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PlayStation 3

Now Playing: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

I’m arriving pretty late to the MotorStorm: Pacific Rift festival. As much as I was looking forward to the high profile sequel, I never got around to picking it up. Half price during EB Games’ half yearly sale was too hard to resist, so last night I tore the plastic off and tucked in.

I was a big fan of 2007’s MotorStorm. Launching alongside the PlayStation 3 (nearly $1,000 at the time), the game was a technical showpiece. Developed by British Evolution Studios (of PlayStation-exclusive WRC fame), the first game had some very obvious failings, but there was something about that floaty, easy to pick up-difficult to master physics system that kept me glued for hours. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift isn’t a huge departure from the first game, but there are some immediate, high-impact improvements. Set on a series of pacific islands, the game’s colour pallet is refreshing. Gone are the muddy browns of the canyon from the first MotorStorm, replaced with rich jungle greens and deep blues soaked in a generous helping of high dynamic range lighting.

The game’s first trailer (click for HD).

There was a time not so long ago when simulation racing was ruling the roost – happily it seems like, even though Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 (the real one…) are on the horizon, racers designed to thrill are enjoying a renaissance. I’ve earned my fair share of Gran Turismo licenses over the years, but I’m a bigger fan of the extreme racing genre. That’s why I’m enjoying Pacific Rift so much – it’s the same kind of reckless thrill-seeking buzz I first got from Burnout 3: Takedown, the SSX series and, more recently, Blackrock Studios’ excellent Pure.

Pacific Rift is structured pretty similarly to the first game (sans the horrible loading times between tracks and vehicle selection). The MotorStorm festival is back with rev-heads from around the world setting up camp to watch filthy off-road racing where tankers, ATVs, dirt bikes and monster trucks lock wheels. As with the first game, the kind of vehicle you select dramatically changes the kind of race you’ll run, even though all vehicles compete on the same track. Multiple paths are always present and interestingly, a path that’s a shortcut driving an ATV can end up wasting you precious seconds if you try and take it with a heavy vehicle (the same is true in the reverse), so you need to always pay attention. Pacific Rift seems to strike a much better balance between its vehicle classes than the first game, but you can still play to the strengths you know (big rigs may be slow but dirt bike and ATV riders don’t stand a chance in their path).

Motion blur fans unite.

Motion blur fans unite.

The boost system, which I always thought worked well in the first game, has been tweaked slightly. As before, all vehicles have unlimited boost, but boosting too much can cause your engine to overheat and explode. The twist this time around are the elements on the tracks – driving through or underneath water will cool your engine, allowing you to boost without waiting so long for things to cool off. Depending on your vehicle, driving through water can really slow you down though, so it’s an interesting compromise. Conversely, driving over lava in the hotter stages causes your engine to overheat more quickly, reducing the amount of boost you can use.

The game’s sixteen tracks are divided up between earth, wind fire and water categories. Earth tracks take you through dense, tropical forest floor (generally tighter, more technical races) while wind tracks are set at the peaks of the game’s mountains, encouraging you to boost off enormous ramps (oftentimes without knowing where you’ll land) and hurtle down sheer cliff faces. Fire tracks are probably my least favourite, forcing you to battle with lava and rocky terrain. Water tracks are similar to earth routes but they’re more spacious and (surprisingly enough) feature more water.

Spectacular views.

You can actually race on this terrain.

Evolution has obviously gone to the trouble of addressing underlying concerns from the first game – all the great stuff like real time terrain deformation, gorgeous visuals and a pretty amusing implementation of Havok’s rag doll physics engine returns, but the real focus is on balance, improving a sense of progression in the game and – wait for it – the return of local split screen multiplayer! Note to all racing game developers: the internet is great, but so is my couch. Never omit split screen multiplayer. The game also features Trophies (I’ll admit, I’m a Trophy and Achievement addict) and PSN online races seem to hold up well.

Chances are, if you’re a PlayStation 3 owner, you’ve already picked up MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. If you haven’t, it comes highly recommended. If I put my reviewer’s hat on I could call out an inconsistent difficulty arc (you’ll need to be content with a silver medal from time to time or you’ll go insane) and the odd piece of track design that doesn’t take the best advantage of the physics engine, but on the whole, Pacific Rift is one of the most compelling reasons to own a PlayStation 3 this side of God of War 3.  Now, where’s that copy of inFamous…


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