MotorStorm: Pacific Rift (PS3 Game Review)

Note: I normally don't review video games because they take a lot longer to do properly, but MotorStorm is an exception that really ought to be talked about.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

The original MotorStorm was an incredibly attractive game, unfortunately held back by its bare bone features and lack of content. The core gameplay was (and still is) a lot of fun but there just wasn't enough of it to merit a full price purchase. I picked it up for $30CND, and while I don't regret my investment, the game is undeniably thin. One game mode, one setting, one hit wonder. Luckily for Evolution Studios, I enjoyed MotorStorm enough to be sufficiently piqued by the sequel, and when the price game down enough, I picked it up and could not be happier.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift trades in the dusty desert of the previous game for a tropical island that is far more visually varied. There are sixteen tracks equally split into four zones representing earth, air, fire, and water, all of which are distinctly unique. The earth zone has you trudging through mud and foliage, the air zone has you throwing yourself off rock formations, the fire zone has you skipping over lava flows, and the water zone has you cruising the beaches of the island. While sixteen tracks may seem like a meagre number, keep in mind that every single track is expertly crafted with multiple routes and hazards. Narrow corridors, muddy passages, jagged rocks, dense vegetation, and treacherous jumps, all demand the player keep their wits about them at all times. Beyond the initial shock of the obstacles lies an ingenious design that is quite easy to appreciate.

To keep the tracks fresh, Pacific Rift relies on the lighting engine and vehicle selection to add replayability. Experiencing the island from different times of day often reveals new routes and lines to take advantage of, as well as elevating the technical prowess of the game. Beyond that, the eight different vehicle types present their own challenges to master. A certain track in the fire zone called The Rift is a great illustration as to how vehicle and line choice is the key to success. The Rift is essentially the classic racing oval from hell, featuring drops, jumps, mud, and water hazards, all of which play differently depending on what vehicle approaches them. For example, the nimble motorbike isn't powerful enough to plough through mud and water but lends itself well to leaping over the competition, while the big rig can't fly over obstacles nearly as well as it can use brute force to power through them. Balancing the strengths and weakness of your vehicle class against the track and your competition makes for additional challenge and enjoyment.

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While there are options for individual vehicle choice, the variations between one ATV and another are so discrete that I'm not entirely sure I'm just imagining them. The difference is primarily aesthetic, mainly serving to change the colour and shape of your ride even if it has zero affect on gameplay. In the end, when it comes down to picking your ride, careful class selection should be your foremost consideration.

There are three main event types consisting of the standard race and time trial with the occasional eliminator race (every twenty seconds, the driver in last place blows up until only one remains). The primary game mode is the Festival, which is essentially the career ladder. You start off at the lowest tier with the easiest races, until you earn enough points to advance to the next level. It's far from being the most impressive way to progress, but it does succeed in appropriately managing the difficulty curve, which is all one normally asks of the career anyway. Races feature sixteen combatants from a variety of vehicle classes though it's normally either all heavy (Racing truck to monster truck) or all light (Motorbike to rally car) vehicles, and difficulty is handled by adjusting the adversaries' aggression. Fun and frustration go hand in hand when you and fifteen other racers careen recklessly over edges and though caverns, thankfully more so the former than the latter.

The boosting mechanic has also been slightly deepened and nuanced. Any encountered water traps and cooling stations have the double effect of slowing you down while cooling your engine at an increased rate thereby allowing more boosting opportunities. On the flipside of this are lava flows which cause overheats and explosions if you're near them for too long. Largely, this added gameplay dimension is fairly superficial as external overheating is only a concern in the fire zone, and there are only a handful of instances where extended water pools actually factor into route consideration. It's a welcome addition, sadly just not fully developed.

All things considered, the opposing AI is quite good. Pacific Rift doesn't coddle the player by scaling the enemy's performance to match their skill. The game knows that a good run on a certain track takes a certain amount of time, and victory is ascertained chiefly by matching that circumstance. If an opponent climbs too far ahead of the pack, they probably aren't going to be caught unless either they crash or you run one hell of a race. A win or loss by a split second is just as likely as a win or loss by twenty seconds. Furthermore, any opponent is able to win. Unlike any given Mario Kart, whose AI is automatically set to award the results of a race to certain characters based on who you're playing as, there is no golden racer you know from experience will spring ahead. The outcome of every race is unknown, and it makes the game significantly more enjoyable for it.

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Part of the fun of MotorStorm for me has always been picking the manly big rig, painting it hot pink, and running everything off the road, and it's nice to see that somewhat ironical demeanour persist. There was a certain charm and attitude in the first MotorStorm that made playing it all the more enjoyable. A large part of it was the licensed soundtrack that prominently featured lots of gritty, organic, guitar based rock songs that mixed well with the dirty wasteland it played in. The visual crashes and the aural twangs fit together perfectly in a way Pacific Rift attempts to mimic, but unfortunately falls short of. It's a new soundtrack for a new environment, but the genres are a tad too disparate. On top of the guitar oriented songs is an overabundance of electronic music that occasionally undermines what the game is about. MotorStorm is a party, but Pacific Rift isn't exactly sure what type of party it is.

The game's effects are remarkable. Environments are lush and vibrant, and the setting sun reflecting off glistening mud and water are some of the prettiest visuals I've ever seen. Tracks deform, obstacles persist, and cars take damage and dirt appropriately. To be honest, first person driving is the only way to fully appreciate the game's visual design and visceral nature. Driving physics occasionally appear a bit wonky from the third person perspective, but front seat driving goes a long way to easing this particular complaint, which normally tends to manifest itself during ridiculous air and hang time anyway. Crashes hearken back to my childhood days of slamming Lego models against the wall in order to see shrapnel fly everywhere, only now I get to see it in slow motion. Metal buckles, tires fly, and your ragdoll is launched into oblivion. An added bonus is being able to pause and manipulate the camera so that you can take pictures and appreciate the game's splendour. The sound design is loaded with the requisite engine revs and metal crunches, though the mix is very low end heavy. Horns, splashes, and other minor sound-bytes are largely lost in engine roars, and even the soundtrack is difficult to hear at the default volume setting (I cut the sound effects to half and max out the sound track for the best results).

I'm not a racing connoisseur, but Pacific Rift strikes me as being one of the better titles in the genre. Whereas the first MotorStorm was a shallow, albeit incredibly pretty, shell of load times and a single thought, Pacific Rift does a great deal to give some much needed weight to the idea. It's not the deepest racing game, nor is it the most feature laden one, but it's the most fun I've had in the genre since Burnout 3: Takedown, and more than that a game I heartily recommend to any PS3 owner.

Very nice job. I'm pretty sure that I'm not... "qualified" to comment any further on this, being that I've only ever played Forza 2 in terms of racing games -- and that came with my 360. Still though, having absolutely no-freaking-idea about anything racing, your writing is fantastic. Keep it up.

Why didn't you mention any of the multiplayer featuers?

mjhhiv:
Very nice job. I'm pretty sure that I'm not... "qualified" to comment any further on this, being that I've only ever played Forza 2 in terms of racing games -- and that came with my 360. Still though, having absolutely no-freaking-idea about anything racing, your writing is fantastic. Keep it up.

I'm not a big racing fan either, but a game like MotorStorm or Burnout makes me see how one can get heavily involved. I don't have a 360, but Forza seems like a series I would definitely check out if I ever got one.

Thanks for the compliment too. Come to think of it, the last video game I reviewed was actually Burnout Paradise half a year ago, but I never posted it here. I might end up doing more video games reviews over the next little while.

bodyklok:
Why didn't you mention any of the multiplayer featuers?

I never played them. Multiplayer options don't factor into my evaluation of a game. If they're there, then so much the better, but I buy a game for single player first and multiplayer second, not the other way around.

Maet:

bodyklok:
Why didn't you mention any of the multiplayer featuers?

I never played them. Multiplayer options don't factor into my evaluation of a game. If they're there, then so much the better, but I buy a game for single player first and multiplayer second, not the other way around.

Fare enough, each to their own. I just thought you'd review the whole game.

I love that you called the racers 'combatants'...

Your bit on the AI makes me very hopeful. I had the idea that the original Motorstorm used some horrible rubber banding and AI racers literally sacrificed themselves to take you out. Is it true Pacific Rift is more fair in this?

As a casual racing game player (ie. Burnout 3 was my previous fave racer as well) I had a lot of fun with #1 so I've been keeping my eye on a good deal for this one as well.

Vortigar:
Your bit on the AI makes me very hopeful. I had the idea that the original Motorstorm used some horrible rubber banding and AI racers literally sacrificed themselves to take you out. Is it true Pacific Rift is more fair in this?

At around the fifth rank (where I'm at) the aggression really begins to become noticeable, however your opponents don't limit their anger to just you alone. I haven't felt like the game was deliberately teaming up on me because everyone seems to be fighting everyone else. I would definitely say that the game is tough but fair in this regard.

 

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