MotorStorm: Apocalypse marks the third entry in the series from the developers at Evolution Studios. The game has had its fair share of delays in North America, but gamers finally have a chance to delve into the mayhem that Apocalypse promises to deliver. Does it really deliver? I enjoyed MotorStorm: Pacific Rift more, but that's mostly due to the setting and track design. However, Apocalypse provides a pretty entertaining off-road racing experience that deserves some attention from PS3 owners.
The biggest draw of MotorStorm: Apocalypse is the setting and the concept of this large, metropolitan city that's devastated by a massive quake. 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. While the setting isn't revealed as an actual location, it's definitely modeled after the Bay Area in California. This resemblance shines through in certain tracks, including a bridge sequence that's very reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most Americans figure that if there will be a massive quake somewhere in the nation, it'll most likely be in California. Naturally, this makes for the most ideal setting for the game.
The earthquake does do some pretty impressive things to the gameplay by uprooting the road, buildings and other objects to change the course layout as you race through it. This can be distracting at times — there were instances when I crashed because a large piece of pavement rose up where I wasn't expecting it to be — but once you get past a little trial and error, it's not such a big deal. The game sticks to a certain pattern, so if you need to retry a race, you'll have an idea of what to expect.
One drawback from the constantly shifting surface is in figuring out where the heck you're supposed to go. This is a non-issue in about 90 percent of the game, but in a handful of races, I struggled to get back on track after a seismic event shifted things. MotorStorm: Apocalypse does a good job of keeping you focused on moving forward, and if things get dark or confusing, little red marker lights will light the way. On a few occasions, these lights weren't present, and I careened off the edge of a path, ran into a wall that was obscured by smoke or dirt, or hit a ramp and flew into the void because the track curved to the right or left. This doesn't happen very often, but it's worth mentioning that there are a few frustrating instances where your racing feels out of control. You'll be fine once you respawn or restart if you remember where your last mishap occurred, but it can be frustrating nonetheless.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse offers up a whole lot of gameplay in both its single-player and multiplayer modes. Single-player focuses almost entirely on the Festival mode, which serves as a story mode that puts you in the shoes of three different racers across three different difficulties. While most games will have you choose between the easy, normal and hard difficulty settings and then stay consistent throughout, Apocalypse eases you into each one. You start off in Rookie mode and control a racer called Mash, who serves as a great introduction to the game and helps you get used to the basic mechanics. Once you finish all of Mash's events, you move on to Pro mode and then Veteran. Pro mode amps up the difficulty quite a bit. 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. Veteran puts you in control of Big Dog, the guy behind the MotorStorm tournament, and provides the biggest difficulty spike in the game. There were few races where I finished first as Big Dog, and it'll take a lot more practice before I can be on top for all of those tracks.
The story for all three characters is told through cut scenes between races, and it's done with comic book-style art and fully voiced dialogue. The story is really cheesy and mostly poor, and it's certainly not something that I'd want to see in another MotorStorm title. It borders on being melodramatic when you get to the second character, and it feels out of place for the series. The limited animation also feels kind of cheap in relation to how great the rest of the game looks, and I found myself skipping through the story because I didn't care about any of the characters. They're new skins to display when you're riding an open vehicle like a bike or ATV, but otherwise, I had little use for the different characters.
Festival mode is a pretty lengthy affair, providing more than 12 races for each character, and it includes hidden collectibles in the form of 150 cards. The cards are pretty well hidden and will likely require most players to tackle the races over and over again to collect them all. They provide little in the way of actual rewards (aside from unlocking Trophies), so they're not something I'd actively pursue, but it's nice to have.
Tracks get repeated for each character, but the earthquakes make sure that no track plays the same way twice. Even if the overall location or name of the track is identical, the constantly shifting earth provides you with new challenges, obstacles and paths for each race. It's a nice way of getting around the need or desire to provide 40 brand-new tracks, and the changes are large enough that I was never bored by going through a track twice.
For longtime MotorStorm fans, the overall gameplay mechanics haven't changed. There's still a heavy emphasis on boosting throughout each race, but the boost meter overheats and needs to be cooled down periodically, or you'll risk exploding your vehicle. If you do explode or crash, the game resets you without a whole lot of lost progress. This guarantees that you won't automatically lose by doing either, and that's a good thing because chances are that you'll frequently crash when starting out. Another nice feature is the ability to reset your racer if you get too far off track or stuck against some random object; this also tends to happen quite a bit early on. Simply hit the Select button, and you'll be granted an instant respawn on the track in the right direction; this helps alleviate some of the frustration you'd otherwise have with the shifting track design.
Vehicle class also plays a big role here, and the game thankfully introduces a handful of new classes. There's a pretty large variety featuring larger, bulky racers like monster trucks to tiny, extremely fast vehicles like the superbike. You can continue to attack other vehicles on the road, and you can sacrifice a little boost to ram opposing racers to the left or right into objects or completely off the road. It can be difficult to do in the heat of the race, but it provides a little sick satisfaction, particularly when playing online against more aggressive players.
The online side of MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a whole lot of fun; I think I enjoy almost as much as the main game, if not a little more. It takes a few modern cues from other popular multiplayer games, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, by introducing loadouts and unlockable perks that can be equipped to your profile. There are also a fair number of unlockable skins for different drivers, icons to represent you in the races and a lot of customization unlocks for different vehicles. Each vehicle class also has two alternative designs that can only be unlocked via multiplayer mode. Winning races earns you experience points, which in turn levels you up and unlocks various items.
Once you've started to unlock things, you can customize various parts on different vehicles, but only things that pertain to aesthetics. There's no Gran Turismo-style overhauling of brakes, engines or transmissions here, so it guarantees that everybody in every race is on level ground. It's entirely up to your skill level when it comes to how you place, and while some perks are certainly better than others, they're not so powerful as to make them broken in the wrong hands. I felt that the multiplayer mode was very balanced, and I constantly saw a variety of different vehicles secure first-place wins.
One other feature worth mentioning about the online aspect is the ability to bet against fellow racers during each race. Prior to the beginning of a race and after everyone has selected a vehicle and loadout of choice, you can place a token bet against another racer, essentially betting that you'll place ahead of them in the race. If you win that bet, you'll get a bonus to your earned experience, or you can bet what you win in the next race in the hopes of getting a better multiplier bonus. It's a neat system that helps you level up quickly but doesn't sacrifice your guaranteed experience points, so you won't lose a level by betting against someone else.
Overall, I was impressed by MotorStorm: Apocalypse's ability to deliver on the natural disaster gameplay that it promised, and I think the game is definitely a spectacle in motion. If nothing else, it certainly made me pine a little more for a 3-D TV, as the 3-D effects would've looked pretty spectacular. However, some of that spectacle is lost in frustration, and while most of my losses were my own fault, I felt that Pacific Rift one-upped Apocalypse because I had no trouble figuring out my path in Pacific Rift, and the bright colors and light effects made it far easier to stay on track than in some of the Apocalypse races. Aside from that and a horrible story element, I have little to complain about, and I definitely think that PS3 owners should check out MotorStorm: Apocalypse. In a year that's already had a few really solid racers and is expecting a couple more, Apocalypse stands out as a game that should be played by racing fans.
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