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Michael Kontoudis
15 Mar, 2011

Motorstorm: Apocalypse Review

PS3 Review | I wanna take you on a rollercoaster...
In many ways, 2007’s Motorstorm came to define the infant Playstation 3. The game, a brutal and gritty off-road racer set in the desolate wasteland of Monument Valley, boasted gorgeous visuals, slick presentation and visceral racing mechanics which helped it stand out amid the glut of lacklustre launch titles which accompanied it. Motorstorm was cool, confident and focused, and left gamers eager to see where developer Evolution Studios would next take its newborn franchise. When the sequel, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift arrived in late 2008, Evolution seemed to have ticked all the boxes by doubling the amount of tracks on offer and injecting some colour and variety into the game’s palette by way of its pacific island setting. Now, more than two years on, Evolution has unleashed its third iteration of the franchise, the evocatively titled Motorstorm: Apocalypse, and in doing so has made some fundamental changes to the series’ gameplay and aesthetics. Swapping out the dusty desert and island for a bayside city in the midst of destruction, Evolution has gambled with its series, employing animated cutscenes and Hollywood-styled bombast to the melting pot. On many a gamer’s lips hangs the obvious question: does the resulting game remain worthy of the Motorstorm name, or, in chasing blockbuster thrills, has Evolution led its series off-road?

Not the typical Motorstorm milieu.

Not the typical Motorstorm milieu.
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The answer to the question does not become apparent until a few hours of play, but most players will harbour their own suspicions within moments of booting up the disc and selecting the game’s core single-player mode, named ‘Festival’. For the first time in the series, Evolution has expanded upon the core ‘racing festival’ conceit by offering up a plot of sorts, charting the misadventures of three racers (the rookie, the pro and the veteran, respectively) as they travel to an unnamed city (manifestly San Francisco) which has been evacuated and torn asunder in the midst of a calamitous earthquake. The story, such as it is, transpires over the two-day Motorstorm festival, with players seeing events unfold from the perspectives of each of the three characters and encountering altered tracks and weather conditions. In essence, the story mode is a series of thirty-or-so racing events interspersed with crude cutscenes animated in the motion-comic style. While the single-player modes of past series entries were rather bland, medal-based affairs which quickly grew tiresome through repetition and unfair difficulty spikes, one wonders whether the franchise really needed the additional context provided by Apocalypse. The story segments, which play out between racing events and typically last anywhere from twenty seconds to a minute, are awful without exception and represent a blight on the slickness of the game’s presentation. The art is abominable, the voice acting is grating, and the script is so amateurish and irrelevant that you wonder why Evolution would devote even a second of its development manpower to such a half-baked conceit. While racing games are typically and sometimes sadly devoid of any meaningful context, the solution proffered by Apocalypse makes a case for future series entries remaining blissfully free from storytelling aspirations. Whatever slick, edgy appeal the series ever had is sadly absent here.

Fortunately, players will spend more time playing Apocalypse than they will watching its ham-fisted attempt at narrative. Like previous games, the emphasis is on rambunctious, physical racing; jostling with other racers in a variety of vehicle types, from the nimble motorcycles, buggies, and racing cars to behemoths such as the mud-pluggers, big rigs and monster trucks, while avoiding environmental obstacles and choosing the appropriate route for your vehicle are central to the game’s challenge. Significant too is the game’s ‘boost’ mechanic, which returns from previous games. Boosting provides a burst of speed, but doing so to excess causes engines to overheat and explode. Settling on the correct balance and choosing when and where to boost are core to success in Apocalypse, which has happily made some improvements to the system. One can now cool one’s engines by releasing the boost and accelerator in mid-air, which provides some real incentive to take to the skies and is a clever addition. It is a shame, then, that Evolution has seen fit to meddle with the series’ racing models. We noticed that each of the game’s dozen or so vehicle classes all felt heavier and less dangerous than their counterparts in previous titles, routinely sticking to surfaces in circumstances where disaster was once inevitable. This simplification of the driving, together with a more-relaxed difficulty curve which eases up on the infuriating rubber-banding which plagued the later races in previous games, means that Apocalypse is perhaps the most friendly entry in the series, which is a mixed blessing. Apocalypse may be the first Motorstorm game which many players actually complete, which is admirable, but the impact of this achievement is reduced when one realizes that Evolution has had to sacrifice the past games' sense of dangerous physicality.

Avoiding the on-track pyrotechnics is often a challenge.

Avoiding the on-track pyrotechnics is often a challenge.
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A similar shift in focus also applies to the track design on offer in Apocalypse. The game boasts over thirty unique races over nine different environments. While this number may seem low in comparison to the sixteen tracks offered by Pacific Rift, each configuration is unique enough to stand on its own, boasting different environmental hazards and layouts. The downside is that not all of the tracks on offer in Apocalypse are consistently great or as memorable as those in previous games. Aesthetically, the art-design shift from muddy canyons and lush, volcanic ridges to a decayed city is marked step-down, with many of the game’s tracks taking place in nondescript tunnels, freeways and city blocks which fail to deliver on the potential of the game’s apocalyptic premise. There are a few standouts, of course, such as Skyline, which sees racers hurtling over the roofs of ruined skyscrapers, and Boardwalk, a seaside track plagued by a twister, but too many tracks seem to revolve around dull, boxy buildings, grey tarmac and shipping containers, failing to reach the artistic standards set by past classics as such the original game’s Raingod Mesa. While track layouts are generally strong, most are unfortunately blighted by overwhelming visual details and environmental hazards. A far cry from the clean, clear visuals of the original, Apocalypse offers up tracks littered with debris, gaping chasms and an overload of particle effects, which often make it difficult to discern routes amid the chaos. If they are anything like us, most players will curse loudly each and every time they wrap their bikes around a telephone pole rendered almost invisible against the busyness of onscreen pyrotechnics.

The aforementioned particle effects, together with a host of additional technical whizzbangery, make Apocalypse a largely impressive game to behold, on a technical if not artistic level. The framerate is solid, the lighting effects often awe-inspiring, and the sense of speed blistering. The game’s visuals don’t represent a quantum leap over any past titles, particularly having regard to its inferior art design, but they move at such a clip that it hardly matters. Voice acting aside, Apocalypse sounds pretty good, with evocative, sub-woofer-trembling effects alongside a pulse-pounding electronic score which blends in Hollywood-esque orchestral themes. Series aficionados may miss the variety of past games’ licensed soundtracks, but players’ mileage will vary depending on their tastes. Finally, we note that the game offers support for 3D-capable televisions, which feature was sadly unavailable to us at the time of review.

This is just one of the unappealing gits you assume control of in the game's story mode.

This is just one of the unappealing gits you assume control of in the game's story mode.
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The area in which Apocalypse truly excels over previous Motorstorm titles is in its feature-set. A far cry from the bare bones package of the original, Apocalypse offers up an improved single-player mode (story aside), which while only requiring five to eight hours to complete, is extended by the addition of bonus ‘hardcore’ race events to truly test players’ skills and collectible cards hidden in each event. In addition, Apocalypse offers up support for four-player split-screen races, which mode performs well under intense strain and is most welcome in an age where developers are wont to eschew local ‘couch-based’ multiplayer for the en-vogue online experience. In the online arena, however, Apocalypse truly comes to life, with solid netcode and seemingly sound matchmaking functionality rounding out a slick package. The ability to customize vehicles with perks (some cosmetic, others functional) while ascending the ranks makes this the most involved and compelling online Motorstorm experience to date, and should provide the game with substantial long-term appeal.

Motorstorm: Apocalypse is a difficult game to critique; taken on its own merits, it is an exciting racer with lovely visuals and a robust set of features which more than make up for its crude attempts at world-building and storytelling. As the latest entry in a three-game franchise, however, Apocalypse is a dicier proposition. The purity of past games, which tasked players with negotiating deadly off-road environments in a variety of different vehicles, has been muddied by the introduction of action-film histrionics which serve as little more than base spectacle, while Evolution’s attempt to give context to proceedings does nothing but undermine the slickness of the series’ presentation. Taken together, and having regard to inconsistent track design and uninspired art direction, these aspects register Apocalypse as something of a minor disappointment. Make no mistake, this is as exciting and visceral an arcade racer as players are likely to experience this year; it just doesn’t feel like the best or most natural direction for the series, and certainly not the ultimate expression of the Motorstorm franchise.
The Score
Motorstorm: Apocalypse is a highly enjoyable arcade racer let down by poor presentation and a manifest lack of focus on the part of Evolution Studios, who are in danger of losing track of what made the series so appealing in the first place.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Motorstorm: Apocalypse Content

Motorstorm: Apocalypse delayed
16 Mar, 2011 Respecting the victims.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse announced
11 Jun, 2010 The leaked image prophecy was true!
18 Comments
3 years ago
OUCH, I was wary of the setting and characters as well as I am a pretty huge fan of the series. Still excited for this sounds very cool, will be interesting to see what everyone thinks. Still, really excited for this.
3 years ago
Wow, and here I was going to go to GAME on day 1 to purchase this bad boy. Judging from this review, and those negative reviews of those who have played the demo, looks like I might give it a hire first....
3 years ago
The demo was so disappointing. It just doesn't feel like Motorstorm, nor does it feel as gratifying. The previous 3 (inc. the PSP one) were loud, raw and pure insanity and that's what made the games really good. This is too refined in control; too focused in its execution of chaos. Such a weird statement to make, but that's what makes it feel so off for me.
3 years ago
play it in 3d... its pretty epic... very hard... but epic none the less... i'll get this when it drops in price a bit... and i'll import it... lol
3 years ago
KRiSX wrote
play it in 3d... its pretty epic... very hard... but epic none the less... i'll get this when it drops in price a bit... and i'll import it... lol
Um why bother importing it?
3 years ago
Because it's a hell of a lot cheaper.
3 years ago
fatpizza wrote
Because it's a hell of a lot cheaper.
Like how much are we talking? I import all the sport games from the US every year and after postage etc it really isnt that much cheaper for me. Worst part is having to wait.
3 years ago
PALGN wrote
Voice acting aside, Apocalypse sounds pretty good, with evocative, sub-woofer-trembling effects alongside a pulse-pounding electronic score which blends in Hollywood-esque orchestral themes.
One of the things I loved about Pacific Rift (I haven't played the original) was the soundtrack. You were meant to really pump up the sound, the loud crash of the guitars and drums from the metal in the soundtracks was perfect for the over-the-top, crazy, explosion filled festival of awesome that was Motorstorm. It sounds to me like the music here is going to destroy the atmosphere for me.

I might hire this or pick it up when it's cheap. There's too many other games I'm interested in, and this one looks like it will be disapointing to me.
3 years ago
Smurf80 wrote
fatpizza wrote
Because it's a hell of a lot cheaper.
Like how much are we talking? I import all the sport games from the US every year and after postage etc it really isnt that much cheaper for me. Worst part is having to wait.
UK sites or playasia etc - games are usually around $60aud shipped.... cheaper than $80-$100 in stores here.
3 years ago
I got a media copy from Sony just yesterday and gave it an extra whirl.

No more DnB/metal music, no more floaty, hardcore controls.

Disappoint icon_sad.gif
3 years ago
You sure about no DnB? The track I heard in the demo was wobbly dubsteppish, and DnB goes with that kinda sound like chips and salad go with pub steaks.
3 years ago
It's certainly there but with a mix of orchestral music. It just lacks the punchiness of Motorstorm 2 however from what I've heard. The game is noticeably muted compared as well. It doesn't utterly destroy my speakers in loudness which kinda disappoints me.

I need to play it more but yeah, it definitely doesn't feel like Motorstorm. More like DERPStorm (ahahaha haha.. ha..ha.).

Also I miss the tickets and events of the first. The whole story thing is weird.
3 years ago
I dont know why designers bother trying to give racing games storylines, they are always balls.
3 years ago
Smurf80 wrote
Like how much are we talking? I import all the sport games from the US every year and after postage etc it really isnt that much cheaper for me. Worst part is having to wait.
http://www.ozgameshop.com/ps3-games/motorstorm-apocalypse-game-ps3


$59 posted
3 years ago
el_rezzo wrote
Smurf80 wrote
Like how much are we talking? I import all the sport games from the US every year and after postage etc it really isnt that much cheaper for me. Worst part is having to wait.
http://www.ozgameshop.com/ps3-games/motorstorm-apocalypse-game-ps3


$59 posted
That's a great price but how is the uk game delay going to affect your/our order? Already it says 18th march.

* btw Sony delayed it because the apocalypse thing n the situation in Japan can be construed as bad taste
3 years ago
Things change, and things move on. I think that evolution have done the right thing by trying to do something a bit different with the single player racing game. Why spend half of a review rubbishing the plot? The cut scenes are fun, short, stylish and never take themselves too seriously. The racing is incredible. What other game could give its racers a track like skyline? This game has 10 written all over it, it's true to its roots, but evolves the style of the original and pacific rift. I can't understand why this series has been butchered by the critics - this amazing game is currently at 78 on metacritic, a total injustice. Is this game really worse than Mx vs ATV? Come on. Well done, critic, you may have helped kill a wonderful gaming franchise.
3 years ago
Paid by the word, satchmo? icon_razz.gif
3 years ago
While this game is certainly fun I much prefer the first Motorstorm when it was at its most purest with no side ramming. They should either go back to Monument Valley or something similar and get rid of all the road vehicles and keep it off-road only with more mud!
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  17/03/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre:
  Racing
Year Made:
  2011
Players:
  4

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