Published on June 18th, 2010 | by prime0
MotorStorm Apocalypse – Preview
If you were hoping to see rainbows and palm trees in this fourth iteration of Sony’s awesome off-road racer, then well, you’ve come to the wrong place to be totally honest. There isn’t a sand dune nor waterfall in sight in this latest version of MotorStorm; no glistening beach vistas nor beautiful blue skies. Instead, MotorStorm’s new location is a destroyed city, a grimy urban wasteland filled with death, decay, twisted metal and ash.
It’s an odd turn of events for a series that has always been keen to explore some of nature’s most magnificent landscapes, the new city setting of MotorStorm Apocalypse seeming somewhat at odds with the direction the series has taken since its 2007 debut; the man-made monstrosity a far cry from the natural beauty of MotorStorms gone by. But Apocalypse has more to do with nature than you might think. It’s a tale of nature getting its own back on human intervention, the earthquake rampaging through Apocalypse’s city sending the urban bliss of the west coast North American metropolis spiraling into chaos and disorder. “It’s the perfect playground for an urban racing festival,” says Game Director Matt Southern, “the ultimate party at the end of the world; so fitting for what MotorStorm is.”
Apocalypse, then, doesn’t quite subscribe to MotorStorm’s mantra of ‘brutal off-road racing’. There are roads, for starters, with the MotorStorm festival shifting from the paradisal jungle of Pacific Rift to a new concrete equivalent. It’s what Southern calls “a reinvention” of the series, a claim backed up by some of Apocalypse’s unexpected, but thoroughly welcome innovations. The most immediate of them all is Apocalypse’s dynamic tracks.
No longer simply static environments, Apocalypse’s approach to track design and hazards within the environment is something that could most closely be described as Split/Second on steroids, as the ongoing earthquake rips open roads, twists bridges into half pipes and sends skyscrapers tumbling to the ground. Improvements to the engine mean Evolution can now alter the track in real-time, constantly switching the course’s direction and surprising the player by suddenly throwing flaming trucks or half a building into their path.
The sheer variety demonstrated during the one track demo we were shown was enough to convince us that Evolution had gotten the balance between old and new just right, exploring new avenues of opportunity while retaining MotorStorm’s core look and feel – the boost system remains unchanged, the series’ ‘brutal’ combat plays a more prominent role than ever, and the vehicles, though rife with new classes, feel as rickety as they ever did.
The demo track starts on one of the city’s streets as a hijacked fuel tanker careers into a rival before bursting into flames on the side of the road. Plumes of smoke billow into the air as our path merges with a building’s collapsed rooftop, shooting us over the top and into a back alley as other skyscrapers tumble in the background. “This game is not set in a post-apocalyptic landscape,” explains Southern. “You don’t arrive after the apocalypse; you are there while it happens.” He’s right of course, the scene erupting in utter chaos as we burst through a car park, jumping over a slope formed by shells of burnt-out cars before being propelled outside onto a brick-floored pedestrian zone. It caves in on impact, forcing us underground through a series of tunnels, a maze designed to highlight MotorStorm’s multi-route racing while simultaneously exampling Apocalypse’s dynamic lighting, a new feature to the series ensuring that night and underground racing is now an option.
We zip into a subway station where a brawl has broken out between looters and an army of mercenaries, belting between bullets as we race along the train tracks and fling ourselves past burning train carcasses – the heat emanating from the wreckages playing havoc with our boost meter – before heading out and up the side of a collapsed skyscraper. It’s a final straight unlike anything you’ll have seen in any other racer, ending in a death-defying leap off the building’s peak. Demo over; chaos caused; hearts in mouths. MotorStorm’s back, and it’s better than ever.
But Apocalypse’s improvements and innovations extend far beyond the dynamicity of its location. Evolution is aiming for more consistency within Apocalypse, meaning that once buildings have collapsed they’ll stay collapsed for the duration of the campaign, and have introduced a story-driven narrative within the single-player campaign following the tale of three festival-goers competing over a 48-hour period.
“It’s a completely linear experience,” tells Lead Designer Paul Rustchynsky of the game’s single-player, explaining that you’ll start Apocalypse’s campaign as a character known as ‘Rookie’ before moving on to play as ‘Survivor’ and ‘Veteran’. Each follows the same timeline, right through from leaving the transport carrier delivering them to the city, to their desperate escape from the city at the game’s finale, but each will be privy to different events and act as a basis for the game’s difficulty level, with more extreme, intense events unlocking as you progress, including the tantalizing tease of skyscraper rooftop racing. And yes, MotorStorm’s pack management – or rubberband AI as it’s more commonly referred to – is being reworked for Apocalypse, which should lead to some fairer races. “The last thing we want to do is frustrate the player,” says Rustchynsky.
But it’s arguably MotorStorm’s multiplayer component that’s getting the most significant attention. The online player count has been upped from 12 to 16 players, and now allows four local players to head online together while in split-screen, each signing in with their own PSN accounts to simultaneously increase their experience, with the new ranking system drip-feeding unlockables as players win races.
A new perks system similar to that found in Blur also lets players add modifiers to their car, whether it be boost, handling or combat upgrades, while a persistent matchmaking and car customization option further enhances MotorStorm’s online capabilities. The new option to gamble experience points should also ensure that, if MotorStorm wasn’t already a game fuelled by rivalries, it certainly will be now, allowing players to place bets on particular players they suspect may win or lose each race. The biggest addition, however, is the introduction of a Game Mode Creator, a simple-to-use editor that lets players create and share their own game types. Simply put, MotorStorm Apocalypse seems rigged to be an online racer fan’s dream come true.
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Evolution has done a fantastic job with revamping MotorStorm’s formula enough to attract newcomers, but keep it familiar enough to excite veterans, creating one of the most insanely exciting racers ever released.