It was a pretty big slap in the face to the rest of the sceptical gaming community when Evolution Studios and Sony released MotorStorm as a launch title for the PS3. Unlike so many other launch titles for a new system, it looked fantastic; showing off the graphical and processing power of the PlayStation 3 like nothing else with highly detailed vehicle models and a much-touted terrain deformation system that dynamically changed and the race progressed, not only standing as excellent aesthetic, but equally adding some extra challenge value to gameplay.
Adding to this was the fairly solid [online] multiplayer and post-release support from Evolution with new tracks, patches and the like constantly finding their way into the PS3 Download Manager for rabid arcade racing fans.
It's more than a little while on now, and the much anticipated sequel, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, is finally upon us. It's fitting the game lacks a sequel qualifier in its title in the form of a "2", because while still immensely fun and enjoyable to play, Pacific Rift - for all its locational change, added vehicles and class types
- is not much more than an expansion on the original game.
Not much has changed fundamentally (despite the full environmental shift and addition of a new vehicle class), and even the incredible visuals have taken something of a backseat to what we're used to seeing on the PS3 currently.
In saying that though, fans of the first are going to absolutely love this, while arcade racing fans or first-timers alike will definitely get a lot out of it. Unfortunately not changing much in the foundational area has left Pacific Rift feeling a little bit old, and slightly out of touch but at its core it's still an enjoyable experience enhanced over the original with a few tweaks addressed based on past issues and inconsistencies.
If you have no idea what the difference between the first and second game is, Pacific Rift shifts things in the environmental area of the MotorStorm franchise from its original arid setting of dusty desert USA, to an undisclosed Pacific Island replete with sunny, sandy beaches, muddy swamp-like grass-land, thick canopy covered rainforests and volcanic cliff-tops.
Amidst the assorted terrain types lie various track configurations suiting the various vehicle models on offer allowing for some strategic racing ranging from high-flying, quick handling routes to close to the ground, safer (yet slower)options.
There's a precarious balance involved as the higher stuff is usually narrower and difficult to navigate (so there's more risk of screwing up), while the safer stuff is (as mentioned above) somewhat slower. You can take whatever routes you want regardless of vehicle type, but using a quad or motorbike in the trenches with the bigger vehicles is just asking to be sent flying. Equally, taking your big rig through a tree-lined corridor with super tight turns isn't a highly recommended action.
"Big rig" is an appropriate term as Pacific Rift does add a new vehicle class to the fray with Monster Trucks. These machines have some of the speed and agility of other vehicles along with the durability and strength of the bigger vehicles. There's also something infinitely cool about trouncing through precious rainforest with what really is the absolute antithesis of nature and preservation.
There are 16 courses to find various ways through with Pacific Rift, and while I don't think it looks as good as a lot of other PS3 games at the moment, it does have moments of uber-beauty (coming over the crest of a hill that inclines down to a sandy beach at dusk with the sun smashing dusty orange rays across the sea and eventually into your windscreen really is something to be seen).
Vehicles seem to have been beefed up in the visual department as well. You can still crumble your ride to bits, though we're not talking on as robust a level as say Burnout, but it still serves its purpose. Unfortunately this is where the real frustration in gameplay also comes in.
Respawning feels like it's at the whim of the game. Coming off a track, for example (as opposed to crashing or just being stuck), sees you watching the free-fall longer than if you just mangled your vehicle. Moreover, the game's idea of being stuck and therefore allowed to hit Select to get back on track is a pretty broad affair.
I've been caught mashing Select to get back in the race only to have the game essentially force
me to get out of my own trouble. All of this is problematic because the AI is overly tenacious and will catch quickly when you make a mistakes.
Handling is another issue. If you've become used to being able to perform powerslides with control and precision, Pacific Rift is going to derail you. Even hitting the handbrake around sharp turns isn't enough to keep you on your own race line. You'll find yourself constantly sliding out of what you thought would be a tight turn, and the only way to save yourself is to use boost, but even this can be problematic if it's already at a point of overheating and if you have enough, it's also likely using it will just ram you into something that'll mess you up anyway.
Don't get me wrong, there's some depth here that can likely be mastered by the patient out there, but this entirely detracts from the concept of arcade racing: pick-up-and-play accessibility.
For those who are patient enough to not let the game beat them, there's plenty of meat in what's on offer. With the inclusion of Monster Trucks there are now eight vehicle classes to choose from, and certain races and race types require you to choose specific vehicle types giving the game some required versatility in gameplay. It means you can't conquer the whole game without mastering everything on offer and for the ADHD types out there, this is a good thing because it will take awhile.
In addition to all the single-player has to offer, multiplayer comes in the form of both 12-player online as well as four-player local split-screen (something absent from the first game). The online portion has remained marginally unchanged (barring the game's location and the addition of Monster Trucks), while the local multi at least adds value to the party factor of arcade racing with you, some friends and cold beverages thrust into the air at moments of triumph.
All said and done though, not enough has changed or progressed from the first outing to really put this ahead of Evolution's initial effort. One extra vehicle class seems a bit arbitrary and it doesn't necessarily add any new sense of depth which I feel is a missed opportunity (though they are still cool to drive).
The locational shift is a nice change, but some of the extra route additions to tracks seem a bit lacklustre in dynamism or flair, and often result in complete and utter frustration until you find a line that suits and stick to it.
It's definitely a fun game (one for the racing fans, to be sure), just don't go expecting a huge change in the fundamental way it's played. This is very much a small update to the groundwork already laid with the original Motorstorm.
Hopefully we'll see a true sequel next time around.