Your family and friends gathered around the television in anticipation of the content about to be streamed from the flashy grey box positioned prematurely on a make-shift table in front of the television.
As the polygonal graphics popped onto the screen, the room was filled with the muted "ooohs" of satisfaction. But no one really felt like they were in a new generation until that last straight at the end of the first lap on the "Beginner" track. As the Namco track barriers flashed into the rear-view mirror, everyone's attention turned to the aeroplane needlessly passing through the eye-wateringly blue skies. "Ahhh," sounded the room, quickly followed by pleas of, "It's my turn now," and "Please stop hogging the PlayStation!" It was an unnecessary addition. The plane didn't need to be there. It added nothing to the experience. But it's hard not to smile everytime you see it.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse reminds us of that first time with Ridge Racer. We're two generations on, but additional flash and spectacle is still a key component of the racing genre. Racing games have always been an amazing showcase of hardware (look at Gran Turismo), and MotorStorm: Apocalypse feels totally befitting of the PlayStation 3. There's one race about three hours into the game's campaign where you start out a couple of hundred metres to the right of a Golden Gate-esque bridge. As the counter drops, and your engine revs, a helicopter passes overhead. As it dips in altitude and you race directly towards it, the chopper releases several rockets towards the bridge. The bridge's metal supports bend and crumple, and the cloud of debris engulfs you. Slowly the bridge collapses with a speculative flash of explosions. You take a right-turn and embark on the next three laps of similarly outrageous apocalyptic arcade racing.
The point? Well there doesn't seem to be a point. Like that single plane on the opening lap of Ridge Racer, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is all about spectacle. And it's wildly successful at it. Running with Split/Second's explosive mechanic, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a much more ambitious explosive racer. While Split/Second settled for the odd exploding sky-scraper, Apocalypse completely reshapes tracks over the course of a lap. The core MotorStorm formula is still apparent, but it's lavished in the kind of speculative set-piece flavour that's defined this generation. And it's brilliant.
It's brimming with content too. Outside of a five-hour single-player campaign that takes you through each of Apocalypse's tracks, Evolution's also crafted an enormous multiplayer component that supports up-to 16 players online, as well as four-player local multiplayer and two-player local online multiplayer. There's an outrageous number of unlocks on offer too, with each vehicle completely customisable dependent on your progress online.
You get your first taste of MotorStorm: Apocalypse's insanity on the third race of the game's campaign. In this race you're actually driving across the San Francisco-style Golden Gate bridge we mentioned earlier. The first lap feels like traditional MotorStorm. Despite the urban setting, you are still boosting out of corners and keeping a careful eye on your vehicle's temperature gauge. It's in the second lap that things go crazy. The bridge starts to collapse while you're driving on it, throwing your vehicle around with reckless abandon. It looks brilliant too. The destruction looks and feels natural, reshaping the track without taking the focus away from the race. And the game's packed with similar moments. Stand-out events include a race through a tornado ravaged seaside pier and a mad-dash across a collapsing city sky-line. The tracks are spectacular, and surprisingly re-playable. Despite the scripted nature of the set-pieces, the game is no less repetitive than other racing games in which you'd replay the same tracks multiple times. In fact, the game takes measures to keep players on their toes by switching up the timing of certain track-altering events that adds a random nature to the gameplay.
Despite the setting, MotorStorm Apocalypse sticks to the gameplay origins of the franchise. There are still a wide array of vehicle classes to choose from, each with its own unique weight and feel. The game's single-player campaign selects the vehicle for you, forcing you to learn how to play as each of the classes. The vehicles feel great too, maintaining that balance of arcade and simulation racer that's long been the crux of the MotorStorm franchise. The series' traditional boost mechanic adds depth to the racing, offering a risk-reward dynamic that's still crucial to success. Hitting on the boost for too long will cause your vehicle to overheat, so you have to make use of water or air to cool down your engine. MotorStorm: Apocalypse is an aggressive game. The AI is tough, and will take any opportunity to push you off the track. It can be frustrating when you get rammed at every single hair-pin bend, but it's also very much the nature of the game.
Like Wipeout, the MotorStorm franchise has always been recognised for its soundtrack. Apocalypse does things slightly differently to previous iterations, offering a custom cinematic soundtrack in place of licensed tracks. The twist is that Evolution's got recognised artists like Noisia to remix the orchestral music, lavishing it with the kind of wobbly dubstep flavour the franchise is famous for. It's a really cool twist that offers something fitting and fresh to the series. Sadly, the audio mix isn't the game's strongest point, as the engines sounding a little weedy next to the thumping soundtrack.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is crazy. There might only be four options on the game's main menu, but that is not an indication of the amount of content stuffed into the game. In addition to the single-player campaign, there are hardcore challenges (tweaked objectives from the main campaign), time-trials, collectibles, and more. There are also a suite of vehicle customisation options that play into the multiplayer. As you complete certain challenges and feats online (think Call Of Duty) you'll unlock new parts for your car. The game allows you to customise practically every element of your vehicle, from brake-discs, to stickers and liveries. It's an awesome feature that will ensure everybody's car looks original online.
Perhaps the strongest and most replayable component of MotorStorm: Apocalypse can be attributed to the game's multiplayer mode. The feature is literally teeming with content. Outside of the expected array of perks and challenges, MotorStorm: Apocalypse has a pretty cool 'betting' mechanic. Here players wager against a rival before each race. If you win, then you take some bonus chips (Apocalypse's equivalent of XP) or are given the option to gamble. Each time you gamble you'll multiply the reward of each success, but if you fail to meet the bet criteria you'll lose your current pot. Therefore it's all about risk and reward. How far do you dare to go? It opens up a degree of strategy too. For example, at the end of each race you'll want to be monitoring who's playing well and who's playing badly. Highly ranked players will earn you more chips, but may be more challenging to beat. However, if you notice that a particularly highly ranked player is performing poorly, you might be able to maximise your points. The set-up of the multiplayer, which is constantly lining up new games, will keep you hooked for hours without realising. It really is very addictive. And the performance is great. Sixteen players online and the frame-rate remains solid. You can even enjoy the online multiplayer in split-screen.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse's campaign is paced by some awkward motion comic cut-scenes that precede each race. Occasionally these are pretty funny, lending personality to the "festival" aspect of the MotorStorm franchise. But while the art is great, the narrative is weak. The problem with Apocalypse's cut-scenes is that they try to tell a story that rarely ties into what you're actually doing in the game. It's not a big problem because MotorStorm doesn't need a story to succeed, but we couldn't help but feel Evolution took the wrong direction with these cut-scenes. The shorts that promote fake video games and monster truck festivals are hilarious, but they are under-used in favour of the more story-focused cut-scenes that unnecessarily bog the game down.
Occasionally during MotorStorm: Apocalypse's campaign, you'll hit a difficulty spike. There's nothing more frustrating than falling victim to the franchise's trademark rubber-banding. The issue is less prevalent in Apocalypse than in other MotorStorm titles, but the game still likes to keep racers close together. Ultimately this results in much more exciting races than you'd experience without the rubber-banding, but it still suffers from the irritation of a single crash setting you back four or five places in the pack.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse is the ultimate destruction derby, with the world taking a pounding harder than the cars. Apocalypse maintains the franchise's heart, while coating it in a layer of unwavering insanity. If the end of days is even half as fun as Evolution's vision, we'll take front-row seats and a bucket of popcorn.
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