The single-player campaign is still pretty simple – complete events to rank up and unlock more vehicles and events being the order of the day – but it’s a longer lasting affair this time around. Still, I think the real, long-term draw remains multiplayer.
Online, Pacific Rift is hugely entertaining. With a packed grid of 12 racers and numerous opportunities for off-road carnage, it’s action-packed, unpredictable and the perfect antidote to some of the more sterile, technical driving simulations on the market, coming close to the testosterone-fuelled aggression of a good FPS. The good news is that the new split-screen mode carries this right into your living room. Up to four of you can play with eight or ten CPU drivers, and while there’s some loss of detail on the screen it’s not all that noticeable in the heat of mean-spirited, trash-talking competition.
All in all, then, we’re talking about a solid improvement on the original. Why, then, is the score not even higher? Well, a couple of things still hold Pacific Rift back from being the all-time racing great I’d hoped for. For a start, the graphics, while never in anyway bad, aren’t consistently spectacular. Within the space of one course – the mostly gorgeous, waterfall-heavy Colossus Canyon – you’ll see some incredible vistas but also some ropey ground textures and unconvincing vegetation. It’s a game where, when the lifelike vehicle animation, rich lighting and strong environments come together, the overall effect is awesome, but there are isolated points where the result is curiously mediocre.
It also has to be said that it doesn’t feel quite enough of a progression from MotorStorm. The fire and water elements add a little, but the two new styles of event – basically checkpoint racing and Burnout-style elimination – don’t really work that brilliantly and the new vehicle class – the monster truck – feels less than essential. If you enjoyed the basic Motorstorm experience you’ll enjoy this, but if you’re expecting some great new twist, you may go away feeling mildly – and only mildly – disappointed.
Still, I really don’t want to end this review on a negative note, because while Pacific Rift isn’t quite everything I might have hoped for, it’s still a great off-road racer and in many ways a stronger game long-term than Pure. It might not have that title’s exhilarating, stunt-pulling showboating, but for handling, AI competition, variety and – most of all, raw thrills, the new MotorStorm has the edge. Even if it’s lost its thunder, it’s still packing plenty of punch.
While not a vast step on from MotorStorm, Pacific Rift improves on it in all the most important ways. With more variety and better multiplayer modes than Pure, it’s a strong contender for the off-road racing crown.