Platform: PlayStation 3
I'll just get it out there straight away: I love, love, love Motorstorm. I've played better racers in the last few years - PGR4 and Race Driver: GRID for starters - but I can't think of another recent game in the genre that has made such a big and lasting impression. Motorstorm took the graphics and physics processing power of the current console generation and harnessed them to build a new kind of off-road racer; one in which nothing was predictable and you spent less time thinking about winning than you did about just surviving. Throw in several different vehicle classes on the same track and courses that provided multiple routes for those different classes and you had the perfect recipe for mud-slinging, metal-wrecking mayhem. The worst things that you could say about Evolution Studios' PS3 launch game was that it didn't feel quite finished on release (hence the huge amount of DLC that followed) and that the concentration on one locale - Monument Valley - meant that it didn't quite have the variety of, say, Colin McRae: DIRT or Sega Rally.
It appears that Evolution Studios is addressing both concerns with the sequel, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. Not only do we get sixteen tracks built into the retail version, but the Motorstorm festival has now moved to a remote Pacific island. We get jungle, swamps, waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers. We get sandy beaches, mountain peaks, remote villages and smoking volcanoes. The effect is to vary the vertiginous trails and muddy gulches that the original Motorstorm was famous for with more claustrophobic, colourful or hard to navigate environments. Here, the designers claim, the island is as much your opponent as your racing rivals.
From the two-track demo Sony was kind enough to send me, that definitely seems to be the case. Cascade Falls takes you through a lush jungle environment complete with rivers and spectacular waterfalls. Water is designed be as big a feature here as mud was in the first game. Rivers have current and drag, meaning they can slow down smaller vehicles or even carry them along. On the plus side, all that cool water can be used to cool an overheating engine. Motorstorm aficionados will remember that using boost was the key to success in the first game, but when used to excess it could result in your vehicle exploding. Taking your racing truck or buggy for a quick swim can help stave that off if you're pushing your engine to its critical mass.
The jungle vegetation also has an effect on how you play. Bikes, of course, can slip through narrow spaces, but don't afford any protection when you collide with a tree or shrub. The racing truck or all-new monster truck, however, can smash through anything smaller than a tree with impunity. The latter vehicle may seem a curious new addition to begin with, seeming little more than a larger and more sluggish to accelerate and corner variation on the racing truck. With practice, however, it becomes clear that the monster truck's size and rugged handling gives it a distinct advantage when pushing over undulating terrain or through rivers. It might take a lot to get one moving, but it also takes an awful lot to stop it.