Game Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews ModNation Racers
ModNation Racers was released on May 25th – so it might seem strange to be posting our review now. However, with so much of ModNation following in the footsteps of the LittleBigPlanet Play, Create, Share mantra, we felt that reviewing the title solely on its single player and versus functionality wouldn’t accurately encompass whether or not the game was a success. The single most important aspect of ModNation Racers could not be determined on release day – would the team at United Front Games succeed in fostering a creative community of drivers and designers on which the title could flourish for years to come?
Now, over a month after the release of the PlayStation 3 version of ModNation Racers, we can report with confidence, that the answer is yes.
I’ll discuss the user tools and created content in greater depth later on, but let’s first cover the ModNation basics. Obviously there is both a PS3 and PSP version of ModNation Racers and it should be noted that this review covers the PS3 version only (though they do share a number of similarities). For ModNation PSP coverage, make sure to check out our hands-on impressions.
ModNation Racers, even without the Create or Share features, is still one of the best kart-racing games available — far surpassing Mario Kart Wii in terms of online play features as well general racing mechanics (the two most important aspects of the genre).
Leveling up attacks is a great innovation for the genre and the ability to use your acquired boost to side-swipe or deploy a shield offers players multiple options with regard to how they race — maybe favoring a more defensive or offensive approach.
The rubberbanding that ruined Mario Kart Wii for most players is non-existent in ModNation Racers — replaced, instead, with extremely frantic gameplay that forces players to hone their skills (and look for shortcuts) on the track. The game offers one of the best casual kart-racing experiences in nearly a decade — whether you’re playing with friends or random online opponents.
However, playing against the AI, especially in ModNation’s career mode, is an absolute nightmare. The difficulty options available for online and split-screen races are M.I.A. in the single player game — and the computer controlled characters are uncompromising and overly-aggressive.
While I was still able to clear all 28 tracks featured in the career mode within several hours, many players, especially younger gamers, will face an exponentially difficult, uphill struggle once they reach the ‘Grim Tournament’ (the 4th tier of tracks).
The difficulty is not a result of poor track-design, as each race can easily be passed — assuming you make only one or two minor mistakes. Hardcore gamers will very likely enjoy shaving time off their laps, seeking out shortcuts, and refining when to use a power-up or environmental attack. The problem stems from the accuracy and brutality of the AI racers, who have each mastered every tool available in the game, drifting, drafting, sideswiping, shielding, and even the starting line boost.
Obviously many gamers will enjoy the challenge but the lack of a more casual difficulty setting is an unforgivable oversight in a title that’s being marketed to the same demographic that made Sackboy Sony’s most lucrative casual market poster child. It’s not that I think ModNation is broken, but it’d be even better if I could recommend the game to people who aren’t anxiously awaiting Gran Turismo 5.
To further illustrate the point, each race in the campaign features 3 objectives ranging in difficulty from “Finish in the Top 3” to “Finish 1st and Takedown Hale in front of the Grandstands” or “Finish 1st and Sideswipe 3 Opponents on the Cliffside.” Completion of each challenge rewards players with new mod, kart, and track items. These could be extremely fun opportunities for replay value; instead, they’re almost absurd — as merely finishing in the top 3 can be somewhat of challenge itself.
It’s beyond me why United Front Games, coupled with the high difficulty, made the challenges dependent on placement in the race — as trying to takedown Hale in front of the grandstands will probably require hanging back behind him instead of doing what comes natural in a race… getting to the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible. Even if you were to hang back, waiting for Hale to reach the grandstands, it’s unlikely the adept AI control will forget to deploy a shield — resulting in a failed challenge.