Evolution Studios might not have intended to, but it’s inadvertently created the best game in the MotorStorm series. Pitched as a spin-off handled by a small team of elite employees, MotorStorm RC takes the franchise’s established off-road racing staples and shrinks them down to shoebox size. Despite concerns to the contrary, it’s a natural transition — highlighted by the success the game has in maintaining the “feel” of a mainline MotorStorm title — and it culminates in one of the finest experiences to grace the PlayStation Store.
But you’ll probably want to know about MotorStorm RC’s headline feature first: Cross Platform Play. It works, in a bafflingly futuristic kind of way. Swapping progress between PS3 and Vita is automatic, handled cleverly in the background by the game. As long as you’re logged into PlayStation Network, your progress will carry. There’s no manual uploads, plugging in USB cords or transferring save data; your progress is stored safely in the cloud, leaving you free to focus on what matters – shaving the odd second or two off your time.
Those that have followed the MotorStorm franchise since its inception will feel right at home. The wobbly sub-bass soundtrack is correct and present, as is the festival-like atmosphere, but the twist here is that you’re controlling RC cars based on MotorStorm vehicle classes, as opposed to the real things. That adds a totally different dynamic to the way the game plays; vehicles are nimble and floaty rather than hunks of heavy metal, and the camera is positioned above the action rather than from behind. But despite the tweaks to the format, Evolution Studios has done an incredible job of maintaining the feel of previous MotorStorm releases, which plays into the strengths of the game.
Tracks are based on all four of the previous MotorStorm titles, spanning the series’ muddy off-road origins right through to its most recent apocalyptic outing. The tropical backdrops of Pacific Rift and the snowy slip roads of Arctic Edge round out the package’s four main environments, with the promise of more DLC to follow. Each unique setting plays host to four different circuits, with all 16 tracks spread out across the main single player campaign (or “Festival” as it’s known in MotorStorm lore).
Single player challenges range from bog standard races, through to time trials, overtake and drifting. There’s not much variety, but there doesn’t really need to be. Each track brings a different challenge that’s compounded by the properties of the game’s eight vehicle classes. The supermini, for example, is slow and sturdy, while the rally car is fast and loose. Many of the classes from the main MotorStorm titles are represented – minus the motorbikes – and they feel familiar despite their miniature size.
As you complete challenges – spanning three different progression conditions – you’ll unlock medals which help to open up the rest of the festival in addition to unlocking new car liveries and sections of the Playground. The Playground is essentially just a sandbox packed with ramps and toys, allowing you to mess around when you don’t feel like racing. A small football pitch – with dinky goals – and a whole secret route across an awkwardly erected set of scaffolding makes investigating the Playground an enjoyable distraction from the racing, but it’s the competitive focus that transforms MotorStorm RC into such an addictive experience.
MotorStorm RC’s Pitwall advances Need for Speed’s already brilliant Autolog to the next level. It’s shameless in its implementation, but it’s no less compelling for it. Every stage in the campaign (and Time Trial) comes equipped with its own unique leaderboard, showing your standing against your PlayStation Network friends. Taking on a stage for the first time allows you to compete without distractions, but when you return to a level you’ll be accompanied by the racing lines of your friends. Beating your friends removes them from the equation – and notifies them via the Pitwall – allowing them to race against your new best time and so on.
The Pitwall summarises your activity in the game, pointing you in the direction of new challenges against friends and also strangers. The sense of competition at the heart of the game is what makes it so addictive, and it’s genuinely difficult to put the game down once you start playing. There’s always something to do, and the game’s overarching emphasis on leaderboards leads to even the most minor of victories making you feel like a champion.
It's all slickly presented, too. While the tracks can be hard to follow at high speeds, Evolution’s done just enough to pick out the details of each circuit and ensure that you’re always heading in the right direction. Some of the game’s default camera angles make this more of a challenge than others, but with experimentation you’ll find the setting that works best for you.
Stages are packed with the kind of detail that lends credence to the game’s sense of scale. Cardboard boxes, drinks cartons and plants may seem like meaningless decoration, but they actually help to establish the game’s miniature presentation. The scale can lead to problems on the PS Vita’s smaller screen – where everything looks microscopic – but it’s not really a deal breaker.
Control issues are much more problematic when playing on Sony’s snazzy new handheld however. While the DualShock 3 uses the controller’s tried-and-tested triggers to handle acceleration and braking, the PlayStation Vita relies on the system’s much vaunted second analogue stick. The set-up makes sense when you consider the control panel for a real RC car, but it feels much less accurate than the DualShock 3. Given MotorStorm RC’s reliance on precision, that can be problematic.
The game’s lack of online multiplayer is also a disappointment. Sure, the title’s designed around competition, but none of it's in real-time, and you can’t really beat the sense of adrenaline promoted by true head-to-head multiplayer. To its credit, the PlayStation 3 version does feature four-player split-screen, but online multiplayer would have completed the package.
MotorStorm RC is a staggering title: not only is it a successful test bed for one of the PlayStation Vita’s most promising features, but it’s also a cunningly addictive game in its own right. The social functions at the centre of the experience are brilliantly well integrated, and bring longevity to the package despite its meagre price point. Regardless of platform, MotorStorm RC is utterly essential.