MotorStorm Apocalypse review (PS3)

MotorStorm Apocalypse is the fourth title in the popular arcade racing series and, while the previous three investigated elemental environments, Apocalypse seeks to look into a more urban climate. The original MotorStorm was set in Monument Valley, which was situated in the muddy-ruddy desert. Pacific Rift, the second title, was set on a pacific island, and Arctic Edge (the handheld game) was based up north. But Apocalypse takes place in the cleverly titled "The City".

The City is supposedly going all apocalyptic and the racers have decided it’d be a swell time to set a gigantic racing festival inside these crumbling ruins. There are earthquakes, falling buildings, the ground collapsing beneath your feet, and an entire bridge that implodes as you fly over its girders and crushed metalwork. It’s all reminiscent of Split/Second, another racing title set against a disastrous environment, albeit with a big difference.

In Split/Second, players would trigger the events themselves, but in Apocalypse, this is all done by the game itself. I feel this is much better as it goes against a more ‘emergent’ style of gameplay yet opens up a much more thrilling style of play. For example, you would never know when the guy behind you would want to bring a building down on you in Split/Second, so it was frustrating when it happened. In Apocalypse, after learning the maps, you know where that sinkhole is or when the building is going to collapse so you can build your racing techniques around it. If anything, it’s got even more randomly-generated play than Split/Second.

The core elements of a MotorStorm game are here and have been utterly perfected. You accelerate/handbrake by holding the bumpers, or X/Square if you prefer, but what makes it different is that all-important boost button. This can either be X or R2 depending on how small your hands are, but in my case I opted for X because my hands barely fit around a 360 controller. The boost allows you to, well, boost your speed and fly ahead. You can only use it for a limited gauge so if you overheat your engine then you explode. Pacific Rift added water, which cools your engine, and fire, which heats it up even further.

This fight against the environment has been turned up to 11 and now I can safely say that actually surviving a race is more important than winning it given the elements at play. There’s a real sense of pure inertia that I haven’t experienced since the likes of Wipeout HD. It’s a ruddy good funball of an arcade racer, though it doesn’t quite hit all of the targets for a variety of reasons. Simply put, it ain’t no Pure.

MotorStorm has always suffered from a continuous slap of the pacing. Whenever you died in the first game, it would take seconds for your wrecked car to fly through the air and the game to realise that you still wanted to respawn. The second title let you respawn after two-to-three seconds by pressing X, but now there’s a middle-ground in the third. I talked about oxymoronic immersion in my Game Critique Corner of Grand Theft Auto IV recently. It’s when visual splendour in a video game joins hands with a frustrating interactive element. Its what the first MotorStorm did, providing great big beautiful wrecks but a disgusting lack of empathy for the player.

In Apocalypse, it takes five seconds for that prompt to come up and let you respawn. These five seconds add up, since you will honestly be crashing every minute or so. In a five-minute race, that’s nearly half a minute spent just watching your car blow up. It looks pretty, yeah, but the interactivity isn’t what’s beautiful here. It’s one big massive melting pot of contradiction. It’s even odd when it takes literal mini-seconds to just restart the whole race.

There’s also a story to Apocalypse, which I don’t care about because it’s not really ‘tried’ as such, yet unfortunately there’s no option to just skip it all. You have to wait for each comic book cut-scene to start and hear a line of Just Cause 2-quality voice acting before you're able to skip all the grating narrative. I hate it when a game doesn’t attempt to tell its story in an interactive or passive visual way, such as Half-Life 2’s NPCs talking to you but letting you wander around the room and have fun, but it’s even more annoying when I have to wait up to 10 seconds in order to skip all of this storyfilth to actually let the level load up.

MotorStorm Apocalypse is a thrilling arcade racer, just a good barrel of laughs and shivering epic feelings. When you’re on the edge and flying over that destroyed bridge I mentioned earlier, it’s an outright blissfully intense experience. But when there’s cut-scenes in the way of the experience and a respawn system that kills the pacing, that’s when the light dies out and MotorStorm goes back to its old ways.

Due to the recent events in Japan, Sony has chosen to indefinitely postpone the release of the game in Europe.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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