can inflict on your vehicle has also seen a dramatic overhaul, allowing you to crumble your car in more elaborate ways than before. Whilst the chassis decimation is not quite up to the standard of Burnout Paradise, it is a significant improvement. The vehicles no longer take a considerable age to load up any more, either.
Pacific Rift’s campaign mode once again consists of an extended festival, whereby you compete in various races to unlock tickets in order to progress, whilst unlocking vehicles in the process. As before, the majority of events restrict the class of vehicle that you can enter with, which can be frustrating, but it’s also a useful method of learning which vehicles suit each track.
With 100 events to win, it is certainly a lengthy crusade and one which will thoroughly test your skills, and ultimately your patience. There is a good sense of progress as the game indicates how many points you need to earn in order to advance to the next rank, but as you move through each rank, the difficulty steadily rises. By the time you reach the tail end of the festival, the level of difficulty proves to be an enduring challenge, as it suddenly becomes a difficulty to scrape even a podium position, which can become very frustrating when you consider that the races become tiresomely long by this point.
I have found that the best strategy is to preserve your boost and then use it as much as possible during the final stages of the track, but the difficulty will definitely be a turn off for some. Fortunately, you are no longer restricted to the festival mode as Evolution managed to see sense and include a single race mode, whereby you can jump into any vehicle and track that you desire, which I felt was a glaring omission from the original game.
To add some needed variety to the festival mode, some further events were added in addition to the races, in the form of eliminator and speed events. Eliminator events up the ante by destroying the racer in last place at regular intervals, which makes for some frantic sessions in an already intense game, whereas speed events are your basic time trials that require you to pass through a herd of checkpoints.
However, the speed events feel a little tacked on and are generally not very enjoyable to play, since Pacific Rift is at its best when you are in the midst of complete carnage. They are also somewhat flawed as forthcoming checkpoints do not appear until you have passed through the current one, which is irritating and grating as it can be problematic to map out a route until you have fully memorized the sequence.
New to the MotorStorm series is the addition of a split screen multiplayer, which can be great chaotic fun. Although it can sometimes be difficult to see where you are going in such complex courses with the reduced visibility, the frame rate remains impressively solid. This is also apparent throughout Pacific Rift’s online multiplayer, which is as smooth as silk with ample opportunity for rivalry.
A custom soundtrack feature is another welcome addition, as the game can play through music tracks stored on your hard drive – it is surprising just how much a good custom soundtrack can influence the ambiance of a heated race. Rounding off the new features is the inclusion of a photo mode, which allows you to take snapshots at any given moment during a race. It can be a fun diversion to take photos of your best takedowns, but the feature is ultimately flawed since the game does not allow you to replay any race, making it all too easy to completely miss some spectacular moments, given the game’s fast paced nature.
In essence, Pacific Rift offers more of the same as its predecessor, but that is no bad thing in this case. It’s everything the original MotorStorm should have been and delivers a substantially more complete package as a result. You would be hard pressed to find an off road racer that’s as brash or intense with thrills to be found at every corner – MotorStorm is back and it has indefinitely secured itself as the PS3’s filthiest racer.