Motorstorm Apocalypse: tunnel vision

, | Game diaries

I’m new to the Motorstorm franchise. In fact, I’m still new to playing games on the PlayStation 3. I won’t waste time with any commentary on the console wars, but my first hour of Motorstorm Apocalypse was actually an hour of turning my house inside-out, trying to remember what the cable to charge a PlayStation controller looks like, and what junk drawer I stuck it in. So as I’m jumping into a new franchise on a still-feels-new-to-me console, I’m trying not to let my expectations color my experience too much. That isn’t working.

After the break, what I expect is exactly the kind of racing game this isn’t

I don’t know what “arcade” means to you, but if you told me Motorstorm was an arcade racer, I still wouldn’t have gotten the picture. I would start imagining the way the cars handled, how the driving model works — exaggerated sense of speed, an emphasis on thrills over realism, power-sliding and drifting mysteriously working against physics and to your advantage, maybe a turbo button, that sort of thing. That’s all true of Motorstorm, but I’d also imagine all this break-neck driving being wrapped up in the context of buying some cars, upgrading them over time, some light tuning — or some complicated tuning that I would ignore but tell myself I appreciate — and generally feeling like I’m contributing to my advancement on the track with the decisions I’m making off the track. I’m used to putting together a championship season, amassing a fantasy car collection, or maybe just ruling an underground street racing empire. The foundation of all those accomplishments is getting from point A to point B as fast as you can, and we all know you want a straight line for that, but I’ve grown accustomed to the distractions, options, and goals branching out along the way. It’s been so long since I’ve played a racing game that didn’t have that, I almost forgot they exist. I developed tunnel vision when it comes to what I expect in a racer.

You’ve guessed where this is going: Motorstorm has none of those activities. Motorstorm is “arcade” like Cruisin’ USA or Pole Position were arcade. You put your quarter in (or charge your controller), and then you start the first race. If you qualify, you go the second race. If you don’t, you try again. The Festival — that’s the career mode of Motorstorm, more on that later this week — is just three campaigns of linear races. You can go back to improve your performance in a given race, but with almost nothing to unlock, there’s almost nothing to encourage anything above qualifying. There are a few different types of races, but they’re all just slight variations on how you’re eliminated. Strategy is never anything fancier than getting into first place. If you’re feeling charitable, I suppose uninteresting variations are the silver lining of not having any choice. Stuck on an Elimination race and want to work on a Chase? Well then I hope you feel like replaying one you already completed, because there’s no bouncing around from objective to objective.

You don’t even get to chose your vehicle. Motorstorm has everything from sport bikes to dune buggies to monster trucks, and you’ll dutifully drive whichever class they’ve given you for your current race. And just like the race types, any disappointment about not having a choice is eventually dulled by the blandness of the choices. Rated in vague terms of overall speed, handling, and toughness, you’ll certainly notice a difference between a monster truck and a motorcycle, but it’s not an exciting difference. There’s no real sense of weight to the bikes, and no feeling of invincibility up above the world in your monster truck. There’s no personality.

So Motorstorm Apocalypse has some serious tunnel vision of its own. What’s left to talk about? Well, you are still driving through a city shaking itself apart. Sometimes skyscrapers fall on you, the military will occasionally open fire indiscriminately on inhabitants and racers alike, and suspension bridges will frequently, uh, un-suspend themselves. Is that going to be enough to win me over? I don’t know yet, but come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about the world between point A and point B.

Wholly Schmidt wrestles PDFs into submission as the print industry collapses around him by day, and moves furniture to play Rock Band by night. He can’t tell you his real name, because he has almost all of his friends fooled into thinking he’s a grown-up.