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MotorStorm is a series I hear people talking about but I never really paid much attention to it when the games were in their heyday. I don’t remember seeing ads and I never had much exposure to them and for the longest time, I thought it was specifically a motorcycle racing series. I was wrong. Developed by Evolution Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, MotorStorm was released for PlayStation 3 in March, 2007. The multiplayer servers were shut down some time ago but fans have found a way to restore online functionality. Sadly, the official patches are no longer available and they are required to access the DLC. Unfortunately, I got my copy well after the patches went missing so I was unable to try any of the DLC which includes new tracks, vehicles, and the Time Attack mode.
MotorStorm is an off-road rally-type racing game set at the fictional MotorStorm Festival in Monument Valley. The Festival or offline portion of the game includes numerous events to participate in and you need tickets to gain entry. Your finishing position in a race determines how many points you earn and earning enough points will unlock new vehicles and tickets. To unlock certain tickets, you’ll need to earn certain medals in all prior events.
MotorStorm is definitely not a racing simulator but it is fun, aggressive, and dirty as fuck. Seriously, there’s dirt and mud everywhere. Your vehicle will be filthy by the end of every race. You’ll get to drive numerous vehicles of various types or classes including rally cars, bikes, ATVs, buggies, racing trucks, mud pluggers, and big rigs. Most events force you to select a vehicle of a specific class but some do let you choose any vehicle you want. One of the great things about MotorStorm is that it doesn’t matter what the vehicle class is because the tracks are designed to give each class an equal opportunity.
I think a more appropriate name for MotorStorm would be “terrain” but that wouldn’t sound as cool, would it? Most racing games, at least the ones I’ve played, have a gimmick. Something about them to make them feel unique and draw attention. It could be the physics, abilities, crashing, action, combat, anti-gravity – anything or any combination. The terrain is one of MotorStorm’s gimmicks. The tracks feature a mix of dirt and muddy roads and hard surfaces with jumps, bumps and various obstacles. This is important because the each vehicle class has their own strengths and weaknesses and handle differently on different terrain. For example bikes do well on hard surfaces but slide in the mud. Big rigs are the slowest accelerating vehicles but do very well in the mud and can easily plow through smaller vehicles. Furthermore, the tracks experience real-time deformation which can affect the vehicle classes in different ways.
The terrain isn’t the only thing that makes the tracks and game interesting but also the multiple routes. Each track has multiple ways to get through them and it’s up to the player to find the appropriate route for their vehicle class. The game won’t outright tell you what the best route is but there are signs that indicate if a vehicle class shouldn’t take a specific path. The amount of branching paths and routes most of the tracks offer is impressive and this combined with the vehicle classes and terrain help ensure the racing field is even for everyone.
One of the things I really like about MotorStorm is its aggressive style. Vehicles will often cluster together in the more intense races and as all the racers try to move up the positions, they’ll slam into each other, flip over, crash and explode resulting in vehicle parts spilling onto the track. It’s not just important to drive fast but also be aware of your surroundings, know the terrain, and brake when necessary because it can be very easy to slide and crash into things, especially on bikes and ATVs which are also the easiest vehicles to shove around. You can activate a boost at the press of a button but you need to keep an eye on the boost gauge because boosting heats the vehicle’s engine. It will cool down as long as you’re not boosting but if the engine reaches a critical temperature, or in other words if you don’t stop boosting, you’re vehicle will explode.
One complaint I have is that the game lacks variety. For one thing, without the DLC and for how many events there are, I admit I got tired of racing on the same eight tracks over and over again. Even with the different vehicle classes, it only takes a few races to see almost every route a track has to offer. Also, every event is a race. Reach the finish line before everyone else. There’s no other event types. No elimination, no time trial, no sprint – just race. There’s no tournaments in the traditional sense, either. You won’t be participating in a knockout tournament or anything like that. Just win races and earn points to unlock more races. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if things were mixed up a bit more. Doing the same thing on the same tracks all the time can get repetitive due to the lack of variety. It’s the same tracks from beginning to end. Same lengths, same routes, same event type. There’s no mirrored tracks, no reverse tracks, no variations of tracks, and without the DLC, no extra game modes.
One of my bigger disappointments is the lack of additional game modes for the offline portion of the game. A Time Attack mode was added in via DLC but I didn’t get the chance to try it out because I couldn’t patch my game. There’s no way to set up a custom race and with the multiplayer servers shut down, this means you’re restricted to participating in the Festival events and that’s it. Tickets with a gold logo indicate they include what I’ll call a “special event” that lets you choose a vehicle from any vehicle class. It’s cool but I have two problems with this. One; there’s not a lot of these and two; they’re all set on the same track which is odd considering most events force you to use a specific vehicle class and the game basically makes you race on all the tracks with each vehicle class at some point, anyway. So I don’t see any reason why every special event must be set on the same track. It’s just bizarre.
Another thing I want to point out is that MotorStorm does not come with difficulty levels. The events get more challenging as you progress and it is a nice ramp up. If you’ve made it to the level four events and then jump into a level one event, you’ll notice a big difference in challenge and AI behavior. There is definitely rubber banding and AI opponents are more aggressive in the later events. They don’t always drive perfectly. I’ve seen them crash, boost for too long and explode, and drive off cliffs but for the most part, they do prove to make races challenging and fun. Opponents will block you, knock you around, and often be up your ass, especially in the later events. A mistake can drop you several positions but I never found it impossible to catch up.
The AI often makes for fun and aggressive racing but that’s not to say I never got frustrated. During one event in particular, it seemed like all opponents were just constantly grouped together so trying to pass them was difficult and not fun. It was just frustrating. Not being able to maneuver around things is frustrating and if I took a different route, I struggled to move up the positions. Some races will be a trial and error experience. You’ll have to know what routes to take, not make too many mistakes, and boost and brake at the appropriate times.
MotorStorm’s presentation holds up pretty well. It looks dated but it doesn’t look bad. The environments are detailed, the backdrops look great, vehicle models look good and will show deformities, and the visual and particle effects look awesome. I love the fire trails vehicles can leave behind when they boost. I did notice pop-in from time to time, some textures can appear blurry when viewed up close and the jaggies can be an eyesore but, overall, MotorStorm still looks pretty good and it looked great at the time it released. Engines loudly roar as vehicles speed around the tracks and the racing is backed by a licensed soundtrack consisting of a lot of alternative rock. On the technical side, the frame rate would dip whenever there was a lot of vehicles and action on-screen but other than that, it ran pretty smooth and I encountered no major bugs or issues.
Despite some issues I have with the game, I really enjoyed MotorStorm. It’s not like any other racing game I’ve played before. It’s dirty, it’s aggressive and it’s designed so that every vehicle has a chance. The different vehicle classes and multiple routes ensure there’s no one perfect way to race around a track. Knowing what the vehicles are capable of, the terrain, when to boost, and when to brake are all crucial for winning. It’s a shame that the patches are no longer available because I think the DLC would add a lot more variety to the game. If you have a modded PS3, there are ways to play a patched version of the game and DLC but you’ll have to do your own research for obvious reasons. If you don’t want to mod your PS3 and you’re game isn’t already updated, then you’re stuck with what the base game has to offer and I think there are some odd design choices when it comes to the offline portion.
The lack of variety became more noticeable as I progressed through the events. Just racing on the same tracks over and over again with nothing to mix things up became a little stale. However, I do think the gameplay is unique and good enough to make up for it. Mastering different routes and the brutal nature of the racing can become addictive and is always fun. Vehicles blaze around the tracks and shove each other around as they try to avoid obstacles and kick up dust, dirt, and mud. It’s all cool stuff. MotorStorm conveys a certain style and attitude that’s just very cool.
With the multiplayer servers shut down and without the DLC, I find MotorStorm to be a bit bare but because you can find copies for pretty cheap as of this review, I would recommend checking it out. Even with the lack of content and variety, the core gameplay is fun and makes for a great foundation. I haven’t played a racing game quite like MotorStorm and I only hope the sequels build upon what was established here and do a lot more.