IGN Review of MotorStorm Arctic Edge
If this review seems a bit late by IGN standards, that's because it is. While playing through the first portable outing in the MotorStorm franchise, I ran into a fairly significant snag: the online was giving me serious problems -- to the effect of locking up and then shutting down my PSP. Thankfully, it came down to a PSN ID error, so if you're running into the same roadblock I did, delete your PSN account from your PSP (head to the Account Management option in the XMB, hit Triangle and then delete the account, then create a new one).
It's a good thing I did wait for a solution, though, as it completed the sense that this is MotorStorm, without any corners cut or features lost; this is the complete package, and the online complement is one of the better handled ones available on Sony's little portable that could. Getting a podium placement at the end of a race will net you points which in turn help you level up ranking-wise and earn new customization unlockables. There's a full friends list complement, leaderboards and you can actually invite people through the game that will show up on your PS3 friends list when you end up signing on there, as well as opt to ignore players, all of which makes MotorStorm feel nicely tethered to the full, "proper" PSN experience.
If the online feels solid, though, it's because so much of it piggybacks off the core game that you'll be slogging through for weeks offline. I'll likely sound like a broken record by the end of this review, but it really can't be overstated: this is MotorStorm as you've come to know it, complete with tons of track variety, multiple paths for the myriad vehicles that will attack those tracks and completely different handling characteristics for those same vehicles. Quite literally nothing aside from HD resolution and the graphical goodies that come with the power of the PS3 has been sacrificed in bringing MotorStorm to the PSP.
That's a big deal, because until now (and aside from some smallish PSN titles), the "holy crap, this is just like a console game" experience has been relegated to former PS2 franchises. Games like God of War: Chains of Olympus, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and, to a lesser degree, Gran Turismo have proven that you can indeed take some of the best PlayStation 2 franchises with you on the go without losing anything. Arctic Edge proves it can be the same with some PS3 games too, online experience and all.
At its heart, Arctic Edge plays exactly like its console forbearers; you're dropped into the middle of the titular racing festival, this time moved to the arctic circle, and will race up, down and around a huge mountain that offers a ton of variety in environments and track designs. You'll launch off huge jumps, manage boost temperature by driving through water or deep snow to cool things off and come to grips with the wild differences in how and where a two-wheeled bike drives vs. a big rig (or, now, a snowmobile and snowplow).
All this really means is variety, and a ton of it. The courses BigBig Studios designed feel remarkably different from each other, and some of them seem almost entirely new when raced in reverse. They're littered with shortcuts, alternate routes, different types of terrain, huge jumps and a healthy number of technical turns, all of which are slowly doled out in such a way that you'll learn how to take all of them with each of the vehicles in the game over time. There's over a 100 total races in the Festival (read: Career) Mode, plus Time Attack and Free-Play modes, the former of which can also be played online. In short, there's a ton of stuff to play through, and like the PS3 MotorStorms, the challenge level starts out light and ramps up significantly by the end of the Festival.
Thankfully, that difficulty curve isn't as rough as the PS3 games, but at about the same point (midway through the career), there's definitely a spike in the aggression and tenacity of the AI racers. They won't drive through you like they did in the first game, but you'll get nudges and find the rubberband-ish racers keeping up with you quite easily later on. In fact, by the end of the Festival, you'll have to demonstrate an intimate knowledge of where every type of vehicle should be tearing through a course to even have a hope of placing first.
If you can do that -- not to mention accomplish more than a few other tasks -- you'll be rewarded with Badges, essentially Arctic Edge's version of Trophies, which in turn unlock more customization options for your vehicle, including new paint, decals, wheels, lights, mufflers, struts and so on. They're a way to essentially help you stand out, though if I'm being totally honest, I didn't really make much use out of the feature after I'd earned the Badge for tricking out all my rides at least once. Still, if you want to roll in a hot pink snowmobile, you can do so with a bit of tweaking. Sure, it's only cosmetic, but given that each of the 8 different vehicle classes have three variants with different handling, there's at least a lot of customizable fodder for those that like to tinker.
What's perhaps most impressive about MotorStorm is that it feels like the soul of the console versions is alive and well here; nothing was trimmed out or scraped away in moving things to the small screen, so you'll see laser light shows as you round a huge bend or go soaring off a ramp for a good five seconds of hang time that'll take you over a set of oil pipes, for instance. There was a keen attention to detail in building the tracks to make them feel both hewn from artic terrain, and yet impacted by the arrival of a fleet of ships, hundreds of thousands of people and a menagerie of fuel-sucking vehicles. There's even a limited bit of interaction with the environment, allowing the bigger vehicles to drive across ice bridges to destroy them, forcing smaller, lighter vehicles into the trenches or the ability to honk your horn and cause an avalanche that can wipe out any following vehicles.
The game runs surprisingly well given that at times you'll be squaring off with more than a half-dozen competitors most of the time, with pack stars not suffering from too much in the way of framerate drops off the line (though it seems the more people you play with online, the more things tend to bog down). When you're out in the open, the game is incredibly smooth, and there's a great sense of speed in some of the zippier rides. The texture work is among some of the best on the PSP and little effects like sun flares when rounding some bends or the aforementioned laser light shows really do impress no matter how many times you see them. That a Photo Mode was provided, too, from the Pause Menu, allowing you to export shots to the XMB, is a nice touch indeed.
Aurally, things are just as impressive. The turbo sounds for a big rig are slightly different from that of, say, a buggy, and the engine noises are nice and beefy for all, even the sputtery two-stroke of the bikes. Horns are beefy and though you won't hear it much, there's a mild amount of environmental sounds too, so terrain can sound different depending on where you're driving. By and large, though, unless you're wearing a pair of headphones, the dominant audio streams are engine noise, turbo and the game's rather extensive soundtrack that sticks closely to the electronically-splashed bits of heavy rock from the previous games.
Though the 20 tracks (including the great Celldweller remix of "Propane Nightmares" from series favorite Pendulum, plus The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Motorhead and even Radiohead) are great, they can start to grate a bit halfway through the Festival. Thankfully, a custom soundtrack option was also provided, though there's limited control over how to play your tunes. Still, it's a welcome feature, and one that, along with the photo mode and online play, brings it in line with the latest console version quite nicely.
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