MotorStorm Apocalypse is the fourth iteration of the extremely popular MotorStorm franchise, which first made its debut on the PlayStation 3 in late 2006. Past installments have impressed and are a welcomed departure from driving sims such as the Gran Turismo series. Does MotorStorm Apocalypse improve on the excellent predecessors, or fail to live up to the excitement of Pacific Rift? Read on to find out.
The timing of the release of MotorStorm Apocalypse couldn't have been more unfortunate. The game was delayed by Sony, and rightly so, due to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan recently. The parallels between the underlying themes in Apocalypse to the events in Japan are obvious, and you can't help but feel for Evolution Studios after the hard work that has gone into making MotorStorm Apocalypse.
The familiar Festival mode is set in a fictional American west coast city, facing the perils of a natural disaster. It features 15 races in a two-day period where players race as three different racers across three levels of difficulty.
The game starts with the character 'Mash' in the Rookie levels, which are a breeze to play through, but give a good indication of how to utilize the different vehicle types and cornering methods in the rest of the game. There are 13 types to choose from, ranging from Choppers (the motorcycle kind) to Big Rigs and Monster Trucks as well as the new, and very welcome additions of the Supercar and Superbike, arguably the two vehicles that are most fun to use in the game.
After playing as' Mash' in the Rookie races, players move up to Pro races, and play as a new character, 'Tyler,' before moving on to 'Big Dog' in Veteran races. To accompany the racing in Festival mode, there is a storyline, through the medium of motion comics. The comics look nice, but offer no real value in the sense that they make the game better. Players will often find themselves skipping the motion comic chapters in order to get on with the racing, because that is where Apocalypse comes to life.
The visuals are nothing short of jaw-dropping on more than one occasion throughout the game. Players can drive along the side of collapsed buildings, through holes in rusty ships and along beaches – all while the surrounding environment is in the midst of a devastating earthquake. The tarmac can raise up at any time, creating either a new jump or simply blocking off a route that was there on the previous lap. Buildings do this too, forcing players to think quickly and divert down a side road, or over an edge to get onto the next available piece of track. In certain races, the ground is likely to collapse, throwing cars into a dark sewer with tight turns to navigate at a moments notice. Some of the set pieces are fixed, but others can happen at any time, in any given lap, which makes for some truly unpredictable racing. Apocalypse will punish anyone who dares take their eyes of the screen for even a millisecond.
The environment isn't the only thing causing havoc in the city. Looters, tanks and helicopters will fire at cars and tracks, creating craters in the road that can throw drivers off track and into the nearest wall. Whilst little can be done to stop the tanks and helicopters, the looters can be ran down, and in certain instances will also be dragged along the road by vehicles before they are flung off whilst going around a sharp corner.
One stand-out moment in the game is the last race with Mash in the Rookie difficulty, where you're driving a Supermini at break neck speed to catch the last boat out of town. Buildings are falling, trains are on fire and the bridge at the end of the track is waving furiously, throwing the car violently into the air. It looks amazing and there is a real sense of urgency in that particular race, one that makes the player feel pretty darn good to make it through all of that carnage.
All of this carnage looks great in 2D, but when played in 3D, MotorStorm Apocalypse really shines. It is arguably the best advert for 3D gaming on the market today, even the mundanity of flying paper is brought to life when playing the game in 3D. The only downside to playing in 3D is that some of the fantastic depth of colour that would otherwise be noticed is dimmed, but that's more than a fair trade-off for the enhancements to the game that 3D brings.
The driving in MotorStorm Apocalypse varies depending on vehicle types. The Superbikes and Choppers for example, are extremely responsive and can navigate even the tightest hairpins with ease, and at great speed too. Players can also perform stunts while mid-air with the bikes, which look super-cool, unless poorly judged in which case a flaming wreck soon follows. The Big Rigs and Racing Trucks feel as if they are almost floating on the race track, which may be intended, given the height of the vehicles, but they don't have the same fun feeling that the more nimble bikes give. The Supercars and Superminis are also great fun to drive and offer accurate steering and a good sense of speed. For the aggressive types, the Monster Truck is the stand-out offering. Players can ram the lighter vehicles out of the way, sending them careering over edges or just smashing them to pieces.
Racers have to change their tactics based on the chosen vehicle – Monster Trucks are difficult to fit through tight gaps, but don't offer the speed needed for a dead straight road – so players have to be careful when picking routes to avoid falling behind the rest of the pack. The Boost button is a racers best friend, but can also be the worst enemy. Boost too long and the car will explode, and with the distractions of the crumbing surroundings, it is sometimes easy to leave your finger pressed on the boost button. Fire will make the engine hotter, causing this to happen more quickly so players have to use any water and jumps they can find to cool the engine, allowing for more boost time.
While drivers can't pick a vehicle to use in Festival mode, Wreckreation mode allows players to return to the Festival using any vehicle. There are also a couple of other racing modes such as Eliminator, where drivers have to stay out of last place to avoid a fatal engine explosion. Players can also customize their vehicles and add decals and accessories to take online to battle in races of up to 16 players. The online mode is pandemonium, a total frenzy at the best of times, but great fun to take part in. Players race to win Chips, which unlock new accessories such as bumpers and shiny new wheels. Also, bets can be placed before a race, which if won, mean those unlocks will come along a lot faster.
Overall, MotorStorm Apocalypse is a solid racer and the best in the series so far, though sometimes the racing seems to play second fiddle to the visuals – at least when using certain vehicle types that don't have the finesse of the Superbike and Supercar. Apocalypse has set the bar for how 3D should look in a game, and here's hoping other developers pick up a copy and take notice, because Evolution Studios has done a marvelous job of implementing 3D into the game. The poor narrative is more than made up for by the stunning visuals, thrills of the races and the sheer amount of fun to be had whilst playing this game. This isn't one for the hardcore racing simulator fan, but it is a welcome departure from titles such as Gran Turismo 5, which can be a little too serious, at times.
There are obvious comparisons to be made to the other apocalyptic racer, Split/Second. But for me, MotorStorm Apocalypse betters it on the fun factor, which is the most important part when it comes to a racer such as this. If I had friends over to play a racing game, MotorStorm Apocalypse would be the first off the pile.
MotorStorm Apocalypse is now available in North America on the PS3.