MotorStorm: Actual fun on the PlayStation 3

I know I’ve given Sony and the PS3 a bit of a hard time, but that’s what happens when you release an unnecessarily expensive system (thanks, Blu-ray!) with games that are identical to or worse than the ones on a much cheaper system. And I’ve been skeptical of their hype about MotorStorm, but no more: It’s the best non-Mario Kart racing game and possibly the most fun I’ve had on any of the next-generation systems.

Motorstorm_20070122_009grpa After my frustration with the mysteries and complexities of F1: Championship Racing, it was nice to start a racing game and have the only options be: Race and Online. Sometimes I don’t want to tweak cars, sort through drivers I’ve never heard of, do practice runs or time trials, or drive around finding a new mission. I just want to race.

That’s all MotorStorm is: crazy dirt racing fun. Whether bopping through the mud in a springy ATV or lumbering along like a tricerotops on wheels in a big rig, each race is an exhilarating ride. Each of the eight vehicles has its own feel and handling, and the convincing physics — the most important and toughest part of a racing game to get right — keep an arcade-style romp grounded in reality.

The courses are vast Western vistas and buttes, desert cliffs and canyon ruts. I don’t think the game tops Gears of War’s visuals — graphics in racing games are hard to judge since everything is moving so fast — but the landscapes are family-slide-show worthy. It’s definitely the most realistic looking racer I’ve ever seen, and the first game so far to hint at the PS3′s power. Cresting a hill as sunbeams diffuse through the dirt powdered on screen is something to see.

A lack of a two-player mode is a bummer, as is a relatively small number of tracks and no way to pick a track at your leisure (though the variety of vehicles makes a course seem fresh the second time). Sony once again falls completely flat with its vaunted motion-sensing controls; driving by turning the controller is impossible (the game wisely defaults to button controls). And the default controls inexplicably make the R2 button the accelerate button — a fatal flaw if you’ve tried the PS3 controller –though you can change the control settings to make the X button accelerate.

It would be silly to call MotorStorm a “killer app,” as clearly silly Sony executives have done. Nobody should buy a $600 system just for this. But the game is a long-overdue hint at what the PS3 could and should be without all the Blu-ray distractions and management screwups.

– March 13, 2007

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