Platforms reviewed on: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable
ModNation Racers is no LittleBigPlanet – the scope of customisation it offers is ultimately quite limited. You can radically alter the appearance of your racer, by adding clothes, textures, accessories, and novelty eyes and ears, but none of this affects how the game actually plays. It is kind of fun to muck about with the options, however, since by combining effects you can unlock some bizarre combinations. For instance, if you apply the rippled, glossy, candy-like texture to a naked racer, he appears to be simply a boiled sweet that has come to life. But if you apply a grimace and wincing eyes, he starts to look like a burns victim.
Idle fiddling with the settings will produce all manner of ghastly, poorly-dressed racers; if you wish to save yourself hours of frustration, you can download the creations of others, or simply press the randomise button and see what horrors emerge.
But this is all just window dressing. ModNation Racers is really nothing more than an old-school go kart racer – and it's astonishing that such a simple game concept has been implemented with so many technical flaws. Most conspicuous of these is the loading times. They're long. Really long. Longer than you'd expect for a game with a compulsory hard disc install. Loading up each new simplistic racing course takes the better part of a minute, and it takes just as long to get back to the main menu when you're done. This brings us to the second major flaw: the clunky interface. Rather than simply working with a list of options for choosing whether you'd like to race online, race offline, customise your racer, etc, you're hurled into a vast 3D parking lot which you navigate in your little dork-mobile. To choose a menu option, you must physically drive up to it and press X. This subtracts even more precious seconds from your gaming session... and your life.
The PSP version ditches this Home-esque facade for a more common-sense menu system, but the lower resolution and diminished options for tweaking almost make the whole exercise a waste of time. You’d be better off with, say, Wipeout Pulse. MNR's loading times are dreadful on Sony’s hand-held, too.
Even if you go to the trouble of creating a halfway decent custom racer and/or vehicle, the means of sharing him with the world – the online mode – is unsatisfactory. While PS3 games are not region locked by default, the online servers in MNR are, slashing the potential for racing interaction. Logging on and lining up a race is a tiresome ordeal, and prolonged by the afore-mentioned long, long loading times.
On top of all that, your customisation work is ultimately redundant, since in the course of a race other contenders are only visible as a blurry speck on the road ahead. Progress in the game will unlock new interchangeable parts for your Franken-racer, but because everyone you're competing with will be absorbed in steering towards power-ups and trying not to drive off cliffs, no-one will ever know.
Everything feels forced. Races are accompanied by the sparring of two dysfunctional, fictitious sports casters whose lacklustre banter turns the adaptive commentary into a poor man's Anchorman.
The game isn't a complete wreck; the track editor is fairly versatile, and 4-player split-screen is pretty rare these days. Yet the racing itself is unremarkable, and the customisation options are ultimately meaningless – you never really feel like you're getting under the hood. ModNation Racers is cobbled together from novelty features to form an uneven, misshapen whole.