The first game was the launch title; an effort to show the world what the PlayStation 3 could do while at the same time providing a fun experience. The second game wanted to ramp that up, to introduce new elements and to transpose the setting to somewhere you wouldn’t expect it to go. The third game in the series is… well, it’s insane. We were invited along to see the first showing of MotorStorm: Apocalypse, had the chance to play it for a few hours, and that’s the only thought that keeps going through our heads – this game is insane, and in all the right ways.
While numbers one and two took place in a desert and tropical island, respectively, three brings it closer to home and allows you to race around an abandoned city on the west coast of America. “But why is it abandoned?” I hear you ask. Simple: earthquake. A massive quake has rendered the city uninhabitable, meaning you have a racing playground – almost – entirely to yourself in which to take part in some urban off-road. But this isn’t just a city of fallen over buildings and a few massive pot holes, this is a city where the earthquake’s affects are far from over. When you’re racing, buildings will collapse, floors will displace, roads will become ramps and the sides of skyscrapers will become roads – essentially, the track you begin the race on will not look anything like the track you finish on.
Chronology and persistence are two key elements Evolution Studios is aiming for, and this will be most evident in the new, linear, storyline-driven single-player mode. This means main characters to choose from – three in fact, each representing a different difficulty, as well as a different campaign to take part in. Cut scenes, voice-overs, whatever else you would expect from a storyboarded game will be present and accounted for.
It’s not going to overwhelm with Final Fantasy-esque cutscenes of 30 minutes in length, but it will offer a bit of grounding; a bit of focus to the experience and a bit more gravitas in a set-piece situation. Yes, it’ll make you care more when a skyscraper is crumbling down around you.
But you’re not alone in these races, away from the other drivers. We said ‘almost’ to yourself earlier as there are two factions outside of the MotorStorm crew vying for your attention – the PMCs and the Crazies. The former are a band of mercenaries in the city to protect the richer residents properties and belongings from looters, while the Crazies are… crazy. Both parties present different obstacles to the player, with the mercs shooting at you while generally trying to mess up your race, and the Crazies adopting wrecking ball tactics (literally), trying to smash you away from success. They’re the people who bring an oil tanker on the road. In front of you. On fire.
Aside from the campaign mode are the more standard offerings of free play in both single and multiplayer. Here you can tackle any course you want with any vehicle – so you can indeed race that rooftop on a motorbike – and get involved in a bit of four-player split-screen action, which can be taken online against up to 12 others, meaning 16 players in total. When Matt Southern, game director of MotorStorm: Apocalypse made the claim of “150 hours of gameplay”, we’ll admit to scoffing a little. But then he told us about the game creation mode. In this icon-driven element that ships with the game, players can create unique rule sets for completely new games modes.
The system was used by Evolution to create all of the race modes in the game and – very much like Media Molecule’s approach with LittleBigPlanet 1+2 – they’re looking forward to what the public can do with their baby. A simple example would be a mode where eight players control super-powered big rigs and one other a small, weak motorbike. The bike has to do laps around the rigs to score points, the rigs have to smash up the bike to score. It’s a pretty straight forward approach as relayed to us by a developer, but it gives some idea of the level of creativity players can put back into Apocalypse.
Every created mode can be placed online for others to mess about with, and a full ratings system will be implemented so you’ll know whether to bother playing a certain way or not. We were even told that there’s a chance for the best-received creations to enter the official rotation of online playlists. This is commitment we’re starting to see coming from a lot of PS3 exclusives recently, and it makes us very happy to be owners right now.
Graphically things look to have been ratcheted up a notch or two, with things like dynamic lighting and headlights showing up for the first time – useful in the new night time races, of course. But the major change when we’re talking about looks has to be the sheer amount of activity going on – all tying into this ‘insane’ mantra we seem to be chanting at any given opportunity. Look into the background at any one time to see huge skyscrapers collapsing, forming new routes or blocking off old ones, helicopters soaring overhead, a flaming big-rig zig-zagging in front of you and two dozen Crazies trying to stop your 100mph ball of metal, by standing in front of it.
There’s so much going on it can be hard to concentrate at first and though it certainly is anarchy on a vast scale, it’s still surprisingly easy to get accustomed to all that is going on. Soon enough you don’t even care that a house is about to fall on your car, or that the floor you were just about to land on collapsed before you managed to touch it.
All in all, we cannot wait to see more MotorStorm: Apocalypse. It looks to be exactly the game Evolution have always wanted to make and this shows in every facet of what we’ve seen so far, from the game itself to the infectious enthusiasm of the team. Everything that made us love MotorStorm is back – multiple vehicle types, different routes and so on – and has been refined to a great degree, then placed in this ridiculously over-the-top situation. What we’ve played shows the promise of a truly fantastic game, but – time for the balance here – it’ll be up to the developers to make sure the finished thing is indeed the total package.