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.
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.
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.
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.