With two critically acclaimed games under its heaving bonnet, the MotorStorm series has become one of the most reputable racing games for the PlayStation 3, thanks to its unique brand of automotive anarchy. And now, after the success of last year’s MotorStorm Pacific Rift, the franchise has taken an interesting detour into the depths of your pocket, the PSP.
Does Arctic Edge follow in its big brother’s tire treads, or does it suffer from frostbite in its transition to the PlayStation Portable platform?
Throughout its life, MotorStorm has always been cradled by Evolution Studios, but Arctic Edge was delegated into the hands of Bigbig Studios, a division of Evolution who were responsible for the Pursuit Force series, also on the PSP. Typically, I couldn’t help but be skeptical about this new adoption, but those fears soon subsided after watching the traditional introductory cinematic, which opened in a predictably dramatic style.
As helicopters soar over a frozen landscape, the melodramatic voiceover sets the scene with cringe-worthy dialogue, such as “at the edge of the Arctic Circle”, and “a passion to combat the extreme drives them onwards” before an onslaught of clips that feature vehicles exploding. “Welcome to MotorStorm,” the voice proudly exclaims, but what he should have said was “welcome back” – this déjà moment confirms that this is an indisputably authentic MotorStorm experience with all the trimmings.
If you haven’t guessed already, the ruthless racers have abandoned the desert and pacific tracks that graced the previous games in favour of a mountainous arctic wasteland set in Alaska. What this also means is that, in contrast to desert and water, you will be encountering snow, and lots of it.
Aside from the addition of snow, Arctic Edge steers close to the tried and tested MotorStorm formula, as the bulk of the game once again comprises of a familiar festival, featuring 100 events for you to plough through. Progression is marked by a succession of eight rising ranks, which are represented by a spiraling menu system that gets continually challenging, but fortunately for some, it doesn’t quite match Pacific Rift’s punishing difficulty level.
That’s not to say that racing in Arctic Edge is a breeze – the racing is as fast and adrenaline-fuelled as ever, with nine on-screen competitors providing endless supplies of manic MotorStorm carnage. In other words, what we have here is a fantastically faithful replication of the console iterations that captures the spirit of MotorStorm.
The relocation to Alaska was a compelling design choice, which helps to keep the series fresh, and even provides some new hazards in an already hazardous form of raucous racing. For example, you can easily manipulate the environment to your advantage: simply activate your horn at a choice moment, and revel with smug satisfaction as your opponents become submerged in a full-blown avalanche that was triggered as a result. Crumbling ice bridges also have a similar effect, but these environmental touches only add to Arctic Edge’s relentless pace and unpredictability.
MotorStorm’s tendency to feature terrific track design continues in Arctic Edge, with a set of 12 diverse tracks that contain the usual array of jumps and multiple branching routes, coated in copious amounts of snow, slush, and glaciers. Visually, the tracks are rich in detail, but the constant sight of snow can become samey, particularly when there are only 12 tracks spread across 100 events.
Yes, the tracks do offer some variety as you barrel through caverns and duel alongside cliff sides, but the overriding arctic theme leads to a grating lack of visual variety. What is more jarring, however, is the complexity of some of the tracks; navigating the intertwining courses of Pacific Rift was often difficult, but this was made even more apparent and problematic on the PSP’s minuscule screen. Nevertheless, once you get a good grasp of each track there is no denying that Arctic Edge provides a relentlessly thrilling ride that is comparable to its console counterparts.
Where MotorStorm really excelled was with its sheer variety of vehicles at your disposal, and Arctic Edge is no different. Old favourites, such as the Rally Cars, Bikes, ATVs, Buggies, and Big Rigs return to the line-up, but this time Snowpluggers, Snowplows, and Snowmobiles join in the fury to accommodate the game’s chilly climate, replacing the Mud Pluggers, Racing Trucks, and Monster Trucks found previously. Each vehicle class reacts responsively to the PSP’s usually imprecise analogue nub thanks to a tight handling model, but the new additions don’t fare quite as well due to their sheer sluggishness, particularly with the Snowplows, which simply aren’t very fun to drive.
With just 24 vehicles on offer, and only three vehicles in each class, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed with Arctic Edge’s lacklustre garage, especially after Pacific Rift managed to cram in over 100. Of course, the PSP has a much more limited capacity than the muscular PS3, so compromises had to be made, and this is most apparent in the graphics department. The damage modelling, for instance, is particularly underwhelming, and the vehicles are a bit on the blocky side; but this was a worthy sacrifice, as Arctic Edge’s performance is very solid, resulting in a gripping sense of speed that is paramount to the MotorStorm experience.
New to the series is the implementation of vehicle customisation, which allows you to modify any vehicle you have unlocked by altering attributes, such as the liveries, as well as the option to add parts, such as exhausts and spoilers. It’s not particularly extensive, but it is a welcome feature that could be explored further in future sequels.
Inevitably, Arctic Edge features online play for up to six players, which acts as a much-needed release from the tedium of the main festival. Online play is smooth and deliciously frantic, resulting in some of the most intense and downright competitive racing you could ask for on the PSP; it’s hard to grow tired of shunting other hapless players off of a cliff before they plummet to their death.
Along with the standard quick race and time trials, the speed events from Pacific Rift make their triumphant return, whereby you must pass through a set number of checkpoints in order to revitalise your ticking timer, and they are just as arduous to complete as ever. Arctic Edge also introduces an all new mode, dubbed time ticker, which showers each driver with points in accordance to your race position, until the first player to reach 999 points wins the race.
It works in a similar fashion to the eliminator mode found in previous installments, as the constant need to remain in first position ramps up the intensity even further. A photo mode is also available for you to share the many awe-inspiring moments that can occur in any given race, as well as a custom soundtrack feature, should the likes of Pendulum and Queens of the Stone Age fail to arouse your ear drums.
Arctic Edge may not reinvent the MotorStorm franchise, but its handheld debut is more than deserving of your attention. It successfully captures the essence of MotorStorm’s console roots with very little compromise, which is a feat for the PSP. Therefore, fans who can’t get enough of all things MotorStorm will instantly feel right at home. For some, this may lead to a strong case of déjà vu, but Arctic Edge ranks as one of the most exhilarating, if sometimes frustrating, racing experiences for the PSP.
The sense of speed is still riveting, but the lack of visual variety grows repetitive. All things considered however, MotorStorm holds up well on the PSP, despite lacking the high definition polish of its console predecessors.
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MotorStorm's unique racing style arrives onto the PSP unscathed, retaining everything that made the console games so addictive.
The engines remain thunderous, and the soundtrack evokes that festival ambience which defines MotorStorm.
With over 100 festival events to unlock, Arctic Edge is a very full handheld experience that makes no compromises.
The reckless racing style of Arctic Edge is certainly suiting for racing on the go, and the fact that Bigbig managed to fully retain the spirit of MotorStorm is truly commendable.