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Review: ModNation Racers

John Funk | 1 Jun 2010 13:00
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When you first load up ModNation Racers, you'll probably be fairly underwhelmed. "What is this?" you may find yourself saying. "Why are they trying to shoehorn a story mode into my kart racer? Why are they subjecting me to these painfully unfunny announcers? Why do I have to drive around this hub area instead of just selecting my options from a menu? Why is there so much freaking loading?"

The bad news is that a few of those problems don't get any better: The "witty" commentary and dialogue of the announcers is still as groan-inducing as ever whether you're ten minutes in or ten hours, the story mode always feels a bit ham-handed and pointless, and there is a lot of freaking loading. The good news is that the rest of them do get better - and ModNation Racers adds more goodies on top.

The core of ModNation Racers is a standard, unassuming kart racer that will feel very familiar to anyone who's ever spent half an hour behind the wheel of a game like Mario Kart. It's a cartoonish, colorful game where go-karts are blown to pieces by missiles and lasers and powerslide around corners before catching a speed boost to zip right off the huge cross-course jump. It's fun, sure, but despite a few new twists - skillful driving fills a meter that you can either use offensively to boost your speed or defensively to shield yourself from attacks - it's nothing you haven't seen before.

The graphics look fine, particularly in its super-deformed cartoonish style, the controls work well and everything is more-or-less "competent" gameplay-wise. If that were all that ModNation Racers had to offer, it'd be a fairly generic game: entertaining, but hardly worth writing home about. The true strength of the game, however, lies in the tools it gives users to create their own content.

Given that the word "Mod" is right there in the title, it shouldn't be surprising to anyone to learn that ModNation Racers prides itself on how it gives its users the power to mod their racers (and cars) as they see fit. It's a little bit overwhelming at first: The vast amount of parts and pieces available to you may well make you want to just stick with safely mashing "Random" until you find something that looks cool, but those who want to put in the time to create their own customized character - or to mimic their favorite fictional character - will find the system rewarding.

Equally as rewarding (and far more accessible) is ModNation Racers' track builder, which may well be the highlight of the game. As with the mode that lets you tweak your character and ride, the track builder gives you a metric crapton of options to meticulously build your ideal racetrack one square foot of asphalt at a time ... or, if you're the hasty (or lazy) type, you can put together a functional course in five minutes or less. All you do is set the general scenery, lay out the track's path (by just driving as you would a normal kart), and the game populates it for you.

It's easy and yet somehow incredibly satisfying to burn rubber on a track you laid yourself, and this is where ModNation Racers truly shines. Essentially, it's LittleBigRacers: You get out of it what you put into it. It doesn't quite have LBP's relentless charm, and there are some rather perplexing design decisions - while you can use any outfit or car you download from PSN right off the bat, if you want all the available options to create a car, racer or track you'll need to spend time in the story mode. The vast majority of items are earned through fulfilling criteria other than just winning the race, and these can sometimes be frustratingly vague: Track Points? What the hell are Track Points?

ModNation Racers really wouldn't be able to stand on its own without the staggeringly powerful customization tools it provides, but that's okay - it really doesn't need to.

Bottom Line: A standard, competent kart racer hampered by frequent loading times and irritating writing, but bolstered by an intuitive and powerful editor that lets gamers make their karts, racetracks, and characters their own - or at least lets them make their characters into Spider-Man.

Recommendation: If you liked LittleBigPlanet - or like the idea of user-created content in general - then your creativity may just find a new home in ModNation Racers. Even if you didn't, you'll probably have a great time with it, though it might be worth renting first.

ModNation Racers is available on the PS3.

John Funk tried to make a Char Aznable racer but failed miserably.

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