Now here's an example of why the PSP is occasionally good for something other than a doorstop. MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is a fast, fun racing game that shows off exactly what the PlayStation Portable does well. It's uncomplicated, and while it doesn't move too far from MotorStorm games produced for its bigger brothers, it will give gamers much of what they want a) from a racer of this type and b) from the series. BigBig Studios have done a nice job of packaging up the winning formula from the PS2 & 3 in bringing gamers the first MotorStorm to appear on the handheld.
Alaska forms up the environment for Arctic Edge's nail-biting action. Because of the game's impressive speed, graphical wow is all in the backgrounds (i.e. the bits that don't move) and these have been rendered beautifully. Watch out for the shimmering Aurora Borealis, if you dare lift your eyes from the buggy, dirtbike, snowplow, truck or four-wheel ATV under your control. Really, I mention the backgrounds only as a nod to the slick graphics, and to put some emphasis on the importance of watching what the hell you are doing. Arctic Edge can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to sending you careening into the abyss.
The range of play modes includes the mandatory campaign - here called festival; the MotorStorm Festival has set up shop in an isolated Alaskan canyon, complete with bigtop, spotlights, fireworks and heli-drops for tricked out vehicles. There are twelve new tracks, each with a number of free-wheeling routes for you to choose from. Even if you don't choose them, you won't do two laps the same way at first: everything is much to confusing, and the tracks are only part of it. The game mechanics take into account the type of vehicle you're in, so if you're in a weighty enough rig and too high up, you'll soon be brought back down to earth. The game rewards planning and punishes those too quick on the X button.
It's all good, solid stuff. Those familiar with the MotorStorm Series won't find a heck of a lot that's new with respect to the formula, but it's portable, and it's in the mud and snow, and that ought to be good enough for anyone. Of all the games out there for the PSP, the ones that keep me locked in are racers like this one: it doesn't take itself too seriously, there's a crash-em/bash-em element and you're not forced to invest hours and hours into progression in order to get a fix.
The range of vehicles available is excellent and even if the tracks, with their secret caves, snow spattered ramps and rail-thin ledges run dry too soon, you'll have fun attempting each one with a different mode of transport. A snowmobile handles rather differently than a snowplow and the way you play will be dependent on what kind of machine you're controlling. The controls are absolutely no more complicated than they need to be, which is a bonus, and you should find many of the tracks have a wide enough margin for error that even the brake is seldom required. This does have the disadvantage of making parts of the game a bit easy though. Apart from some start-line argy-bargy, often, you'll soon leave the pack far behind.
A favourite vehicle was the dirt bike, which handles like a dream and allows one access to places a big rig just can't go. There is one problem with it, though. Come race time, the grid is a mish-mash of all vehicle types, which means that exposed bikers need to be wary of rather more armoured foes. That's the case, at least, when you're the armoured foe. A bike barely needed to caress the bumper of my truck before the rider shot into the air like someone had greased his seat with iSnack 2.0 (last one, I promise). When I was on the bike, however, I did all I could to get smashed off, and unless I ran into a wall it just wasn't happening. Why am I complaining? Well, one does like some challenge.
Another gripe would be with the music and sound effects. Thankfully, the developers have included a custom soundtrack mode, which means there's a bit of scope for toying with the order the songs play in. But because of the limited number, the mix of dance, metal and punk just seems disjointed. This would be okay if you could just play the game without music, but the sound is so lacklustre that this isn't really an option either. It's a real shame, because in so many other respects this game succeeds; if anything, poor attention to detail like this just seems lazy.
In the Wreckreation mode, you'll be able to play through freestyle races, time attacks and multiplayer (both online and console to console). This is all life extension for the title, which starts you unlocking cars and tracks from the first race and gives you totals from the outset. This is kind of like knowing what you're getting for Christmas before the day. But, with parts and paint jobs to add to your vehicles and the trifling fact that this would be a solid addition to any portable collection, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is a big old thumbs up.
It ain't a revolution, folks, but racing on ice probably isn't something you're going to get to do in real life, so you take what you can get.