MotorStorm, while a commendable first effort on a new platform, was far from the killer app Sony hoped it would be. The lack of an offline multiplayer option, repetitive track environments, unstable frame rates and small niggles like long load times ensured that it fell short of being the PS3’s first must-buy racing game. But being one of the better games in a shockingly scarce PS3 launch line-up ensured that the game sold well, paving the way for an inevitable sequel.
A lot has changed since the first game. The game’s developer, Evolution, was acquired by Sony, bringing hope that technical know-how from other first-party studios would help them overcome the flaws from the first game. And as with any sequel, the aim was to better the first game in every aspect.
With that in mind, MotorStorm Pacific Rift now moves away from the deserts and canyons to a tropical island filled with beautiful yet treacherous terrain ideally suited to MotorStorm’s aggressive, in-your-face approach to off-road racing. A major complaint from the first game was the monotonous nature of the tracks, and Evolution seem to have taken that criticism to heart when creating Pacific Rift.
The island is divided into four zones – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – and so are the race events in the game’s Festival mode. From the lush green environs of Cascade Falls, riddled with alternate routes, shallow ponds and waterfalls, to the breathtaking design of The Edge, where you’re only ever inches away from dropping hundreds of feet off a lush green cliff and into the blue Pacific waters, each race will feel different from the last. And you won’t just be tearing it up through jungles, beaches, and rivers of lava. Tracks like Sugar Rush and Paradise Beach will also force you to weave your way through narrow man-made structures like old, dilapidated factories. These tracks, mainly Sugar Rush, are particularly hard to negotiate due to the narrow indoor paths, which are a complete change from the vast and expansive layouts of the other tracks.
Not only are the environments in Pacific Rift extremely diverse, but they’re quite stunning to look at as well. Cascade Falls, with its dense green vegetation and abundant water bodies, is easily one of the most beautiful tracks in the game. But while the forest, beach and hilly environments are stunning, tracks like Wildfire, set in the volcanic area of the island, don’t quite evoke the same sense of awe. Visually, Pacific Rift is a definite improvement over the first game and the frame rate remains stable for most part, but it still seems to lack the polish that we have come to expect from racing games in this generation.
The inclusion of water and lava in Pacific Rift also adds a new dimension to the racing, as these elements affect your boost meter. Driving through ponds or water sprinklers will cool down your engine and allow you to boost more. Conversely, driving close to lava will heat up your engine and increase the risk of overheating. This has also been cleverly integrated into the track design. Routes that are located around lava are often more direct but using boost there is risky, while routes that include water bodies and sprinklers are longer, but will let you use boost more liberally. It’s up to you to decide whether you would rather go slower on a direct path or boost all the way along a longer one.
Racing in MotorStorm Pacific Rift is also a lot more strategic than it was in the first game, and probably more than it is in any other racing game. Each track has multiple routes that you can take, and these routes vary in ground surface, elevation and length. And that’s where the game’s different vehicle classes come in. Just like in the first game, you have motorcycles, ATVs, buggies, rally cars, racing trucks, mudpluggers, and big rigs at your disposal. Joining the ranks for the sequel is the monster truck, the vehicle that creates its on path as it tears through the terrain, effortlessly crushing opponents on the way.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your vehicle is the key to success. While motorcycles and ATVs are ideal for narrow paths and elevated sections, monster trucks and big rigs are much better suited to level terrains with fewer jumps. Alternately, the bigger vehicles can venture through water without slowing down too much, while bikes and ATVs will lose momentum fast. Knowing these little nuances is important when the time comes to pick alternate routes and can very well make the difference between first and second place, particularly in the latter stages of the Festival mode, where the AI really ups its game.
The vehicles handle similarly to the first game; and while that’s great for those who loved the first game, it’s the worst possible news for those who didn’t. The frequent crashes, which were cause for great frustration and annoyance in the first game, also return. You would expect an SUV travelling in excess of 100 mph to easily break through a wooden fence, but instead in MotorStorm, it will result in your vehicle ending up in five different pieces, while the fence remains intact. As an aggressive off-road racer, you shouldn’t have to be faced with painful slow motion crashes every time you hit a small rock or wooden fence. It goes against everything that MotorStorm stands for, and more importantly, in interrupts the flow of the race way too often. And no matter how well you master the vehicle control, due to the track design and the chaotic and frantic nature of the races, these crashes are bound to occur.
Boost plays an important role in vehicle control and you will often need it more around corners than in a straight line. Turning at high-speed won’t always work as you would expect due to varying track surfaces and the different behaviour of different vehicles. That’s when using boost can help you bring your vehicle under control if you feel it slipping away from the racing line.
The different classes handle quite differently as well. Bikes and ATVs are incredibly fast, but are also very hard to handle at high speed as they tend to bounce around a bit on rough terrain. They are also easily pushed around by the bigger vehicles. The monster trucks and big rigs are slow off the mark and aren’t ideally suited for big jumps and elevated paths, but to even things out, they are equipped with more boost and can easily shove smaller vehicles out of the way. Also, once they gather speed, they can quite easily match the more nimble vehicles in a straight line.
The AI in the first MotorStrom was some of the best seen in a racing game. The opposition was smart, aggressive and used its vehicles’ advantages well; bikes and ATVs swerved to confuse you, while big rigs wanted nothing more than to take you out. While this nasty AI fit well into MotorStorm’s no-holds-barred attitude, for many, it only seemed to heighten the sense of frustration and level of difficulty. It seems like this has been addressed to an extent, and while your opponents won’t lay down for you, they won’t give you as much grief as they did in the first game either; not until the last few stages of the Festival at least.
In Festival mode, you have three event types; the usual lapped races, a checkpointed time trial, and an elimination race, where the car in last place gets eliminated till there is only one survivor. These time trial and elimination events, however, are only unlocked if you fulfill certain objectives during the lapped races. For instance, to unlock eliminator events, you would need to crash less than three times in a race. Similarly, time trial or speed events are unlocked by completing lapped races under a stipulated time.
While the time trial events offer some change, the true fun of MotorStorm lies in racing against a full field of opponents. And after complaints over the lack of a split-screen option in the first game, Evolution have gone that extra mile to throw in 4-player split-screen in Pacific Rift. A split-screen option is a must in racing games, and no game better underlines that than Pacific Rift. It adds a whole new level of enjoyment that just cannot be had playing by yourself or even online.
MotorStorm Pacific Rift is chaotic, gritty off-road racing at its best. But there are good games that appeal to all gamers universally, and there are good games that will only appeal to fans of a particular genre. And for all the improvements that Evolution have made in track design, visual quality, frame rates, load times and offline multiplayer support, the core gameplay of Pacific Rift remains the same. While this may be enough for those who loved the first game, many will still find the game difficult and frustrating. MotorStorm Pacific Rift is a fine game, and a fitting sequel; it’s just not for everyone.
(+) Amazing track design encourages strategic racing
(+) 4-player split-screen support
(-) Frequent crashes can get frustrating
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 7/10 (Try before you buy)