Please note that this review is concerned only with the game’s single player component. At the time of publication the online multiplayer was not sufficiently populated for us to feel comfortable writing about it. We will be covering the multiplayer elements in depth post-release.
If you like destruction, boobs and ‘gnarly-ness’ you’re going to like Motorstorm: Apocalypse. Everything on offer here seems to have been tailored so deliberately towards the ‘extreme’ crowd that it would make a night spent with the Jackass ‘talent’ seem decidedly mundane.
The idea itself a pretty neat one – ‘Festival Mode’ acts as the ‘campaign’ mode and is centred around a city (which bears more than a passing resemblance to San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge and all) in the midst of being torn apart by a series of violent earthquakes. In order to take advantage of the unique environment challenges presented by this tectonic turmoil, a hardy group of off-road racers with a taste for post-apocalyptic fashion travel to the city to stage a two-day racing festival.
Rather than progress in the usual manner of competing in specific challenges or tournaments, Festival Mode comes bundled with a narrative that pulls you through the two-day event three different times, from three different perspectives; once as a ‘Rookie’, once as a ‘Pro’ and once as a ‘Veteran’. I’m not a usually a big fan of narratives in racing games but in works well enough here.
This is because it manages to turn the crumbling city itself into a character of sorts by having you experience it from the three different angles. Each completed race is bookended by a motion comic-style cut-scene that shows the city as a living, breathing entity still desperately clinging to life despite its inevitable demise.
While most of the population has already evacuated, a gang of idiots (trust me, they’re idiots) are intent on staying behind and fighting the militarised ‘Dusklite Security’ forces for control of what remains of the city. By the time you’ve played through the three perspectives you’ll have a pretty good understanding of the city, its inhabitants and the rowdy crew you’re racing against.
These cut-scenes are filled with stereotype upon caricature but, it’s this sense of comedy and this insistence on acting the fool that makes the story elements bearable because, as I said earlier, it’s filled to the absolute max with boobs (huge boobs, comically huge boobs) and ‘gnarly’ dialogue.
The racing itself is straightforward, the handling of each vehicle type (everything from cars to monster trucks and from ATVs to super-bikes) is exactly as you’d expect; the bigger beasts are slow but stable whereas the smaller machines are nippy but vulnerable in collisions. There’s little need to use the break (or hand-break) and you’re given such a generous allowance of boost that you need only occasionally reign in your ‘need for speed’ (yeah, I said it) to allow your engine to cool down.
Races are tightly contested affairs thanks to the high number of vehicles that participate in each event, as well as because the A.I. has been programmed in such a way that you never find yourself too far ahead or behind the pack. Evolution has seemingly performed the impossible by implementing a ‘catch-up’ speed feature that rarely feels unfair or frustrating. Indeed, while the racing may not be all that original, it’s carried off with the kind of flair and practised eased one would expect from a studio with Evolution’s history.
The stars of the show, however, are the city’s various environments (ranging from ravaged suburbia to the tops of semi-collapsed skyscrapers) which take full advantage of the underlying tech’s ability to obliterate the design team’s diligently crafted creations.
Like Split/Second, Apocalypse attempts to disrupt the normal path around a track by dropping things in your way, big things. Unlike Split/Second, these demolition jobs are triggered by the game itself (rather than an individual’s use of a power-up) so, once you’ve raced the same track a few times, it can sometimes feel artificial and predictable.
What it losses in surprise it gains in scale though. At times the whole city (literally, the whole city) is destroying itself around you; forcing you to dodge toppling skyscrapers, plan for random expulsions of lava from the ground and generally be prepared to have the track drastically alter its course in front of you. The most notable of example of this is the stage that marks the end of the two-day festival and tasks you with escaping the city before the ship your set to sail away on leaves the dock. This timed sprint to the line is 2 minutes of everything that makes the game fun – destruction and excitement combined with a sharp sense of vulnerability.
Such a level of destruction is visually disorientating at first but by the time you reach ‘Pro’ level you’ll have a pretty good handle on the game’s way of signifying the best path to take. Despite this initial disorientation, Apocalypse never feels too difficult thanks to the incredibly shallow level curve; not until the final stages of the ‘Pro’ circuit did I encounter any difficulty in progressing to the next event (and even then all it took was a couple of restarts to take the chequered flag).
The graphical quality itself is good but not great. There’s a huge amount going on at any given time (fires, jets from bust water mains, clouds of dust – not to mention falling skyscrapers and collapsing bridges) which is great in creating a ‘busy’, ‘messy’, ‘chaotic’ atmosphere. The individual elements themselves are perhaps not as perfect as they should though. For example, there are a lot of jagged edges that should be smooth, a number of textures that look very rudimentary and at times it’s possible to see the dividing line where one track section has simply been attached to the next.
Perhaps I’m being picky (not least because everything flies by so quickly you’ll hardly notice it) but, it’s just not an issue Motorstorm games have suffered from in the past. The design team have clearly plumped for density of graphical content over minute details and, in this instance, it’s probably the right move.
In a sense Motorstorm’s single player element is a breath of fresh air in that it attempts to pump new life into the standard arcade racer formula by giving us a ‘proper’ story but, it’s that same story that stops us from expressing ourselves. You have no choice over your vehicle, its design or the look of your racer, for example. A shame considering the wonderfully diverse logos, stickers and liveries you can unlock via the multiplayer components.
When it’s all said and done however, Motorstorm is a fun ride while it lasts and one that mostly delivers on its promises. Even if the game’s ‘extreme’ attitude does occasionally grate, the destructive racing set-up usually makes up for it.
Perhaps its biggest accomplishment is that, in this time of arcade racer renaissance,Apocalypse has managed to separate itself from the Burnout’s, Blur’s and Need for Speed’s of this world by not allowing you to take anything for granted and creating the most destruction heavy racer yet without resorting to weapon pick-ups or user manipulated environments.