MotorStorm: Apocalypse is the third entry in PS3's flagship off-road racing series from developer Evolution Studios. The previous game, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, introduced the series to a more tropical setting instead of the standard dirt-filled locales in the original game. Apocalypse looks to turn things on their head one more time by having you race through a city undergoing a bit of urban renewal in the form of a massive earthquake. The game has seen its fair share of delays after the recent disaster in Japan but is now back on schedule for a May release date. Having spent quite a bit of time with the single-player experience so far, I thought it was high time to give readers a glimpse at what they can expect from the offline story mode in MotorStorm: Apocalypse.
Right off the bat, you'll notice that MotorStorm: Apocalypse has one new thing going for it: The story is dubbed Festival mode. Between every race, you get a cut scene with comic book-style art and voice-over work to depict the current events. Most of the game revolves around a character called Big Dog, a surly biker who runs the MotorStorm event and is at the head of the group traveling to the city.
The city, which is not named but seems to be modeled after California's Bay Area, isn't a total disaster when Big Dog and his group arrive. Over the course of the MotorStorm Festival, which runs for two days, it sees a whole lot of transformation. The earthquake effect is pretty fantastic from a visual standpoint, and it's certainly entertaining to watch entire sections of the road constantly evolve between laps. The developers don't stop at the road, either, as you many tracks go across crumbling buildings, docks and other surfaces. Ripped-up roads lead to underground tunnels, and you even spend time racing and ramping from the inside of a building to the rooftop of another.
The whole disaster effect is used extremely well throughout the game, and it's certainly the selling point for this particular entry. Along with the natural disaster element, there are a few other obstacles to encounter. One obstacle is the people who didn't leave the city, referred to as crazies, and another is the private military group that's been tasked with clearing out the city, and these guys use actual firepower against MotorStorm participants. Most of the elements are in place to cause you to overheat faster, either by throwing Molotov cocktails at your vehicle or simply shooting at you.
Like the previous MotorStorm entries, using your boost is a huge factor in winning races. This mechanic hasn't seen much change from the other two titles; you get a meter that slowly overheats as you hold down the boost. Hold it too long, and you'll explode, causing time to slow down for a few seconds and then you respawn behind your previous spot. Running through water is the primary way to cool down your turbo, or you can let off the turbo when catching some air, along with your throttle. Turbo is absolutely essential to winning races, and with the aggressive AI, you can also use it to get you out of harm's way.
The Festival mode, which comprises the largest part of the game, is divided into three difficulties, but unlike most games, you don't get to choose between easy, normal and hard. Instead, these three difficulties are divided by characters and will put you in control of three different guys for each difficulty. The first is the Rookie class, which introduces you to the basic mechanics and eases you into the shifting environment element. In Rookie mode, you only have to finish in the top five to advance to the next race, whereas in the Pro and Veteran mode, you'll have to make it into the top three. Pro mode is certainly tougher than Rookie, featuring more aggressive AI than before, and you'll fishtail quite a bit. Then there's Veteran mode, which puts you in control of Big Dog. You tackle these difficulties in order, and each character story interacts with the others.
For the most part, MotorStorm: Apocalypse looks fantastic, maintaining a smooth frame rate even with everything that's happening on-screen during some of the more destructive segments. The car classes, which run the gamut from dirt bike to monster truck, handle in a fashion similar to the previous titles. That means that certain vehicles perform better on pavement than dirt, and you can easily plow over the smaller vehicles with the larger ones, etc.
Playing the game offline unlocks hardcore time trial events, so there are no hidden vehicles or racers to see. The unlocks that are tied to the online portion are re-skins of existing vehicles and don't seem to impact the way a particular vehicle controls. They're simply for show, and while it might not have been a bad idea to give the offline player something similar, the stuff you can unlock online isn't that big of a deal.
One last thing to mention is there are a whole lot of races to complete in Festival mode. Each difficulty is divided into 13 to 15 tracks, so you'll spend a fair amount of time in the story mode. Tracks get repeated, but since the environment is constantly being ripped apart, the track design is constantly changing between difficulty levels, so they rarely play out similarly. Each race also features a different vehicle, so by the time you finish the game, you'll have raced as every available vehicle. The game also includes five new vehicles classes, one of which — the superbike — is crazy fast.
I've definitely enjoyed what I've seen of MotorStorm: Apocalypse. I've yet to sample the multiplayer, which I'll be doing closer to launch, but I've really enjoyed the single-player content. Look forward to the full review, which will be posted closer to launch.
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