Thursday, October 1, 2009

MotorStorm: Arctic Edge review

Evolution Studios's MotorStorm was one of the few PS3 exclusives that truly defined the console's early life. The off-road arcade racer threw out realism for all out mayhem and my gosh they succeeded. The franchise comes to the PSP courtesy of BigBig Studios - the developer behind the two Pursuit Force PSP titles. They know a thing or two about racing games, and they should considering they were established by a couple former members of Codemasters.

MotorStorm: Arctic Edge eschews the desert and tropical environment in favour of the harsh Arctic climate. This, I am guessing, was chosen first to spread the three different environments across many different titles as possible, as well as improving performances. The lush vegetation from Pacific Ridge for example would be too difficult for the PSP to handle. Still while the environment has changed, it is still instantly recognisable as a MotorStorm game, and best of all it plays just as well.

Little has changed with the gameplay. Before each race, the player chooses a vehicle type and a track. Like the previous titles, each track has multiple ways of racing through - with different terrains suited for different vehicles. Dotted around are obstacles as well as a variety of jumps, cliffs and canyons. The environment is destructible (avalanche for example can be triggered), though not as obvious as the previous games. Another feature that has been retained is the Nitrous Boost, where the player uses them to boost the engine at the expense of increasing engine heat. Do so long enough and the engine explodes. Use this wisely and the player can gain an upper hand by rocketing forward the finishing line.

The controls are of typical racing game with the d-pad or analog pad used to steer the vehicle, and are very easy to master. Due to technical reasons, only eight vehicles are allowed in a race - though this seems to be technically good enough (Gran Turismo only manages four). There are plenty of unlockables to be had, and each vehicles can be customised (unlike the previous titles). Each vehicle type (eight of them) has its pros and cons, and controls slightly differently. For example the snowmobiles are quicker than rally cars and control better but the fragility means you have to watch out for even the smallest obstacles. The snowploughs are tough, but slower (but still pretty competitive) and has a crappy acceleration. Well you get the gist - different vehicles control differently (duh).

Despite the lower polygon count, the game is very pretty. Visually, this is the most stunning PSP racing game I have played. Considering how the gameplay requires multiple paths, numerous on-screen mayhem, snow and rain effects, wide-spaced environment and distance vistas - I believe BigBig did good here. The vehicles - being the off-road types - tends to have more details than a traditional flashy car racer like the Ferraris in OutRun 2006. So it is even more impressive when they can fit eight of those vehicles in a race, with damage to boot. The screenshots posted here are all from the game, using the built-in Photo Mode. Like WipEout Pulse's Photo Mode, I see no form of touch-ups - so what you see here is what you see in the game.

The AI of opponents highly depends on the difficulty setting. In the early stages of the career mode (and easy setting), they prefer to stay on the racing line and so are mainly none-intrusive. As the player progress through, their AI and aggressiveness will ramp up pretty significantly Bumping other vehicles off course or into an obstacle is pretty normal at such difficulty. Snowmobilers will attempt to grab hold of other drivers. Get too close and they may try to boost away or, even worse, attempt to veer or crash the player out by any means possible. It makes for a hectic race, and one that made the original MotorStorm such a brilliant title.

The soundtrack is made of some popular music. I can't remember them as I prefer to play the game sans-music. Playlist can be imported as long as there are tracks on the Memory Stick. Arctic Edge also features an online multiplayer mode (infrastructure) as well as local (adhoc) allowing for multiplayer racing with other PSP owners around the world. BigBig has pretty much tick every possible box in their checklist. Impressive considering that this title was being developed alongside a PS2 version (due out in the next week).

I am quite surprised by Arctic Edge. To be honest I was expecting much less. I was expecting a much less stripped down game, especially considering that the title was being developed simultaneously with the PS2 version (which incidentally does not have multiplayer support, though it does have split screen support). Some compromise has been made (eight vehicles, graphical fidelity obviously no where near the PS3 version), but this is still a pretty darn MotorStorm racer, and one that deserves a look even by owners of the two other PS3 titles. Strip away the branding and this is still the best arcade racer on the PSP out there. A perfect portable pick-me-up.

MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is out now in both UK and US.

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