Platform: PlayStation 3
Call the cops, MotorStorm. Someone has stolen your thunder!
That someone is Black Rock Studios, whose quad-bike stunt-racing game, Pure, turned out to be one of the biggest and best surprises of the year. When the original MotorStorm emerged in Spring 2007, it felt unlike any other off-road racer you'd ever played, but after months of playing the original and coming so soon after Pure, Pacific Rift no longer seems so new or different or exciting. While the two games are hardly identical in terms of gameplay, there was a little of MotorStorm in Pure's rocky tracks, vast jumps and gritty handling, and visually Black Rock's game matches and even surpasses Pacific Rift in a few key areas. It's possible to argue that Pure has made the MotorStorm sequel irrelevant.
Possible, but neither fair nor true. Pacific Rift is everything a sequel should be, in that it takes an already great game, builds on its strengths and smooths out its weaknesses. Think of any major criticism of MotorStorm, and the new game does its best to fix it. Not enough variety in the Monument Valley tracks? A Pacific island setting with courses based around the four elements of fire, air, earth and water puts an end to that. Not enough content? Pacific Rift's 16 tracks give you double what you had in the original game and more if you downloaded the additional four tracks supplied as download content later. No split-screen multiplayer? Pacific Rift supports two and four-player action on a single console.
The shift of setting and the four-way division of events in the MotorStorm festival has allowed for some new track styles and a handful of new game mechanics to be reckoned with. As in MotorStorm, each event includes 16 vehicles, ranging from motorbikes to racing trucks to what we in good old Blighty would call lorries. Also as in MotorStorm, the key to getting anywhere is boost. At any time after an initial countdown you can press the X button to trigger a boost, but as you boost your engine builds up temperature. Build up too much, and it explodes. This means you need to use boost tactically, not just to catch up with the leaders or outpace the pack, but to manage certain jumps or provide extra thrust when taking the sharper corners.
The two biggest changes in Pacific Rift are the introduction of lava and water to the tracks, mostly because of their effects on how you boost. Water cools down your engine, effectively freezing the temperature and enabling you to boost for free. However, get deeper in the water than your current vehicle can handle and you'll fall out of the race, while lighter vehicles can also be pushed along by the game's faster currents. Lava, meanwhile, speeds up the heat built-up in your engine and prevents it cooling down as rapidly, encouraging you to be careful with your boost and make full use of the sprinklers that the festival organizers have helpfully dotted around the tracks.