Motorstorm Apocalypse is an emotional roller coaster. It throws up events that are so unbelievably epic that you’ll freeze for a moment as you try to process it all. Those events take the racing genre far into a direction that it has never been before. But moments later, the game will make you want to throw your controller at the TV, and then your TV through a window. After roughly ten hours of playing it, I love it. And I hate is just as much.
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Motorstorm is an acquired taste, which is easy to see from how the previous releases divided gamers. There are those who love the series, and those who hate it, but regardless, Apocalypse sticks firmly to the signature Motorstorm gameplay. The somewhat stubborn vehicle handling, the nasty, over-aggressive AI, and the frequent crashes that are often unavoidable; they all return. But there’s a big reason why the non-believers amongst us might still want to give this one a shot – the city. The Motorstorm Festival now moves to an urban environment, and this environment is in a state of constant, chaotic and explosive destruction. Destructible environments have been done in racing games before, but Motorstorm makes all those games look like Sunday drives.
The overwhelming amount of destruction is a relentless assault on your senses. There’s always something blowing up or crumbling down around you, and if it’s not directly impeding you by blocking your path or diverting it, it litters your way with debris that will affect how your vehicle behaves. From driving across the roofs and through the offices of falling sky scrapers, to racing along a pier in the shadow of a raging tornado as boats fly across and ships wreck into the track, the city seems intent on taking you down with it. Each lap of a race offers up multiple changes to the track from the last, be it alternate routes or new obstacles. On top of that, you have survivors and mercenaries adding to the madness with gunfire, Molotov cocktails and choppers rain down fire. There’s so much to watch out for that you really don’t have the luxury of paying much attention to your opponents, who are quite a handful themselves. All you can do is keep driving as fast as you can and pray that the building you’re driving through doesn’t come crashing down on you. This is the Apocalypse, and more than racing, the challenge is to make it out alive.
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The Festival mode plays out over two days with events taking place across the day time, afternoon and late evenings. There are three separate careers within the Festival mode – rookie, pro, and veteran, and you’ll play as a different character in each. While you will play through races and elimination events across the same environments in each of the careers, each career takes place during a different stage of the city’s destruction, so even though they may look somewhat similar, the set pieces and track designs and layouts are completely different. Motorstorm has always been a mash-up of multiple vehicle classes, and Apocalypse adds a few more to the mix. Supercars, superbikes, superminis, and choppers join the buggies, big rigs, monster tracks, rally cars, dirt bikes, and ATVs. While some Festival mode events in past games did give you vehicle options, this time, you’re restricted to a fixed vehicle for each event.
Fans may have been apprehensive about Motorstorm’s move to an urban environment, but they can rest easy because the vehicles feel and handle just as they have in past games. Drifting still relies on boost to get you around quickly and the vehicles still retain a somewhat slippery feel even on the tarmac. There’s loads of debris around, so you’ll rarely find yourself on a clear stretch of road. Boost still plays a big role in keeping you ahead of the pack, with lots of fire to heat up the boost meter and plenty of water and big jumps to help cool it down. You now also have a barge feature that lets you get alongside another car and press R1 or L1 to smash into them sideways; a move that does use up some boost.
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So far, this review makes for very good reading if you’re a Motorstorm fan, but things do go downhill, and when it gets bad, it’s infuriating. While I can appreciate that Motorstorm games offer up alternate paths to leverage the strengths of your vehicle type, too many times you just don’t know where you’re supposed to go. What might seem like a purposefully placed jump ramp will send you flying off the track. Some bizarrely placed turn indicators do more harm than good, directing you into a concrete wall rather than the path it intends to show you. When the world is coming to a violent end all around you and you’re doing all you can to contend with it, it’s very annoying to be undone by one of the game’s design flaws.
Adding to the misery are the vehicles themselves. In the past games, you’d often find yourself in situations where your buggy’s wheels got entangled in another’s, tying you up and slowing you down in the process. That was okay when your opponents were all you had to worry about, but with tons of concrete coming your way, getting entangled with another vehicle just unnecessarily builds up the frustration, even more so in some of the game’s narrower track segments. The monster trucks are supposed to let you bully smaller vehicles, but try bulldozing through and all you’ll end up doing is tripping over them or having them get stuck under you and slowing you down. There’s enough chaos in the game already; good chaos. So you can do without little things like these driving you up the wall. These issues are small, but they really add up the longer you play.
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The Festival Mode also tries to tie in a story by way of cartoony cutscenes between races. They’re an intentionally cheesy way of introducing you to the gameplay and characters, but they really don’t work. Thankfully, you can skip them. All three careers together will take you about 5-6 hours to complete, but expect to go a lot longer if you want to finish first in all events. Split-screen is this time restricted to two players, and with all the chaos around, rightly so. Some serious thought has gone into the online-multiplayer, and you now have a leveling system, three kinds of performance perks, and unlocks in the form of mods, characters, and vehicle skins. There’s also a very cool betting system in place. Doing well online earns you chips, and you can use these to bet against other players in online races. If you know you’re not good enough to win a race, but you like your chances against one of your opponents, you can bet chips against him. So even if you don’t win, you still have something to play for.
Visually, Motorstorm Apocalypse is very much a mixed bag. The textures are of a low quality and there’s a severe lack of anti-aliasing. It’s certainly not what you would expect from a Sony first party game. But looking at the level of destruction and the dynamic nature of the environments, I’d have to say that the trade-off is a fair one. The soundtrack is the standard Motorstorm fare of hard hitting techno and electronic music with some orchestral pieces thrown in. It’s not my kind of music, but it does go well with the theme.
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Motorstorm Apocalypse’s set pieces will shock and surprise you no matter how many big budget shooters and action games you may have played. You race 15 opponents, but your biggest threat is the symphony of destruction that plays out all around you. It’s ruthless and unrelenting and getting the better of the falling city is more rewarding than the first place finish. But that’s also what makes Motorstorm Apocalypse such a frustrating game. Had it not been for some niggling irritants, it could have been one of the greatest racing games. It could have.
Correction: Split-screen multi-player supports 4 players as before, and not two players as mentioned in the review.