“Yehaaw!” you yell as the ground disappears beneath you, your car soaring into the air. You start to get that weird feeling in your stomach as gravity pulls you down again. Bouncing back onto the track you spot a building collapsing in the distance, showering the road with rubble. Your tires squeal as you turn a corner and you dodge a flaming truck, only to crash directly into a pillar.
Motorstorm will punish you. Like me, you might find yourself crashing a lot more than actually winning races. Apocalypse was my first proper play of a Motorstorm game, and I’m happy to say I came away with a smile on my face, no matter how many times I ended up at the back of the pack. While previous Motorstorm games focused on tropical islands and mountains, this one had its eyes on earthquakes.
And for that reason, this game has a special relationship with New Zealand. Namely because Sony Computer Entertainment New Zealand delayed it for a good 50 days after the Christchurch Earthquake. I can kinda see the issue from both sides of the fence. Firstly there’s the questionable censorship, and then there’s respecting the victims of the earthquake. But I think most kiwis were understanding in the end.
To make things worse for Motorstorm fans, the recent PSN outage meant no online races until just recently. Anyhow, the game is now on store shelves, PSN is back online, and Christchurch is faring a lot better, although still suffering the odd tremor.
Motorstorm is a unique arcade racer. Where else can you pit a motorbike against a monster truck? And instead of being confined to a single path, the tracks often split into multiple routes, often on varying degrees of verticality. It gives you choice, and sometimes a bit of confusion to boot.
Apocalypse is unlike any racing game ever before, just forget that finish line, rubber duckies are the only way to get first place… No, no, I kid, I kid. Had you going for a second there didn’t I? Like most racing games your goal is to beat the opposition and get to the finish line. Golly, that’s so original! Racers are stuck in their ways, it can’t be helped I’m afraid. But along the way you can also be a big meanie and shunt your opposition into walls or debris from the quake. Buildings will crumble around you as you play, often coming close to taking you out. But not to the extent Disney’s Split/Second makes you fear for your life.
While there are no powerups to speak of, one little feature becomes a major hassle, and that’s the boost/explode meter. The reason I call it that is because if you hold down boost for too long, your engine blows up. And that’s not a good thing. Instead of games like Burnout where boost is an award, here you’re constantly judging to see whether you’ve cooled off enough so you can avoid car suicide. Cooling down works by releasing the accelerator and boost buttons whilst in the air, or by going through water (the rainy levels are a huge relief!).
The ho-hum story in Festival mode wasn’t much of a disappointment, it is a racer after all. The motion comic sequences between levels look nice, but really they are ultimately pointless; a story you don’t care about, with characters you want to ignore. The only redeeming feature was when the characters occasionally let slip of how best to play the game.
Speaking of unrelated segueways — as a PG rated game I was a little surprised to find you could run into pedestrians walking the tracks, and have them hitch a ride on your windshield. No blood that I noticed, but it’s still a little disturbing for what could’ve been a family friendly racer.
To recite an oft-abused expression; multiplayer is the bread and butter of Motorstorm. And you can slice that bread in any which way you choose. Play splitscreen with three other mates on your couch? Sure. Play with a mate on your couch while also online with up to 14 other racers? Why not? Play alone against bots because you don’t want to further embarrass yourself? Go for it. Apocalypse is thankfully very versatile.
You rank up as you play online, winning awards etc. — all that obsessive compulsive stuff is there. Warning: Gambling references! There’s even this little betting system where you can mark a player before the race begins, and you win chips if you beat them. It’s a great way of giving you incentive when first place is often impossible to come by.
During the online racing, the game does give you a selection of Modern-Warfare-esque perks, such as cooling your engine quicker, or resetting you on the track faster, but I found the system rather stingy. For all my online efforts, many perks remained locked. I was disappointed, I can tell you that much!
Motorstorm is something you need to be play with others, whether that’s on your couch with a buddy, or online against some talkative Germans (for your sake it might be better if you can’t understand them). Even when losing constantly I found a reason to keep coming back. The number of different vehicles put inside a crumbling city was, fortunately, a good idea. I’m not sure if you’d suffer from Motorstorm fatigue if you’ve played all the previous games, but as a new person going in, Motorstorm: Apocalypse is a mighty fun racer on Sony’s now-functional network.