What do you do when a massive earthquake has devastated your city? You grab your dirt bike, muscle car or monster truck and while buildings crumble and freeways buckle, you start racing. In MotorStorm: Apocalypse, the latest in the series of PlayStation exclusive arcade racers, the off-road festival has moved to the city and the racing is more full-on, out of control, and apocalyptic than ever.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is an absolute thrill ride packed with intensity and destruction on an epic scale. From the opening you are dropped onto racetracks crammed full of hazards. Crumbling roads with burning wrecks, collapsed bridges, washed up boats, and appallingly stupid spectators that all seem determined to get in your way. So, to the sounds of a pumping soundtrack and screaming engines, it’s up to you to plough your way through the debris, not only to reach the end of the race, but to get the hell out of the crumbling metropolis before it swallows you up.
Evolution Studios has made a game that, like it’s predecessors, is action all the way. In the story mode, you play as three different characters: rookie driver Mash, pro Tyler, and then finally as Big Dog. The story is predictable and disposable, however, and is told in a series of moving comics that you can happily skip to get to the racing.
As you might expect with an arcade racer, the controls are simplicity itself. Essentially you have a button to ‘go’, a button to ‘stop’, and another button to ‘go faster’. While the L2 and R2 buttons provide acceleration and brakes, it’s the X button that will be getting the most work. The X button provides boost. The boost, as the name suggests, gives you that extra punch of speed. However, it also increases you engine temperature. So if you hold it down too long, your ride explodes. Releasing the boost and accelerator buttons when you’re airborne will quickly cool your engine temp. The boost adds a nice tactical element to the game and also makes you pay attention to the layout of the racetracks, so you can be sure to hit those big-air jumps when you need them.
While the jumps and the racing are good, it’s the city that stands out. Or rather, the city and what’s happening to it. With most of the buildings crumbling, the population evacuated and the roads cracked and buckled, it’s as treacherous and tricky to negotiate as the harshest off-road environments. In the Docklands boats are washed up on shore, while Downtown the streets crumble into subway tunnels. Although the Interstate offers some longer straights, the overpasses have a tendency to collapse beneath you. And then there is the Skyline area where you jump from rooftop to rooftop as buildings fall around you. Throw into this all manner of explosions, from gas mains to attack helicopters, hurricane force storms, and opponents intent on nudging you into the nearest concrete wall, and you have a game that’s truly apocalyptic.
As well as being incredibly cluttered, often the tracks change during a race. When the storms hit, or something big explodes, or in the wake of another aftershock, the track can be very different on the third of fourth time round compared to the first. Trees collapse across shortcuts, and petrol stations blow up, sending tankers sliding across the road. Boats are picked up and dropped across piers. Not to mention all the buildings, bridges, and towers that collapse around you. If you’re in the right place when all this happens you are prompted to press the triangle button, and you get an epic slow-motion close up of the destruction.
However, it’s not all perfect in the world of MotorStorm. There comes a times when explosions lose their thrill. Especially if it’s your car that’s exploding. While you can shrug off crashing two or three times during a four minute race, in MotorStorm: Apocalypse, with all the crap scattered in your way, you often wipe out ten or twenty times. But, if you’re playing as Mash it won’t matter because you’ll still win easy. Ultimately, though, there’s something unsatisfying about crashing twenty times and still winning a race.
But, if you’re in the later pro or veteran races, or the hardcore events, you’ll be throwing down your controller and screaming with frustration. Because there is a point in MotorStorm where the difficulty seams to spike. All of a sudden every car you are racing against is either blocking you off or clipping you from behind and the smallest contact with a wall will flip or spin or simply blow you up. It forces you to change from banging your way past everything to carefully avoiding any contact at all. And that’s disappointing, because among all the destruction, you really get the itch to cause some damage yourself. So having to play carefully feels like you’re suddenly playing a different game.
Of course there are a few things to help you face the apocalypse. The first is a good car. When you play through the story part of the game, for each race you are given a car or a bike. Along with this you also get a serviceable, but rather uninspired range of unlockable cars, parts, paint jobs, and drivers. From tough and durable trucks to quick nippy bikes, each vehicle handles differently and has different strengths. So the bike or buggy will corner well and accelerate quickly out of the corner while the supercar will drift through the corner more and the truck is better able to survive a bump or rub against a concrete wall. Like the controls, the handling is pretty basic. You hold the accelerator flat the whole time, (very) occasionally tap the brake, and boost out of every corner. You also boost on every straight, and leading up to every jump, and pretty much everywhere else you can, up to the point of catastrophic engine failure.
In New Zealand, out of respect for the Christchurch earthquake, we’ve had a bit of a wait for MotorStorm: Apocalypse. Also, with the PlayStation Network down, online multiplayer is going to have to wait for another day. But, with four player split screen and 3D support, those with a big enough telly are in for some incredibly intense, high revving racing. Sure it’s chaotic and epic and it starts out too easy and hits a point where it becomes too frustrating. But, and this is most important thing, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is exciting and thrilling and awesomely fun from the moment you start playing.