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Cleverly, the various drivers and riders have been coded to react to the vehicles around them, so riders will push against encroaching larger vehicles in a desperate bid to create some room, while larger trucks will mercilessly shunt smaller vehicles in an effort to force them off the track – particularly galling when that track is several thousand feet above the next adjacent horizontal surface.
The tracks, meanwhile, are wonderful examples of great game design at work. Other games throw in a selection of shortcuts and alternative routes, but in Motorstorm most tracks feature two or three constantly intertwining main routes on different surfaces and elevations. While the agile bikes and ATVs are hopping from ramp to rock to ramp, the rigs and mud pluggers might be churning it up in the gooey mud below. The game’s monument valley setting ensures a single look and feel – just steering clear of the risk of monotony – but the tracks manage to crowbar in variety through altitude, weather and ground conditions. Racing around the dizzying heights of the Rain God Mesa, clinging to the edge of a horrifyingly vertiginous curve then leaping over a fearsome gap is one thing; speeding through the tight formations and fierce outcroppings of The Tenderizer quite another. And as different events place you in particular vehicles, it’s rare to find the action repetitive even when you’re returning to the same track for the umpteenth time. Think the mesas, cliffs and gulches of Rockhopper are scary on a bike? Now try them while bouncing around on a highly-sprung ATV.
Unsurprisingly from the team behind the WRC Rally series, each vehicle drives very differently, and while the handling is more stylized than realistic, Motorstorm really makes you feel the complex interaction of tyre, surface and suspension at work. It does take getting used to, however, and it might be a few tries before you realise that, while steering, accelerating and breaking are important, the key to mastering Motorstorm is boost. Boost is always available, but as using it too much causes your vehicle to overheat and blow up, you’re discouraged from too regular use. Instead, boost is best reserved for short stints of acceleration, to shoot you around tight corners when your back is drifting out, or to keep you on the track when you’re about to skid off into disaster. Boost skill is to Motorstorm what the air-brake was to Wipeout.
With this lesson learnt, Motorstorm establishes a well-thought difficulty curve. The game is themed around a fictional Monument Valley festival, with the competition divided into 21 tickets, each comprising from one to four events. A few of these can be completed on the first try – you only have to get third place to qualify for the next – but most will take a little practice before you hit the zone and everything clicks. Yes, there is some evidence of rubber-banding, and while the game’s tendency to pack racers together and set opponent AI to nuttily aggressive ensures the action stays frenetic, it also means that a single mistake can see your racer drift from pole position to last position in seconds. On the other hand, clawing your way back up can be a surprisingly speedy process if you take the right routes and think on your feet, so the pros and cons balance themselves out.