IGN Review of MotorStorm: Pacific Rift
The original MotorStorm hit the PlayStation 3 with no holds barred. The game was an off-road racer at its core, but its heart was filled with chaos, destruction and more chaos. Oh, and also lots of destruction. While the game was great fun, it did have its share of problems, mostly with regards to plenty of waiting for content to load as well as only having a handful of tracks to race.
Evolution Studios has now returned to the dirt and mud with MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, but this time the studio also brings fire, water and foliage in tow. The game improves on most all of the major issues that I had with the first title, and proves that the MotorStorm franchise is no one trick pony.
The first game relied heavily on its dirt and mud deformation technology. As vehicles cut through the mud, it would leave tracks in the soil that other competitors would have to deal with, and this hook worked pretty well. Whereas the first title was situated out in the desert, Pacific Rift takes place on an island, and focuses on other elements rather than just the dirty stuff.
Firstly, there's plenty of water present this time around, which has two effects. Driving through it will slow you down a great deal, which is obviously a bad thing, but it will also quickly cool down your engine. If you lay off the boost button while in the water, your engine can entirely cool off in a couple seconds. Alternatively, you can lay on the boost and essentially apply the nitrous for "free" and power through the water.
Obviously the bigger vehicles have a much easier time here, and in some cases the water is deep enough that only the biggest rides can even go through it safely. This is one part of the great mix of vehicle abilities, which I'll come back to in a bit.
The next of the major elements is fire, which is usually in the form of lava. This is nothing but bad for your lap times as touching it equals melted metal (read: death), even getting near it overheats your engine, and using boost will max out your meter very quickly.
What's cool here is that a lot of the fire-based levels also feature bits of water, allowing you to cool off your engine and gain an advantage over the competition, should you take a certain route. Some of these routes come with a tradeoff - you'll be taking the longer path, but you'll be able to boost for longer. In this case, the vehicles that benefit more from boost are better served going this route, while rides that don't may want to stick to the faster path and take it easy on the boost button.
Lastly, foliage also plays a big part in some of the races. You'll see bits of vegetation all over the game, especially in a course based around a farming outpost. Bikes will get destroyed by the stalks, racing trucks can get by, but slowly, while the biggest rides will plow right over it. When the bigger vehicles run through the stuff, it'll stay smashed and the smaller rides will now be able to use the same path. It almost makes for a dynamic course layout, where the bigger vehicles can actually help out the smaller ones by paving a new, shorter path.
For the most part, the track design is excellent. There's at least double the number of courses this time around than we saw in the first title, which is great news for those of us who grew tired of playing the same courses over and over again. While those courses were good, these are great. Alternate routes are aplenty, with tons of criss-crossing ledges and cliff-sides that interweave over and under each other. Some are more straightforward but filled with mud or water, while the higher stuff requires more driving precision that only the smaller vehicles really offer.
The courses are also quite long. Many of them feature two-minute laps, making for tons of sections that you'll need to memorize to really get your lap times down. And practice you will, as they're dangerous. Cliff edges are everywhere and spell instant death if you push your vehicle too hard, as are monstrous jumps and sly shortcuts. The variety of section layouts in each of the courses is also great, so you won't feel like you're just racing over the same sort of elements the whole way through. Great stuff here.
The only downside to the track design has to do with the game's overall setting of the island. Some of the paths aren't marked very clearly, which makes perfect sense given the setting, but that means that you may wander off-course every now and then until you've learned the tracks. It's not a major problem in any way, but know that when you first jump in to some of the tracks, you may constantly wonder where you're supposed to be going, especially when the track branches.
As mentioned, the differences between each of the vehicle types is great, and more pronounced than in the first game. The bigger vehicles will absolutely eat the smaller ones for breakfast. I was in a buggy on one race and got run over by one of the largest vehicles a good half-dozen times in a row because I wasn't giving it enough room while trying to pass. The speed and agility of the smaller rides is great, but it really comes at a price this time around, and I think that's great.
While all that stuff is quite impressive, there are a few things that I think could have been improved upon with this release. For starters, you're able to unlock Speed events by finishing some races with certain conditions, like completing it under an overall goal time or keeping your crash total under a limit. That's cool, but the Speed events themselves needed a tweak. The event is basically like a time trial from old-school arcade games - you start with a small amount of time, and each time you hit a checkpoint, it adds a couple seconds. Get to the last checkpoint before time runs out and you're good.
That's cool, but the problem is that you only see one checkpoint at a time. The next checkpoint doesn't appear until you cross the current one, so you don't have time to set up your next move, and some of them are pretty close together. That means that using your boost on your first time through is pretty much suicide. I was able to finish most of them by taking it a little easy, but finishing faster to score anything better than a Bronze means that you have to memorize the layout, and with 40 checkpoints in some cases, that means it'll take a bit.
The other event types are fun, though there aren't as many options as I would have liked to have seen. You have standard races, the Speed events and Eliminator events (whoever's in last place gets eliminated every 10 seconds or so), but there's not much else. It would have been nice to see something based around destruction, perhaps where your finishing place earns you points, but you lose some every time you crash, but you gain some if you take out another vehicle. Or even just having basic time trials mixed into the main mode would be cool.
The controls are overall good, though still not quite as refined as they could be. Most vehicles feel like they're sliding on loose dirt at all times, even if you're on rock or some sort of man-made bridge. However, the play between using the emergency brake and hitting the boost to maintain speed through a turn is good fun.
My other main complaint with the game, if "complaint" is the right word, is that Pacific Rift doesn't quite have the same amount of attitude as the first game, or at least not really any more, which I had expected. Rather than being a refreshing change of pace, which I though the first game was, this feels more expected and doesn't really feel like it's pushing the limits as much as it could. Maybe it's a presentation thing, but it just sort of feels like you enter a race, complete it, and move on to the next. It just doesn't have the same sort of "get out of my way" attitude the first one did.
Still, the presentation has improved in certain manners from the first game. For starters, a lot of the load times have been cut down. The game still has decent loads before each race, but you no longer have crazy pauses when switching between vehicles. Now, everything is handled with images rather than 3D models, and you pick your favorite ride in each class from your garage. Then when you race, you just pick the type of vehicle that you want, and it gives you your current pick from the garage. If you like to always change up your vehicle skin before each race, this means you'll have extra menus to wade through, but it cuts down the loads for most of us by a good deal.
Also, the game now supports four-player split-screen races. Somewhat surprisingly, Pacific Rift keeps the frame rate up and doesn't sacrifice much graphical fidelity (though grass and such isn't drawn out quite as far). It's harder to see your path since each racer only has one-quarter the screen size and resolution this way, so all your friends might want to practice a little beforehand, but it's great fun.
And of course, online play is once again present and works beautifully. Like last time around, there are ranked and unranked races, so you can track yourself on the leaderboards, though it doesn't expand on the formula beyond that much. What's there is extremely smooth with no noticeable lag though, which is great.
©2008-10-17, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved