The first Motorstorm that released in the initial launch window of the PlayStation 3 felt a bit like a letdown for early adopters who were apparently expecting the world from the new off-road racer. The game was good ? the core racing gameplay was really solid, responsive, and fun to get into ? but it was lacking content, as if it had been rushed to market. At the full price point, the original Motorstorm just didn't offer up enough of an experience to draw in players, and while it was still a solid game, it wasn't what people were expecting it to be.
However, with the sequel, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, I think everyone who was expecting a great experience from the first title is finally going to see those wishes fulfilled. Pacific Rift retains the standard racing mechanics of the original but offers up a much richer experience in single-player mode. These events all offer two races at the start, slowly opening up to include a pretty large variety of tracks and different race types; the title also features every vehicle from the first game, plus an additional one. The actual gameplay hasn't seen much in the way of change, but that wasn't the issue with the original title, and I'm glad that the developers didn't change much in this area. The lack of content in the first Motorstorm was definitely the focus for improvement with Pacific Rift, and it really shows in the final product.
That's not to say that the increased content is the only improvement, though. Along with more tracks and race types, the developers have also paid some special attention to the actual design of the tracks, and while Motorstorm originally had some pretty open and varied track designs, the sequel really amps up that feature with some fantastic design work that combines a variety of track types and features across the four elemental themes. Along with that, each track has quite a few different paths that you can take to get from the start to the finish. There are lots of high and low roads, tunnels, small streams, bridges, ramps, and other gaps to leap across, offering a pretty awesome variety of terrain to encounter. Combine that with all of the different vehicles that you can use ? and the different sense of control and weight behind each ? and it's possible to go through the same track in completely different ways each time.
One other returning feature is the light combat aspect of Motorstorm, wherein larger vehicles can often take out the smaller, more nimble classes, like the dirt bike and ATVs. The L1 and R1 buttons act as offensive tools, and if you're next to another vehicle of the same (or smaller) size, you can tap one of these buttons to quickly jerk to the corresponding side, allowing you the possibility of knocking the opposing racer off the track, into a wall or other obstacle, or simply dislodging them from his vehicle. This is particularly fun in the really big vehicles, and while they might be a lot slower than the rest, they can more than make up for it by taking out two or three racers in one go.
With that said, Pacific Rift doesn't put a huge penalty on you if you're knocked off your vehicle. You can skip the crash animation, and when you reset, you'll be in a ghost mode that makes you a bit impervious to damage for a few seconds, allowing you to safely get back to speed. Even if you're in first place, you won't fall behind by much when you restart, and I often found that I would only lose a couple of places in the standings when I did have to restart. Pacific Rift also takes care of that pesky racing game issue where you'll get off-course or get stuck on an item; if you hit the Select button and do a quick reset, that will right your vehicle on the track, much like making yourself crash to put you into that quick start ghost mode. It's a really good idea to implement, and something that I wish a few other off-road racers would use, since it's easier to get tied up on environmental hazards than in your typical street racer.
The tracks are all large, and I'm sure that's due to the large number of racers that are present at all times. I never noticed any real issues with rubberbanding AI (catching up to you regardless of skill), but this was probably because it's pretty difficult to stay that far ahead anyway. The laps aren't particularly long, and a lot of the early races will only last a couple of laps at best. Some of the other race types you encounter, like time trial races and events that will only allow a couple of crashes, are all of similar length, which is great if you're short on time and looking for a racer that you can jump into and spend a few minutes with. Endurance fans won't be particularly happy, but the scale is so impressive that you won't notice how long they last.
Going along with the element theme of each available race circuit, Motorstorm's boost feature returns in Pacific Rift, and the functionality remains mostly the same. A few seconds into a race, your boost is unlocked, and you can use it as much as you want, as long as you don't max out the meter at the bottom of the screen. If you do, you'll actually explode and be treated as if you just crashed ? which you pretty much did. However, certain things on the track can also affect how well your boost works, such as volcano areas that will overheat your boost faster, or water sections that can cool off your boost or slow down its regeneration. Certain tracks will even make use of both elements, and there's a bit of strategy in realizing when to use it and when to lay off, so as not to cause untimely destruction. You'll need to be aware of others around you; if you're too close to someone who's about to explode, he can also take you out, and vice versa. This doesn't occur very often, but it can pop up when you least expect it.
Of course, there's an online mode included with Pacific Rift, supporting 12 players (the packaging says 16, but I never saw a 16-man match) and featuring a few of the different modes from the single-player game, like Eliminator and the regular race types. It's definitely a fun way to go, especially if you can get into a match with a few of your online friends at once. It's a far more challenging mode than the single-player campaign, which is often competitive but also a little on the easy side once you get the hang of the controls. However, there are already quite a few talented players online, and you'll find yourself needing to learn a few new tricks to get ahead. There's also a local split-screen mode that can support up to four racers, so you're good to go either on- or offline.
I definitely enjoyed Motorstorm: Pacific Rift far more than I did the original, and the additional content and race styles do a lot for a game that already had some solid mechanics behind it. This sequel is definitely a racing game that PS3 owners need to pick up and play, and while there have been a series of really solid off-road racers in the past year or so, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift manages to stand toe-to-toe with the best of them.
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