IGN Review of ModNation Racers
For the past few weeks, it seems like all I've been talking about is ModNation Racers. Recording video reviews, working on previews, and just chatting with friends -- United Front Games' baby has been on the tip of my tongue. Being engulfed in a game this way can often lead to a person getting sick of the title in question, but that hasn't happened here.
ModNation Racers is just too damn good.
Been ignoring IGN for, say, the last year? Well, first, welcome back, and second, you missed a whole bunch of ModNation awesomeness. At first glance, this game is just another kart racer with HD graphics. It comes with a career mode, a plethora of colorful characters to race against and earn for your stable, and an experience point-packing online universe. But as you settle in behind the controls, you'll find ModNation is so much more than just a kart racing game.
For starters, this is the second title in Sony's "Play, Create, Share" catalog of games -- a lineup that started with LittleBigPlanet -- and it's worthy of that prestigious distinction. In ModNation Racers, you can create racers (known as Mods), karts and even tracks that you can then upload and share with the world, which means you can download other people's works of art, too. Before you say "Oh, I never create anything in games," give these tools a look. You don't have to worry about adjusting body types, heights and what not when you're making a Mod; they're all the same body size, so it's just up to you to decorate them. It's like working with a really, really advanced Easter egg.
How advanced? Well, you can opt for a preset pattern that'll make up your character's skin, but you can also jump into the color wheel and spin through a vast array of shades, then tweak if your creation is made of rubber, cloth or metal, and then go nuts with 247 eye types, 315 mouths and so on. Toss in the fact that there are shirts, pants, hats, horns and more, and you're looking at a blank canvas you can do pretty much whatever you want with.
You can even take the basic shape stickers and layer them to create your own unique logos. I'm no artist, but I was able to whip up the Ghostbusters logo without any trouble in just a few minutes. All of this creative wonder and ease carries over to the karts. You can choose from a number of body styles, and then pop on wheels, hood ornaments, and your custom stickers.
When it's time to create a track, you choose from one of the preset themes -- alpine, desert, seaside or jungle -- and get to work. You'll simply drive to lay your road and have the freedom to twist and turn however you like. The right analog stick controls elevation, so you're free to climb to the sky or dip low into the ground and crisscross your already laid asphalt. If you're up for it, you can place buildings and sheep or you can select "auto-populate" and watch the computer bring your roadway to life in an instant.
I really can't stress how brilliant all of this creation stuff is. I loved LittleBigPlanet, but after creating my one level, I knew the process was too deep and convoluted for me. To date, I've made about a dozen Mods, tracks, and karts, and none have taken me more than 15 minutes. You can create really cool, detailed stuff in no time that looks like it belongs on the ModNation disc. My Zombie Daemon Hatfield looked good with his gray skin and red eyes, but then I began resizing dirt splotches and blood smears on his suit, and the creation came to life. When I looked online, I found people had already begun posting spot-on recreations of Spider-Man, B.A. Baracus from the A-Team and Bob the Builder.
If you can dream it, you really can make it in ModNation Racers.
But, let's say you have no interest in creating anything -- you're a busy dude or dudette and just want to take from the endless stream of content others are making while playing a good kart racer. ModNation Racers has you covered. For my money, this is one of the best handling kart racers on the market and it's definitely got the genre cornered in terms of online options.
The first time I drifted in ModNation Racers, it felt natural; it's firm and precise. This is good because drifting is critical to this game. As you do so, you're earning points and filling a little meter on the right side of the screen. This meter, which can also be filled by spinning an airborne racer with the right analog stick, can then be used to boost or put up a temporary defensive shield.
The shield is a life saver -- it's one of the ways ModNation differentiates itself from the competition -- because the weapons here will kick your ass. As you're racing, you're running into item pods that give you a weapon or an ability. If you hold on to your payload and keep hitting the pods, you'll upgrade whatever you're carrying to one of three levels. Missiles that fire straight ahead become swarms of homing missiles, jumpstarts become portals that teleport you down the track, and so on. There are just four weapons/abilities, but multiple weapon levels make them feel varied.
When you feel the need to race -- and ever since getting this game, I have felt that need -- there are a few ways to scratch that itch. If you're jonesing for a solo experience, you can jump into Career Central. Here, you're playing as a character named Tag, but whatever Mod or Kart you want to use will be used and incorporated into the game's cutscenes, which is dynamite. This comical tale of revenge and redemption plays out over the game's 28 built-in tracks and offers you a ton of reasons to come back and replay the races.
Each course comes with one mandatory goal to advance to the next track (usually finish third or first) and then two additional objectives. Completing these unlocks content for you to use in your creations -- items, settings, stickers, and more. Sometimes, these optional challenges entail attacking an "elite racer," one of the characters United Front Games created. Do so, and you'll be challenged to a grudge match after the race. Here, you race the bad guy and some goons. Win, and you get the character. Lose, you suck.
I'm basically saying there's a lot to do.
Making the single-player, offline pot even sweeter is that every career level has five tokens hidden in it. Once you find these, you can cash them in at the shop and get a random accessory to use in your creating space.
All this playing with yourself is fine and dandy, but there are a bunch of things you can do with others -- and ModNation Racers really wants you to play with others. You can host local split-screen matches on your TV for up to four players, you can take one friend online with you via split-screen, and from there you can just join the online fold. You can host or join Causal Races where you can invite friends or jump into XP races that reward you with experience points so that you can level up your online persona (a number will appear next to your name on race screens). Both races allow for 12 players, but you can max out the ranks with bots in casual mode.
What rocks about ModNation multiplayer is how easy it really is. You can hop around the gameplay modes via a shortcut meter, but there's also a hub world called the ModSpot. You can see the most popular Mods and karts on pedestals, enter lap competitions, and just drive up to other players to start challenges or scope their creations. Clicking a button lets you see where your friends are, join them, and so on.
So, when's the other shoe drop, right? I've spent this entire review telling you that ModNation Racers is awesome, but it didn't get a 10, so what gives? For starters, there are a couple of small things that are basic oversights. When you're challenging a lap time online, you can't restart when you know it's over -- you have to finish the lap. While the game runs great most of the time, local four-player split screen does drop the framerate a bit. Although it's awesome your character pops up in cutscenes, these Mods can look a bit blocky here.
Still, the biggest issue is one I've been worried about since the beta: load times. Back then, the game was plagued with excruciating loads, and although those have been improved, they're not perfect. Basically, any time you jump between a major section of the ModSpot or enter into a new race, you have to sit through a load that can be anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds. Don't freak out -- most of the loads are not 45 seconds, but the more complicated tracks do take some time. Every time you start the game, there are two loads you'll have to sit through.
Undoubtedly, this is disappointing, but I don't find it to be a deal breaker. It tarnishes the experience a bit, but it's important to point out that (as hokey as it sounds) good things take time. Yes, you're waiting for 40 seconds or whatever to jump into a level, but once you're there, the game runs without dropping a frame, chugging, or loading a thing. The same can be said for the creation suite -- once you're in, you can switch between Mods, karts, and tracks, slap down homemade logos, and not have a noticeable load to speak of. I mean, you can lay track, drop a ton of sheep on it, auto-populate your course and never have to sit through a massive load.
For what this game is doing, this issue is tolerable.
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