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Ridin’ dirty

Is MotorStorm the PS3’s killer app?
By MITCH KRPATA  |  March 14, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: Watch the trailer for MotorStorm

What’s to like about MotorStorm? It’s an off-road racing game with realistic physics and competition as unforgiving as the desert landscape in which it’s set. What’s not to like about MotorStorm? It’s an off-road racing game with realistic physics and competition as unforgiving as the desert landscape in which it’s set. Although it had been touted as a must-have launch title for the PlayStation 3, delays kept it from a stateside release until this month. That extra development time may have improved the product, but it’s still a case where one has to take the bad with the good.

MotorStorm aims to add depth to the racing genre by pitting several types of vehicles against one another on varied, branching courses. Although the total number of tracks is small for a game of this type — only eight unique maps — the number of different routes in each does soften the blow. What’s more, the different vehicle classes demand that you exploit the nuances of each track to the fullest. Lighter rides like dirtbikes work best on dry, elevated terrain, and they can take advantage of jumps. Big rigs are slow and handle poorly but can plow straight through the mud (and any competitors). Play-balancing all of the vehicles would seem to be tricky, but often the result is a down-to-the-wire finish, both in single-player mode and on-line. The game is at its best when you’re battling for supremacy on one level of a course while trying to outrun other racers above and below you.

The layout also means that it’s necessary to memorize each track in order to succeed. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to fail. Blind jumps will launch you into a sheer rock face or off a cliff if you take just the wrong angle. Ditches set before hairpin turns will bounce you into the air as you’re attempting to powerslide. Getting nudged by a larger vehicle around a curve will flip you more often than not. Every time you do crash, the game pauses to present a lusty, slow-motion view of your wreck, as if to mock you. The only way to learn is by competing, because MotorStorm does not offer any kind of practice time-trial mode.

In fact, the game is remarkably light on the kinds of features racing fans have come to expect. The single-player campaign does a nice job of mixing up scenarios, but you’re bound to what the designers have laid out. As you progress through the game, you’ll find that you have no choice about what kind of opponents to face, and limited options for what you drive. Why not include a custom race feature that would allow the user to set all the race parameters? Nope, what you see from the beginning is what you get. There’s not even a split-screen multi-player mode. Going on-line offers a bit more variation, though certain tracks still restrict what vehicles are available.

MotorStorm isn’t exactly a reason to run to the store and plunk down $600 on a PlayStation 3, but its arrival is encouraging for those who’ve already made the investment. The desert landscapes are beautifully rendered, from expansive daylight vistas to craggy, claustrophobia-inducing canyons. The manner in which the tracks change during the race, with stretches of road grinding into muck under traffic, provides a glimpse at how the system’s computational power has the potential to change the gameplay experience. The best is yet to come for the PS3 — MotorStorm is like a good first draft.

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