Friday, April 23, 2010

Got Mud?

Before I shift my attention to MotorStorm: Pacific Rift here on the blog, I thought I would take some time to reflect on my experience with the original game. As my post about the game’s introduction sequence alluded to, I thoroughly enjoyed MotorStorm and became quite addicted to its arcade racing thrills. Sure, the dirty and muddy terrain that featured so prominently in the game’s tracks became repetitive after a while, and there were probably too many events to beat in order to reach completion, but overall the core experience was enjoyable, addictive and exciting: a good formula that -- believe it or not coming from a fan of the genre -- isn’t found enough in racing games.

A cross between DiRT and Burnout, MotorStorm appears to be a lot like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: an amalgamation of genres that somehow seems to meld together quite effectively, but ultimately leaves the final product with a feeling that something is missing, that it lacks a soul and doesn’t have its own identity.* This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and what is there is a pleasure to play, but it definitely feels like more could have been done with it. More modes, a better variety of tracks, and vehicles that didn’t feel so similar to each other are just some of the things I would have liked to see, while racing on this kind of terrain -- the dust bellowing out from below a vehicle’s tyres, mud impeding the progress of lightweight vehicles while bigger ones storm on through, and tyre tracks that affect handling -- isn’t new and has been done, arguably better, before. The strong emphasis on the spectacle of crashing -- replaying it in slow motion to demonstrate the destruction and brutality of your collisions -- is overplayed and nowhere near as interesting or exciting as the crashes found in Burnout. With more time in development I’m sure the game could have been excellent, but as a launch title the restrictions such a status imposes on it means that it’s a good game when it could have been so much more. Naturally, leaving the game with such an impression can only lead to disappointment.

Continuing the comparisons to other franchises, an intriguing observation I had during my time with MotorStorm was how it was scratching the itches that Ridge Racer is usually reserved for: the desire for a relaxing racing game where it’s easy enough to just pick up and play, allowing me to zone out, yet challenging enough that my skills can be tested.

A few years ago I gradually made my way through Ridge Racer 6. Anyone who has played that game would know that it is absolutely huge, with a multitude of events to go through in the main career and challenges such as no crash victories and no nitrous victories. This all occurs over a limited selection of tracks that, like Mario Kart, are reversed to extend the length of the game and to add a little bit more variety. When referenced like that, it’s easy to assume that the game would get repetitive after a while and as a result, boring, with the idea of reaching full completion sounding like a chore. This is probably true for a lot of people but for me, not so. Despite playing the same tracks over and over again, using the same cars in each class and hearing the same tunes in the background, Ridge Racer 6 never got boring. I spent well over 150 hours in the game -- more if you include the races I had to do in multiplayer for even more completion -- and not once did I loathe my time with it. Admittedly, working on completion was a gradual process mixed in with other games, but despite that I can sincerely say that I loved every minute I spent with Ridge Racer 6, and the same applies to any other installment I’ve played. There’s just something about it that keeps me coming back for more, perhaps in the same way that people always return to the likes of Peggle or Geometry Wars: it might be hard to articulate why we do, but is that really necessary when we’re having so much fun?

MotorStorm is exactly like this for me. On paper it sounds repetitive and tedious as a result but my time with the game is the complete opposite: there was never a moment where I was bored with the game and I thoroughly enjoyed working my way to completion. It may have been on the same few tracks with the same cars in the same classes, with the same music playing in the background and indeed the same inconsistent AI, but were it any different things just wouldn’t be the same, and I wouldn’t have kept on playing. There’s something strangely compelling about MotorStorm’s core gameplay that, while nothing significant when compared to other racing franchises, is still worth the time and effort for me. And that’s what I will take away most from the game: that my time playing was justified and the effort rewarding. If that’s not the sign of a successful game, I’m not sure what else is.

*For the record, Uncharted did eventually go on to find its own identity. As for MotorStorm, well I’ll answer that in a future post.

No comments: