If you’ve ever played a videogame that has given you the urge to throw your controller through your T.V. screen with rage, then beware: MotorStorm: Apocalypse has the power to turn that compulsion into reality. However, it’s testament to its exhilarating gameplay that no matter how frustrated you get with crashing your vehicle – and you will, a lot – you’ll still be compelled to keep coming back for more. The third exclusive PlayStation 3 entry in Sony’s off-road racing series may well be the most frustrating and chaotic game in the series thus far, but speeding around the tracks at such a frightening pace – not to mention having to react so swiftly and intuitively to how the unfolding apocalypse creates such unpredictable mayhem all around you – is quite a feast for the senses. Indeed, it’s this unforeseeable madness, coupled with some bonkers level design, which makes MotorStorm: Apocalypse so different to any arcade racing game you’ll ever play.
Evolution Studios has tweaked and built upon the framework of previous MotorStorm games to deliver an arcade racer full of thrills and spills, but one that feels quite different from its predecessor. The main change is the setting. Gone are the natural environments from MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and in their place is an equally alluring and stunningly designed urban location that deteriorates and breaks up as you hurtle around its crumbling roads. As the name suggests, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is set at a time when the world is on its knees. An apocalypse is nigh and nothing is going to stop nature from carving its path and ripping the fictional city to shreds. While earthquakes tear up the streets sending buildings toppling to the shattered earth, a tsunami crudely batters the coast-line and tears up everything in its path. These incredibly chaotic scenes are the perfect environment for the extreme racers, who queue up to take part in the MotorStorm Festival.
It’s an enticing premise that doesn’t really need elaborating on, but Evolution Studios has made the odd decision to add a storyline that runs parallel to the single player Festival mode, telling the tale of three thrill-seeking racers. The stylish cartoon-like scenes prior to each race make for a good excuse to split the campaign into three difficulty levels – namely, Rookie, Pro and Veteran – but largely it adds nothing to the game other than to give your hands and eyes a well-earned rest before you start off on another intense race. Nonetheless, it’s quite clever how the storyline crosses over into the gameplay. You learn early on that two factions are battling against each other while the world collapses around them – taking to the air in armed choppers and with guns onto the city streets to defend themselves. This does add another dimension to the gameplay, because not only do you have to watch out for bridges collapsing, tankers tumbling across the streets, and even an unhinged Ferris wheel spiralling out of control, but you also have to keep an eye out for cross-fire from these two warring factions. This combination of nature’s power and armed loonies makes for a series of thrilling races.
The main Festival mode sports a rigidly linear set-up, typically involving a set number of races over the space of two days across each of the three difficulty settings. The main reason it feels quite restrictive is that you can’t progress from each race until you’ve landed a top two or three position. It doesn’t get off to a particularly thrilling start either. Rookie mode is so easy you can die a dozen times and still get over the finish line first. However, by the time you’re onto Veteran mode, the courses are fraught with eye-popping set-pieces that ensure you’ll be re-setting your vehicle frequently and banging your fist forcibly with every frustrating crash. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps in Pro Mode and the beginning of Veteran – when the A.I. isn’t so aggressive – MotorStorm: Apocalypse really hits its sweet spot.
If you do manage to stay on your vehicle for any sustained period of time, avoiding real-time environmental deformation on the grandest of scales, it’s an electrifying ride. And even if you don’t, the thrill of the chase and the speed in which you move across the tracks never fails to excite. Nonetheless, it can be frustrating when the smallest error in judgement knocks you off course due to the loose handling of a vehicle or the unpredictability of the environmental changes. Similarly, the A.I. can be so unforgiving that one error in a race can immediately knock you back from first place to last. MotorStorm: Apocalypse can be quite inconsistent in this respect, sometimes tossing you back in the middle of the pack when you crash, and other times putting you at the back at the rear. Like previous games in the series though, it’s all about knowing the course and trying to learn its layout well. The first time you play through each track you are going to crash, probably quite frequently, but as get to learn where the environment changes, and discover the optimal routes, it’s quite a buzz swerving, swaying and jumping through all the mayhem.
Track design is absolutely insane, with multiple pathways through each map offering plenty of opportunity to try and tactically outwit your competitors. You’ll race across roof-tops on a speed bike; down a shore-line as a tsunami hits, swerving out of the way of grounded vessel; and right through the centre of buildings as they crash to the ground. Technically, it’s brilliant and visually it’s a real treat to see such impressive destruction occur while you try to focus on the path ahead. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes difficult to retain that focus because around every corner there’s something impressive to see. Having had the privilege of playing MotorStorm: Apocalypse in 3D, there’s no doubt that Evolution Studios’ racer is the main game so far on PlayStation 3 that really does take advantage of the technology and bring the action crashing into your home.
The thirteen customisable vehicle classes provide a variety of handling models, some which are far better than others. Some of the vehicles from previous games, such as the MX Motocross bike, are tough to control, even on the straights. On the flip side, some of the new additions, like the superbikes and muscle cars, provide a much more responsive and stable ride. Nonetheless, the MotorStorm series has never offered an accurate simulation of these vehicles, so fans of the previous games shouldn’t be surprised to see some of the lighter vehicles spin out fairly easily when nudged on the back-end. Even then, it’s still great fun being able to knock opponents off the track with a side swipe, and immensely satisfying if you manage to do this and gain the upper hand right near the end of a race. Using your boost while trying not to over-heat your engine also adds a further tactical layer – if you see your engine catch on fire you can ride through water to cool it down. The fact that you can’t pick and choose your vehicles during the campaign is a bit of a shame, but you can go back and play through again with any ride; and, of course, there’s no such problem online, where you can pick, choose and customize whichever vehicles you like.
Though more race-type variation would have been nice in the Festival Mode, there are collectibles to hunt for, while the real highlight comes from the six Eliminator races. Here, you need to ensure you’re never in last place as a countdown timer wipes out whoever lags behind. These races rack those tension and excitement levels up a notch as you really put your foot down in an effort to avoid being eliminated. If you were to play the Festival Mode from beginning to end and win each race it really wouldn’t take you that long to complete, but the fact that the tracks and the racers are so unforgiving and challenging will most definitely ensure that you’ll need to keep replaying tracks over and over again. Overall, it’s a campaign that isn’t without its faults, but is full of drama, intensity and excitement.
The addition of a four-player, split screen offline mode is an absolute God-send, but the multiplayer mode is really where MotorStorm: Apocalypse’s longevity lies. Sixteen players can go head-to-head across all the tracks from the single player campaign, with a plethora of options available. With the ability to take advantage of a cool variety of load-outs and perks for your vehicles, it’s a rewarding levelling system that offers a well-paced progression through the ranks. Customization is also fairly in-depth with the ability to modify the handling of your vehicle and apply vinyl’s to pimp your ride. It’s unlikely anyone will take any notice as you hurtle around the tracks at lightning speed, but it does give you the option to apply that personal touch and is easy to get to grips with to boot. You can’t beat going head-to-head against human opposition in any racing game, and with the chaotic scenes engulfing the scenery around you, MotorStorm: Apocalypse’s multiplayer component should keep arcade race fans busy for some time.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is so intense at times, and utterly frustrating when you happen to lightly clip a car or piece of scenery and spin-out only to be placed at the back of the pack. But, its pick-up-and-play appeal is undeniable and hypnotic gameplay absolutely addictive. As the soundtrack pumps away and the world crumbles around you, your heart will most definitely be racing along with it as you dodge and weave through a variety of quite striking events – the likes of which have a great impact on you the first time you see them. Overall, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is both frustrating and brilliant in equal measure. And, while the vehicle handling could have been better, the A.I. a little more balanced, not to mention the fact a less rigidly structured campaign would have added more depth to the Festival mode, you’d be hard pressed to find a more fun and addictive arcade racing game on the market.