The 16 courses boast all the hallmarks of MotorStorm, offering difficult terrain, a range of different but intersecting routes, each suited to a particular class of vehicles, and plenty of points at which you can smash your car, truck or bike into smithereens or hurl it off a precipice. Part of the original’s fascination was that each track felt very different depending on which vehicle you were competing in, and the same holds true here.
Some tracks contain deep, muddy gullies that spell trouble for the motorbikes and buggies but no fears for the larger, heavy-duty trucks known as ‘mudpluggers’ or the monstrous ‘big rigs.’ Meanwhile, narrow trails and epic jumps are meat and drink for the motorbike, ATV or buggy, but treacherous for anyone else. As a result, there’s rarely the same sense of boredom with the same old tracks that began to affect Pure after a while, because each event gives you a different vehicle choice and so a different experience.
Pacific Rift and boredom aren’t easily found together, anyway, for the simple reason that the excellent track design and fearsome handling practically staple your eyeballs to the screen. Evolution’s designers have taken the new elements of the volcanic island setting and ran with them, creating some incredible concoctions of waterfalls, jagged ridges, smoking lava pits and muddy creeks. One course, a white-knuckle route through the corrugated iron remains of a sugar factory, seems to have been designed to ensure that a split-second lapse of concentration will end in immediate disaster.
Others seem designed like thrill rides, with brilliant downhill stretches or spectacular jumps. The handling models, meanwhile, remain the benchmark for off-road racing games. The physics are exaggerated and the suspension impossibly tough, but there’s something about the way wheels and surfaces interact in the MotorStorm games that rival off-road racers can’t seem to match. When you land badly from a jump or hit a bump at speed you know about it, and the new support for the Dual Shock 3 controller – if you have one – only improves the feel. Pacific Rift remains, like MotorStorm before it, an incredible edge of the seat racer.
I suspect that the difficulty curve of the original has been softened slightly; few events in the early stages required the sort of practice that some of their equivalents in the first game demanded. If they do, however, it’s certainly not at the expense of the AI. As before, these guys are – to borrow from the elite ITV curse-word replacement squad – melon-farmers and air-heads to a man. If you’re on a bike and they’re in a truck, they’ll do their best to crush you against the nearest wall or shove you over the edge of a cliff.
Big vehicles will do their best to crush you, and one of the best things about driving a big rig is the knowledge that, as the 40-pound Gorilla of the tournament, you’re now the ‘messer’ and not the ‘messie’ should there be any ‘messing with’ to do. Sometimes the aggressiveness of the AI can be irritating, as when you’re about to finish first in a particular race and someone comes up fast from behind and knocks your back out on the final jump. Most of the time, however, it makes for a thrilling competition. If you don’t stay on your toes all the way through lap two, you can be sure that someone will be stamping on them soon.