5 reasons why MotorStorm is the greatest launch racer ever

Back in March 23rd 2007 the PlayStation 3 launched in Europe and MotorStorm, the off-road race riot, launched alongside it. At first I felt cheated by the lack of modes, the slow vehicle select screen and that cheap reversal of fortunate when you hit a rock just before the finish line. I’ve played Ridge Racer (PSP) and PGR3 (Xbox 360) and they’re both incredible (Ridge Racer in particular). But somehow MotorStorm got under my bonnet and no other launch racer has tweaked my engine in quite the same way. So, let me explain what makes MotorStorm so undeniably satisfying.

1. Concept
The very idea of greasing my ride and going on a long summer excursion to Monument Valley, with only my wits and wheelman skills to keep me alive, a la Gumball 3000, is enormously compelling. Obviously there are no life management sections in the game, but I’d like to think my tracksuit-clad racer was milling about somewhere, during the festival clips on the menu screen. Seven different classes of vehicle (rally cars, big rigs, bikes, ATVs, racing trucks, buggies and mudpluggers) brought together, to rip it up on eight dusty sundrenched tracks, reaching the finish line however they can. It’s chaos in the making.

2. Control and physics
MotorStorm’s control is tough to get your head round at first, but it’s all a matter of managing you boost and pulling the handbrake at just the right moment to angle your vehicle on the racing line around the twisty mountain roads. By the time you complete all 21 of the game’s festival tickets you definitely be an expert. The other important consideration to remember while racing is the game’s physics. Take a corner too sharply and your vehicle could total itself. More importantly, however, you eventually learn to use the game’s physics to your advantage – guiding you into turns and helping you force rival racers into cliff sides.

3. Soundtrack
The soundtrack in MotorStorm – bar Burnout Revenge – is probably my favourite racing soundtrack to date. It may have less music tracks than the sequel – 90% of MotorStorm Pacific Rift’s 44 songs are all rubbish anyway – but almost every one of them is a winner. From rock, to heavy metal, to death metal and punk, it’s a thumping arrangement of artists, like Primal Scream, Nirvana and Pendulum that truly make the living room disappear when you’re racing. Breaking free of the scrum of AI vehicles, there’s nothing better than rumbling across the Grizzly, Kings of Leon blaring out of your speakers, as you set the pace for those behind.

4. Online
Another thing that’s great about MotorStorm is its simplicity and the modes on offer at launch weren’t what I would have called “next gen”. You had ‘Play’, ‘Online’ and er… that’s it. But it is Evolution Studios’ complete refusal to do anything beyond the standard single-player mode and online feature that gives MotorStorm its charm. It says “Hey, go play the main festival and then go mix it up online – if you can handle the brutality”. And it is brutal online. Unsporting players like to drive the wrong way and ambush other racers in big rigs. Meanwhile, quick and nimble wheelmen, *cough* such as myself, will have committed every track in the game (that’s eight) to memory. Adapting to human racers’ tactics and vehicle choices online is what really makes the game sing once you’re in. Races become a mad dash for the finish line with biker’s fists flashing, just before they’re run over by big rigs, followed by rally cars and buggies jumping over head.

5. Road rage
When you play MotorStorm, no matter how good a racer you are, failure will eventually start to rear its ugly, grease covered-face once in a while. You’ll be crushed on motorbikes, rammed in rally cars and teased in big rigs. However, ever since Burnout 3: Takedown racing games have slowly begun to shed the “nicely-nicely” approach in favour of a more aggressive mantra. It’s here that the unpredictability of MotorStorm’s ‘brutal off-road racing’ hits home. Unlike Burnout, which is more straightforward by comparison, MotorStorm encourages different tactics be employed to deal with the different classes. It feels rewarding every time you takedown a rival racer, AI or human, because you know that had you nudged them the wrong way you may have totalled yourself in the process. It’s risky. And that’s how the best adrenaline racers make you feel every second. When a big rig is on a rampage and you’re only seconds in front, on a motorbike, what else is there to do but grip the handlebars and hope you can outperform your attacker? That’s why MotorStorm is the greatest launch racer ever.

Batman Arcade Forever!

There’ve been a lot of bad Batman games over the years. Batmen Vengeance, Batman Begins, Batman & Robin – but there’s one Batman game that stands tall, and holds its mediocre reputation proudly. There’s a game that silently tugs at my feet in the middle of the night, willing me to just try one more stage. There’s a game that’s brutal in its arcade mechanics, yet addicted me all most to no end. There’s one game that doesn’t only throw in co-op just because the license practically says it should, it’s actually good.

That game is Batman Forever: The Arcade Game.

OK, OK. Let’s just backup here for a sec. I know Batman Forever (PS) is hardly going to win any awards for its repetitive side-scrolling fighter thrills, but if there’s one guilty pleasure I just can’t deny it’s this one.

Back in 1998 my brother and I didn’t have many PS1 games, so we aimed to get the most out of the few we had. As soon as we popped in the disc, we went straight for the two-player co-op option and began our mission to clean up the streets of Gotham. Jumping out of the dorsal fin-shaped Batmobile – or rather forcibly ejected against our will – we headed into the backalleys, a horde of goons immediately shuffling forward to greet us.

What really is the heart of this game is the aggressive/scavenger-like gameplay. What I mean by this is one minute you be surrounded by bad guys, you and your buddy will take them down and then you’ll be rushing to collect the energy power-ups they drop. The more energy you have the stronger your attacks and combos will be, the stronger your combos the more enemies you see blink into oblivion (and the more the screen will ritualistically flash – as if counter attacking an epileptic with strobe lighting). And with two-players it doubly addictive.

Many ‘game over’ screens and repetitive audio clips later and we eventually made it to the penultimate level, and of the most infuriating arcade bosses I’ve ever fought, the monarch bat. Explosive batarangs, grappling hooks, tasers – no matter what we tried we just couldn’t seem to beat this boss. Inevitably, our credits soon ran out and it was ‘game over’ yet again. Now normally at this point I would take out the disc and feel cheated for buying such a frustrating and repetitive game. Yet despite all of it numerous faults, dodgy collision detection, half-baked walking animations and bosses which required equally as much luck as skill, we continued to play it.

You see, after you’ve played Batman Forever for a long as we did back then you begin to see the puppet strings and clockwork that makes it tick. With the right combination of moves and equipment we soon found that you could have all sorts of fun inflicting pain on these CPU drones. It’s actually possible to pull off x99 combos or more by furiously repeating the same combo move while in power-up mode. Once we realised this we returned to the crimebusting scene, with a vengeance. Memorising most enemy encounters and with improved combo knowledge we fought our way all the way to the Riddler’s throne room. Success was finally within our grasp. Unfortunately, the monarch bat had cost us most of our saved credits so when one of us when down fighting Two-Face we defeat was only a health bar away.

We did manage it that time. And we still haven’t beaten it. But Batman Forever remains one of my all-time favourite two-player games, for its gameplay rewards button mashing mayhem.

A boat without an engine

Is it just me, or have half the game journalists in the business decided to quit their jobs at the big publications in favour of smaller, more self-controlled outfits?

Today I was surprised to hear the news that Edge-Online’s entire editorial team have packed their bags and left the building. Long-time online editor, Colin Campbell, broken the news on his brand new games blog, which he hopes will ‘be part of the [games industry] conversation’. Apparently, a publisher at Future UK wished to revert control of Edge-Online to the magazine’s UK offices. And it’s not just them either. N’Gai Croal, industry writer for Newsweek, and best known for his Level Up blog and appearances on GTTV’s Bonus Round, announced his departure from the profession of video game journalism (although, to pursue a career as a consultant).

Last year also saw the exodus of Dan Hsu, editor of Ziff Davies’ now retired print supplement on all things console gaming, EGM, and many other 1UP Network employees, including the Games for Windows magazine team. The launch of Giant Bomb also saw former GameSpot staff, Jeff Gerstmann, Brad Shoemaker, Ryan Davies and Vinny Caravella, struck out independently in direct competition against their former corporate media giant. There were also many other journalists, not as well known as some of these faces but just as good at what they do, who either left or moved to smaller publishers to work on new and original projects.

The strange thing is you have a dream that you might one day work at one of your dream companies, but unfortunately it seems that the reality of it is often vastly different. I think the question I have to ask myself now is: do I really want to be a new cog powering an old engine, of archaic editorial ideas and egocentric business decisions, or do I want to be part of a whole new engine?

When I seriously started thinking about becoming a game journalist I remember flicking through some of my magazines and imagining what it must be like to work on one of Future Publishing’s editorial teams for Official PlayStation 2 Magazine, Edge or GamesMaster – getting to jet all over the world for conferences, product reveals and playtests, writing lengthy and informative features, and, whenever you have a minute to spare, generally goofing around with your co-staff. A hardworking, collaborative and respectful environment.

It’s both alarming and humbling at the same time to see so many respected writers and journalists, the bread and butter for all of these publishers and media syndicates, jumping ship to escape maniacal captains and moneymen. It is pleasing to see that the proliferation of blogs has enabled many of these writers to retain some form of dialogue with their audiences. If I eventually claw my way into the doors of Future, some years from now, the state of the video games industry is sure to be vast different and as such so will the coverage. I hope I will be ready to adapt to such changes as today’s print-to-online writers are.