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To borrow from Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a new console in possession of ground-breaking hardware must be in want of a killer game to show it off. This game doesn’t need to be perfect, nor does it need to be revolutionary (though in some cases both are true). It simply has to show the potential of the new machine, and make anyone who sees it or plays it want to buy one. The original Playstation had Ridge Racer, the Nintendo 64 had Mario. The Xbox had Halo, the 360, Call of Duty 2 and Project Gotham 3, and the Wii had Wii Sports (and to a lesser extent, Zelda). The Playstation 3 has several contenders, but only one with the impact and appeal to do the job. Unless you’re a) blind or b) completely and utterly adverse to racing games of any form, Motorstorm will make you want a PS3.
It’s not hard to see why it makes such a big first impression. Look at the screenshots accompanying this review, then imagine them moving at 30/60 frames per second at 720p, with nary a hint of slowdown (well, almost. A few of the grabs look a little like manipulated publicity shots to my trained eye). I’ll try to restrain myself from waxing lyrical about Motorstorm’s good looks, except to say that its combination of Havok’s physics engine, some ludicrously detailed vehicle models and every next-generation lighting, blur and haze effect is utterly breathtaking. Frankly, you need to be watching someone else play or enjoying a replay to appreciate it in all its glory; to revel in the way the setting sun glints off your ATV as you come over a ridge; to see the suspension work beneath the chassis of a fat-wheeled ‘mud-plugger’; to note the way your driver pumps his arm in victory as he crosses the finish line first. So what if the reality of Motorstorm comes several hair's breadth away from the Sony’s controversial pre-rendered, 'vision'? It’s staggering stuff nonetheless.
Borrowing Burnout’s slow-mo crash camera certainly helps. There’s nothing like the realisation that the disastrous collision of your ATV with rough ground has actually thrown your rider into the arms of the bike-rider behind, who struggles with the extra weight and loses balance, crashing into an outcropping only fractions of a second later. If that sort of detail doesn’t make your jaw drop, nothing will.
Perhaps what impresses most is that Evolution’s engine manages all this when there is a hell of a lot going on on-screen at any one time. Most racing games only feature one type of vehicle, and even multi-vehicle games like TOCA3 ensure that there’s only one type on track at one time. Many racing games can only manage a handful of racers at a time. Motorstorm’s first stroke of genius is to take ten or more vehicles of various types, throw the whole lot on at once and see what happens. Races pitch dirt-bikes against ATVs against monster trucks against lightweight buggies against monstrous big rigs against rally cars. Some events restrict the competition to a single vehicle class, but most just bung a selection on, seemingly willy-nilly (though usually with an aim to test a particular set of driving skills). The result is a wonderful kind of carnage. Each and every race is a real second-by-second adventure. While you might relish the speed and maneuverability of your two-wheeled racer, it doesn’t half leave you feeling vulnerable when a vast eight-wheeler is roaring up behind you, and while the monster truck feels more secure, you can't help envying the two-wheelers scrambling onto higher ground and speeding into the distance.