MotorStorm: Arctic Edge for the PSP brings the series' off-road arcade-style racing to Sony's portable handheld. While the game loses some of its graphical fidelity in the transfer to the smaller screen, I was happy to see that the developers were able to keep intact the look and feel of the series. Arctic Edge plays exactly like a MotorStorm game, and it's tailored to short bursts of gameplay, which every solid portable title should do.
This time out, the racing action takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, so a large chunk of the races you'll partake in are snow-based events. Because of this, certain vehicles have been replaced by their snow-themed equivalents, like Snowcat and Snow Machine, which are powerful enough to drive through packed snow or have enough traction to keep up a decent pace in the snow without swerving wildly. The replacements make sense within the game world, but if you've played previous games in the franchise, these vehicles don't handle differently from the ones you're already used to. There are also returning vehicle favorites, like the ATVs, big rigs, bikes, buggies, rally cars, etc.
While the game gives you stats for each vehicle, including basics like top speed and acceleration, there's nothing that can be done to tune up a car or alter the stats aside from unlocking new vehicles within a class. You can do quite a bit of customization on a purely aesthetic level with different wheels, body kits, struts, suspension, sponsor logos and more to unlock as you complete races and rank up. This leads to a few options to make your racer stand out online, which is nice to see, so you're not stuck with a generic design that will blend in among the other ATVs or snowplows. It's a small detail, but I was happy that it was included. You can also choose from a small list of character racers; they're not named but are dressed in different colored outfits.
From the main menu, you have three available gameplay options: Festival, Garage and Wreckreation. Festival is your main mode, where you'll spend the majority of your time working through the eight different ranks on your way to the top. This is presented as spiral of stages, and you'll unlock more as you accumulate points from winning races (or placing in the top three).
There are a number of vehicles in the game for use in this mode, but at the beginning, you'll only have a couple unlocked. It doesn't take very long to unlock all eight of the vehicle classes, and some of the new additions are right at home in this snowy setting, like the Snowcat and Snow Machine, which are powerful enough to drive through packed snow or have enough traction to keep up a decent pace in the snow without swerving wildly. There are also returning vehicle favorites, like the ATVs, big rigs, bikes, buggies, rally cars, etc. Certain races will limit your selection of vehicles, regardless of what you've currently unlocked, but there seems to be an equal amount of races that gives you the option of choosing what you want.
Garage mode displays the items that you've collected or unlocked thus far. There are badges in the game, which are like in-game achievements or trophies for completing certain goals, and you can also view unlocked media (like the CGI intro) or change out your current driver.
Wreckreation mode unveils three additional modes within, using vehicles and tracks from the Festival mode. There's Time Attack, where you race against ghost cars; Free Play, which is pretty self-explanatory; and the multiplayer component. Free Play lets you choose from the game's 12 available tracks, and you can specify whether they're utilized in reverse or forward style, select one of three AI difficulties, and opt for one to five laps. Within Free Play, you can also choose time ticker mode, which gives you points while you're in the lead, and the first player to 999 points wins the race.
Finally, the game incorporates a pretty solid online component for Infrastructure mode, and while I didn't have a lot of people available to race with by the time this review goes up, it was still pretty easy to get into a match, and I had no issues with lag. The online races are where you'll get the most challenge out of the game, with real players less likely to make the dumb mistakes you'll catch the AI doing every so often. Eight players are supported in online and offline races, along with leaderboards, so there's plenty to keep you busy with even after you're done with the main festival mode.
The controls are solid and precise, and even with the turbo enabled, you'll realize that most of the crashes could have been handled differently, and they're really not the game's fault. If you crash, there's a slowdown shot of the actual impact, after which you can press the X button to jump back into the action. If you go far off course or get turned around, you can hit Select to put your car back on the right path. These options aren't particularly unfair — the game doesn't penalize you a great deal for either instance — so you won't lose a lot of time on the track.
As far as overall difficulty goes, the game starts off really easy, almost to the point where you can get bored with the limited challenge. I found by the time I hit the halfway point, the challenge was starting to hit that sweet spot and the AI put up a pretty good fight. Once you hit the final two ranks, you'll realize that the game has been taking it easy on you, and you'll have to use everything you've learned about the tracks up to this point, including which of the multiple paths is the best for the selected vehicles, in order to come out on top. The last two ranks are difficult, but you've also seen everything the game can throw at you by this point, so it's really about taking what you've learned from the game and applying it. It's a pretty solid progression in difficulty from beginning to end, and you won't be able to finish it in a couple of days, thus adding to the overall worth of the product.
The physics of the game aren't exactly as varied as the PS3 versions, and while you'll see a noticeable difference between an ATV, snowplow and dirt bike, the controls seem to be just a little tighter and more responsive than I remember from MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. That's not much of a complaint, though, as the controls on the handheld seem to be tailor-made for how the game actually plays, allowing you to switch between digital or analog controls, along with a classic or MotorStorm scheme. This switches your gas and acceleration buttons from the X and Circle buttons to the left and right shoulder buttons. Turbo changes from the right shoulder button to X, depending on which button you press.
Speaking of turbo, it plays as big of a role in this title as it has in the previous games. Ten seconds after a race begins, your turbo meter is unlocked and as you hold down the turbo button, the meter will fill. This indicates how hot your vehicle is currently running, and if you hold it in too long, it'll explode. Most of the tracks have enough bends and turns to them that holding down turbo for an extended amount of time isn't particularly wise anyhow, but it is easy to get caught up in the longer stretches as you try to keep ahead of or keep pace with the cars in front of you. There is a handy audio effect that kicks in when you're close to exploding, and it's usually annoying enough to bring you back to reality and make you aware of the need to ease up on the turbo for a bit. Also, like the previous titles, you can cool down the turbo meter by running through water or small pools wherever you find them. Along with that, deeper packs of snow will cool down the turbo meter as well, and you'll know when you hit these patches because the turbo meter will become an ice blue color. Figuring out the path to get a quick cooldown is often a solid strategy to win a race.
Visually, Arctic Edge is, of course, a step down from the PS3 titles, but it still offers up some eye-popping visuals for the Sony handheld. Each track is instantly recognizable, and there's no issue with things looking the same or feeling too similar in design, despite the heavy use of snow and ice for each track. Car design is solid, and while we've seen most of these vehicles before, the new additions stand out very well. There are also two additional unlocks for each vehicle class that vary the design, color and overall stats, so you get some more variety.
The music is taken from an assortment of artists but stays with the punk rock style of the previous games. You can go into the track listing option and rearrange the playlist as you see fit, so you won't be stuck jamming out to tunes that you don't particularly like. Similarly, the effects for each vehicle are noticeably different; there's no generic acceleration or engine noise for all vehicles, which is nice to note. The 12 available tracks house some hazards, and the sound of a small avalanche of snow or rocks can certainly add to an already tense race.
It's already shaping up to be a good year for PSP owners. MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is absolutely worth owning if you have a PSP, even if you haven't played the home console versions up to this point. The online component works extremely well, but the single-player Festival mode is such a blast to play that it alone is worth the price of admission. This fun off-road racer is easily one of the best racing titles on the system and absolutely shouldn't be missed.Score: 9.0/10
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