The enjoyment that you can derive from ModNation Racers is entirely dependent on how much effort you put into it. Casual kart racing fans who just want to jump on the track, blast some competitors and try to finish first will likely grow bored quickly, as this really isn't that type of game. However, more creative types who enjoy creation, customization and creating something uniquely their own will have an absolute blast. This is one of the deepest, most layered titles to come around in a long time, racing or otherwise, and aspiring designers really couldn't ask for a better template.
ModNation is sort of a direct follow-up to LittleBigPlanet in that it fully embraces Sony's mantra of "Play. Create. Share." The game's major focus is in creating new racers, karts and tracks and then uploading them to be passed around, tweaked and enjoyed by the public at large. The game features three separate "creation stations" for crafting the racer, vehicle or track of your dreams, and each is simple enough for anyone to use yet deep enough that true artisans can create masterpieces. For instance, in the first week of the game's public release, the top created character was a dead-on re-creation of Mario, and one of the hottest vehicles was an exact replica of the van from "The A-Team."
Perhaps the coolest things about these creations is that they're available to everyone in the ModNation world for free at the push of a button, and once players grab their own copy, they're free to tweak (or "remix") the work of others to craft a brand-new concoction. This sense of community lends tremendous creative freedom, as one user can start an idea and another can truly push it to its full potential. It's an almost totally unique experience in gaming, and a concept that could very easily take root and lead to some incredible future projects.
ModNation's track designer is also incredibly user-friendly, and laying down a race course is as simple as driving a giant steamroller wherever you want a road to exist. Architects can even raise or lower the track elevation on the fly, creating plenty of opportunities for blind turns and ridiculously steep hills. Once again, for those who don't feel particularly creative, a simple button press will auto-complete the course, and another quick jab on the controller will populate your track with scenery, item boxes, boost pads and more. It really can't get much simpler for the lazy creator.
Control freaks will likely be beside themselves with giddiness, as the deeper creation and customization tools pose the opportunity to make every track truly unique. It's unbelievably simple to create mountains or lakes, place props, widen or tighten the track, create shortcuts and more. It's truly never been easier to create a masterpiece, and major kudos have to go to the folks at United Front and Sony for somehow managing to make the most complex yet simultaneously simplest level editor I've ever seen. While some folks may never even dig into this part of the game, those who do will likely while away hours or even days of their lives laying track, crafting jumps and even planting shrubs.
Unfortunately, all this care and attention paid to the Create and Share parts of the game seem to have severely affected Play, as some specific gameplay elements are sorely lacking. First off, the game is plagued by some of the longest load times of this console generation, and waiting for the next screen to boot up before or after a race is a downright painful experience. Even when players first turn on the game, they have to sit through a load screen that is about a minute long simply to access the main hub to actually access any of the race or creation modes. United Front has mentioned that they believe this issue could be alleviated through a patch, but currently, the amount of time that you'll spend sitting around and doing nothing borders on unbearable.
The single-player mode in ModNation Racers is another huge missed opportunity, as it's going to turn off a lot of gamers before they even get started. The difficulty spikes up early into the solo campaign, and the needle stays buried in "frustratingly hard" territory for the duration. While it would be difficult to call it rubber band AI, the game does suffer from what I like to call "Blue Shell syndrome": As you take the lead, all 11 drivers behind you begin launching their heat-seeking weapons so they can return you to the back of the pack. While drifting and drafting earn boost that can be used either to gain a turbo boost or put up a temporary shield against attacks, the shield never seems to hold up long enough, so by the time that last missile lock starts dinging, you're basically a sitting duck. Also, pray you're not attacked during a jump because even after you land, you're still left totally defenseless for a couple of seconds.
This overly aggressive AI and punishing difficulty will immediately turn off most drivers, which is a shame because a lot of the game's creation and customization content is tied directly to progression through the career mode. This makes it even harder to understand how a game that does so much right managed to get the entire single-player aspect all wrong.
If the difficultly isn't enough to scare you away from the single-player portion, then the story and presentation will almost guarantee it. Yes, this is a racing game with a story, and while it's a fairly stereotypical "rookie wants to become a phenom" experience, it still provides a few fun, genuinely hilarious moments. What really pulls you out of the game is the fact that the characters' faces can hardly manage to match the emotions they're trying to convey, and some of the voice acting is downright annoying. The chief culprits are the game's broadcasting pair of Gary Reasons and Biff Treadwell. The two completely fall into the stereotyped duo of a professional broadcaster trying to be helpful and showboating hotshot who thinks he's too good for his job, and the end result barely delivers. Most of their jokes are unfunny or downright rude, and the absence of any in-race commentary only serves to highlight how awkward they are when they do decide to talk. Hopefully both will retire before the sequel.
ModNation is a bit of a curious case, as one audience will find it unforgettable while another will despise it almost from the start. On the one hand, the game's creation and sharing features are second to none, and this title can stay incredibly popular and fun so long as the community sticks around. On the other hand, the single-player experience is pretty awful, and even when you manage to win a race, you'll rarely have any fun doing it. In this case, the good mostly outweighs the bad, but gamers who don't come in totally informed about their purchase could end up getting burned.
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