MotorStorm: Pacific Rift
Greatest PlayStation launch title ever or not, MotorStorm was essentially an incomplete game. The Japanese release of the racer didn’t even ship with an online multiplayer, and the extensive volume of downloadable content that followed release, adding various modes, tracks and patches, confirmed that Evolution hadn’t had the necessary time to develop the racing title the team had envisioned. Looking back at the game, after several extensive playing sessions with its sequel, the first MotorStorm is beginning to feel like an ageing tech demo. Monument Valley is just… muddy. The style of race varied, certainly, but the island in Pacific Rift, with its diverse vegetation and terrain, results in an exponentially more exciting experience.
Aside from fine-tuning the advantages and disadvantages between each type of vehicle, the fundamentals of MotorStorm Pacific Rift are fairly familiar. What impresses us the most about this sequel is the low-profile tweaks that the team has made, such as the gentler learning curve, additional environmental features, like the lava and water, and the balls-to-the-wall nuttiness of driving the newly introduced monster trucks. It’s so much fairer than the first game too. Each of the eight different types of vehicle now has a fighting chance in every race. With all environments offering a selection of alternate routes, varying in size, style and suitability, a lot of MotorStorm Pacific Rift’s replay value comes from experimenting with approaches until the ideal one emerges.
The monster trucks are far more than just a novelty, and their brute strength has a real effect on the majority of races. Bikes, rally cars and mudpluggers crumble beneath their might, but the big rigs will jollily plough them aside, so even a vehicle of this strength has a weakness to balance the scales. In spite of the level playing field, though, MotorStorm Pacific Rift earns its 16+ PEGI rating. The viciousness touted in the first teaser trailer really comes to the fore, such are the overblown, entertaining physics of the game’s crashes. They’re even more detailed than they were in the first game, and they are still the single aspect that is guaranteed to draw the gaze of even casual gamers – one of the obvious issues of the first MotorStorm, though, was that the vehicles were far too prone to destruction. Even the relatively sturdy big rig would explode at the drop of a hat, while just a tiny graze would take a motorbike apart.
You could never predict how the game would punish you for a wrong turn. This hasn’t been remedied completely in MotorStorm Pacific Rift. Sometimes it still feels like the wrong vehicle explodes during a collision, or a needlessly stray rock will take you out, but it is nevertheless more consistent than before. Also, the consequences of crashing are lesser, meaning that you can actually recover to win the race, providing you don’t do it too many times.
MotorStorm Pacific Rift succeeds because, far more so than in the first instalment, it simultaneously caters to both hardcore and casual racing fans. The MotorStorm Festival is structured in skill tiers this time, so players can progress through the first few ranks without too much trouble. You can level up these tiers by collecting points from various finishing positions: 200 for Gold, 100 for Silver and 50 for Bronze. Gather enough of these and your rank will improve, meaning that a new set of challenges will be available to you. The different types of tracks are divided into Earth, Air, Fire and Water zones, which is a fairly self-explanatory way of cataloguing them.
The difficulty still spikes a little, particularly in the Eliminator and checkpoint races (both part of the main Festival), but it’s generally far kinder to the less-able gamer than before. As players move up to the higher tiers, it’s quite likely that casual fans will drop off as the events escalate in difficulty. Even at this point, though, players will have access to the game’s 16 tracks through the Free Play option in the main menu. Hardcore MotorStorm fans won’t truly begin to appreciate Pacific Rift until they reach the latter stages of these tiers, however. At this point, the AI becomes so fierce that using each track to your advantage is essential, rather than just a novel way to race.
Pacific Rift’s multi-routed tracks are masterpieces, in many cases. Sometimes there are as many as four different paths to take, with assorted obstacles and effects testing your chosen vehicle along the way. While some would contend that this many directions makes Pacific Rift a little too dependent on trial-and-error gameplay, we would argue that this is one of MotorStorm’s defining qualities. Besides, some of the different routes lead to the game’s greatest set pieces, which really push the boundaries of believability at the best of times.
The track ‘Scorched’, categorised under the Fire zone, includes an extremely thin, motorbike-appropriate ramp that leads your vehicle directly over a giant pit of lava. Now, driving one of the game’s larger vehicles, you’d be forgiven for thinking that taking the long way round might be the palatable option in the face of such danger. Then again, we took the plunge in a big rig and (gulp) actually pulled off this nearimpossible feat, exemplifying how incredible these multiple paths can be. There’s so much experimentation to be had in Pacific Rift; the game never tells you what you can and can’t do. There are variable degrees of suitability depending on the vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be brave with your choices and savour the results.
Only Sugar Rush, a factory and sugar cane field-set track, really got our goat. In this race, every option for navigating the numerous indoor environments leads to some sort of frustration, regardless of which vehicle you pick. It’s not intolerable, and the luscious fields of sugar canes and astonishing weather effects do compensate for the irritation to some extent, but it does show that there are some drawbacks to Pacific Rift’s ambitious track design. Then again, so many of Evolution’s gambits pay off – from the gorgeous water effects of Cascade Falls to the air-heavy heights of The Edge, you’ll only find a maximum of four tracks that pale in comparison to the rest. Even that’s a bit of a push, given that all of them have at least one decent jump, or a nifty shortcut to exploit. Whether this ratio dampens your expectations or not, MotorStorm Pacific Rift remains one of the most dramatic racers of all time and, when the minor unbalance of some tracks isn’t pissing you off, it’s amongst the most entertaining.
Really, through the strength of the audiovisual presentation alone, it’s hard to see who Pacific Rift won’t appeal to. The roar of the rocket-like boost on the rally cars is stunning, even with a modest sound system, and the explosions are genuinely jumpy after you get a little overexcited with the Boost button. Play it in first person, on a huge TV with decent speakers and you’ll recognise how intense Pacific Rift really is.
With vehicle parts flailing across your path, the sun hanging low over the horizon and bikers crippling under the weight of larger vehicles, the game lives around you. There’s no tepid, polite racing going on in any part of the race. In a year where only the jazzthemed, polish-smelling Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has made an impression on the racing genre, it’s glorious to see Evolution going in the opposite direction with this mother of all dirt racers.
Pacific Rift just tramples over the competition, without exception. We were semi-impressed by Disney’s ATV racer Pure a little while back (Play #171, 80%), but the gap between it and MotorStorm Pacific Rift, in variety, technical prowess and sheer adrenaline is absolutely vast. As fun as it is to cross-examine Pacific Rift and pick out the rare moments where you’re not on the edge of your seat, open-mouthed with your eyes gawping widely at the TV, there’s no denying that it’s an unparalleled racing title. Pacific Rift just kicks the living shit out of every other driving game on the market, and unless you’re in dire need of a realistic entry in the genre, it’s hard to disagree with such fluid, accessible handling and elaborate production values.
We can easily describe how satisfying it is to crush the ATVs with the racing trucks, or even why it’s gratifying to nip through the pack with a motorcycle, but nothing compares to actually seeing MotorStorm Pacific Rift in motion. The blur effects, crashes and environments must be pushing the PS3 to its limits, but at the same time, the huge leap between Pacific Rift and MotorStorm shows that Evolution is always finding better ways to utilise the hardware. It may be tough to tell in screenshot form, but rest assured, this is likely to be the most attractive PS3 game of the year.
We’re amazed, actually, at the difference a few months has made to Pacific Rift. Back in Issue 168, when we featured an in-depth hands-on with the game, it was looking really good, but every incarnation of the game since then (E3, Leipzig and then the finished product) has taken a solid leap forward. Now, we’re left with a racing title that, like the first, but only more so, offers something enjoyable and refined to everyone.
Part of the criticism of the first MotorStorm was that it lacked content, in spite of its beautiful looks. In Pacific Rift, Evolution has skilfully answered that complaint with 16 (mostly) praiseworthy tracks, as well as enough time trials, modes and online options to swallow numerous hours of your lives. For the next inevitable sequel, we’re not even sure that Evolution will have a criticism to respond to. All right, so the vehicle collision could be a little less sensitive and the ATVs could pack more of a bite, but MotorStorm Pacific Rift is breathtaking, balanced and exhilarating as it is.