Motorstorm: Arctic Edge

ReviewSince its not-so-distant beginnings in December 2006, the Motorstorm Festival has made its mark at some exotic and dangerous locales around the world. The offroad racer started its journey on the PS3 at Monument Valley before arriving at greener pastures, complete with dense forests and smoldering volcanoes in Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. Now, following the trend set by many major Sony franchises, Motorstorm has made its way to the edge of the Arctic Circle on the PSP with Motorstorm: Arctic Edge courtesy Bigbig Studios.

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Most PS3 owners would not be unfamiliar with the pulse-pounding, edge-of-control gameplay of the Motorstorm series. The real question here is: how much has the game lost (and gained) in making the transformation onto the significantly less powerful hardware? To save everyone’s time (and time saved is money earned which you should use to buy this game), I’ll answer that right away: hardly anything. If you loved Motorstorm on the PS3, you will love Motorstorm on PSP. For a continued ode to awesomeness (sprinkled with occasional nitpicking), read on.

Let’s break the gameplay down to its elements: vehicles, tracks and opponent AI. The game features eight separate classes of vehicles (some familiar and some new to the series and more suited to the predominant environment of the game), ranging from the extremely zippy motorcycles and snowmobiles and going all the way up to behemoths such as the Big Rigs and Snowcats (Though Mammoths might have been a more appropriate name for the latter because of their ridiculously non-responsive steering). Vehicle characteristics range in their speed, acceleration, handling and toughness amidst classes, with three variations available within each class (two of which need to be unlocked).

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The different variations within vehicle classes also feature slight differences in stats apart from the aesthetics. Speaking of aesthetics, the look of vehicles can be further customized by a satisfyingly deep array of liveries, spoilers, sponsor stickers and exhausts. The controls have been mapped well onto the PSP, and the few minor gripes (for example, the Snowmobile oversteers a bit too much) arise more due to player preferences than design flaws.

The other vital ingredient to this racing sizzler is the track design. The tracks have arguably been the strongest suite of the Motorstorm series, and it is no different with Arctic Edge. The eight tracks featured in the game are treacherously delightful, complete with the standard Motorstorm fare of multiple routes, shortcuts and jumps. While snow is the predominant feature in almost every track, other elements also have their share of representation to keep things varied. Apart from being designed so well, the courses look very beautiful (the same can’t be said about vehicle models though).

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The light arcs beautifully onto the tracks depending on the presence of obstacles, and some of the snowy tracks feature full blown snowstorms, severely hampering the visibility. My favourite track of the game is ‘The Chasm’, where the ever present danger of falling into one of the many chasms on the tracks is further amplified by the reduced visibility due to heavy snowfall. All this, coupled with arcing festival lights and a helicopter lumbering across the horizon carrying a crate make up for a pretty impressive sight.

The track design also makes way for various strategies that can be employed in a bid to stay ahead of the pack. Boosting is always a major factor, with water and deep ice facilitating a quicker cooldown. This, when employed tactically, can make a big difference. Apart from that, Bigbig Studios have incorporated a couple of extra features which become relevant due the unique setting of the game. The ever present horn usually serves no purpose in a racing game apart from venting out frustration (as in real life). However, in Arctic Edge it makes a big difference. You see, ice reacts to noise. At certain points of the track, the player can cause an avalanche by honking long and loud. This brings down a mountain of snow on the competition behind, adding to the lead of the player. The opponents can also do the same, and it makes for an exhilarating experience to somehow outrun the descending snow with a fiery burst of speed. All these elements especially come to play at higher ranks where every fraction of a second earned on the competition makes a huge difference.

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The Festival is the main single player “campaign” of the game. Apart from standard races, it features other modes such as ‘Speed’ and ‘Time Ticker’. ‘Speed’ is a race against time with the player required to move from checkpoint to checkpoint against the timer, and ‘Time ticker’ is a new game mode where every vehicle constantly gains points at a rate which is directly proportional to their position. The first one to reach a predetermined score wins the event. These events can only be unlocked by earning stars, which require the player to do specific tasks in race events, such as staying in first position for 10 seconds and completing the race within a stipulated time.

Apart from the Festival, the game features ‘Wreckreation’ mode, where all tracks are available for free play races and time attacks, as well as a 6-player ad hoc and online modes. The plethora of game modes and possible strategies (coupled with the medals that can be earned through the game), make the experience as deep, if not deeper, as the predecessors in the series.

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You may have noticed that I’ve done nothing but gush about the game. That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have problems. In fact, Arctic Edge seems to have inherited the weaknesses along with the strengths of its bigger brothers. Collision issues are ever present due to the wonky physics model of the game, and this coupled with some clipping issues makes for some pretty comical moments. For example, at one point I collided with a jagged rock which sent me flying straight up and straight through into the upper level of the track where I merrily continued without missing a heartbeat.

The strange AI behaviour also makes a return, with AI opponents moving mostly in two distinct packs, the top half and the bottom half. Within each pack, the efforts seem to be solely focused on making life miserable for the player rather than the more pressing objective of trying to win the race. Snowcats and Big Rigs are the biggest culprits here, as they for some strange reason go out of their way (even if means sacrificing their position) to crush you and slow down your progress.

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In their efforts of easing you into the game, Bigbig Studios have ended up making the first couple of ranks overly simple. Depending on the player skill level, the first three-four ranks will hardly pose a challenge, with lead times of up to 40 seconds also possible by the time the player hits the finishing line. In fact, I was able to race through to rank 4 without so much as coming second in any of the events. The complete lack of challenge initially might turn off a few players and make them give up out of boredom before the real fun comes around.

However, my biggest gripe with the game is the lack of sense of speed, especially with the bigger vehicles. Part of it can be attributed to the greater precision in controls which makes corners and avoiding gaps simpler, and part of it can be because of the limited power of the PSP, but most of the time when I was not boosting, the movement felt extremely sluggish. The Motorstorm series has always been about being at the edge of control, never knowing when you would hurtle out of control, be it because of overheating or tackling a corner too fast. This lack of speed quickly takes away the thrill of hurtling forward not knowing what surprises the next corner might hold. In the initial ranks, it is all the more prevalent because of the lack of any kind of competition. However, at higher ranks, this problem is mitigated mostly because of apt difficulty. My advice if you feel a bit underwhelmed in the beginning – stick around! All the good stuff lies ahead. (“Slow” and “steady” wins the race?)

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For all its highs and lows (metaphorically and literally), what lingers about Motorstorm: Arctic Edge is compulsion. The compulsion to play one more race; the compulsion to try an event one more time to improve one’s standing; the compulsion to shave off one more second in the time attack mode. After the boredom of the initial ranks, the game becomes riveting. It’s a great game to have while travelling. Just be prepared for the embarrassment that will follow the realisation that you let out a loud whoop of joy in the otherwise silent passenger cabin of your flight after boost exploding across the finish line, barely inching beyond your opponent to victory.

(+) Excellent track design
(+) Depth in vehicle selection and aesthetic customisation
(+) Exciting, edge-of-the-seat gameplay

(-) Too easy in the beginning
(-) Poor opponent AI at times
(-) Wonky physics and occasional clipping

How we score games

Title: Motorstorm: Arctic Edge
Developer/Publisher: Bigbig Studios/Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Racing
Rating: 12
Platforms: PSP (Rs 1,499), PS2 (Rs 999)

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