Motorstorm Apocalypse: “You’re gonna get some hop-ons”

, | Game diaries

I hope no one ran out and bought Motorstorm over the weekend because of all the nice things I said about the courses in my last entry. It’s actually become a bit of a chore to play at this point, but maybe I just need a break. So today I’m not going to tell you about how frustrating it gets to repeat the same race half a dozen times with no sense of what you’re doing wrong, how to improve, or any alternative if you want to make progress.

Instead, after the jump I’m going to talk about that guy clinging to the side of my car, and maybe Amped 3.

First up, our passenger. If you put vehicles and people together into any video game, the first thing most of us are going to do is try to combine them. Violently. For me, it goes back to memories of Carmageddon and the minor controversy surrounding the pedestrians. You could run over, dismember, and even electrocute them with your car. As the story goes (and wikipedia backs me up on this, so I think I’ve got it mostly right), in some European releases the pedestrians were actually changed to zombies — the all-purpose PG-13-ification of video games.

I don’t know the true extent of this controversy, but as a kid, the idea that a game was actually changed because of the violent content made an impression. From that point on, how your game handled the intersection of man and machine was always one of the first things I wanted to know. Most serious racers kept spectators safely behind indestructible guard rails, or off in distant stands. Racers set in open cities gave rise to the super-human inhabitants who would dodge, dive, and roll out of the way of anything you could steer in their direction.

There’s no bending over backward to avoid car-on-human contact in Motorstorm Apocalypse though. While there’s no blood or dismemberment, there’s certainly impact. You can clip someone and then actually zip through a couple turns with the same crazy guy stuck to your hood or dragging along under your front fender. It sounds gruesome, and I suspect it’s really just some funky collision detection that keeps your victims bouncing along with you for so long, but the tone of the game goes a long way toward easing your conscience. In fact, it’s the goofy way these pedestrians are portrayed that makes me want to believe that guy in my screenshot is intentionally hanging on to my spoiler, stair-car or not.

The story is that The City (that’s all it’s ever called) is being torn apart by natural disasters. Most people fled, but there are a bunch of crazy rioters left behind, and a trigger-happy paramilitary group apparently intent on killing as many people as they can before…before everyone gets killed anyway? I guess? So naturally your racing festival “Motorstorm”, travelling the world in an aircraft carrier they commandered, decide The City is the perfect place for their little vehicular soap opera to play out.

It’s a fine excuse for insane people to run in front of your car, and it’s so comical you’re more likely to laugh than cringe. But apart from its role as vehicular manslaughter justification, this whole silly setup is as big a surprise as anything else I’ve encountered in the game. I thought Motorstorm was supposed to be one of the PlayStation 3’s flagship franchises. I had the vague impression that it wasn’t quite living up to that expectation, but that still doesn’t explain Motorstorm Apocalypse. Do you remember Amped 3? No, I suppose it’s unlikely any of you played it. It was weird, but it was awesome.

Amped and Amped 2 were fairly well regarded snowboarding games for the original Xbox. It would be a stretch to call them simulations, but compared to the Tony Hawk aesthetic you couldn’t escape in the rest of the extreme sports world, they were notably serious and realistic. Amped 3, on the other hand, had puppets and demons and your friend “Wiener boy”. Go look up “Amped 3 cutscenes” on Youtube while I grab a drink.

Back? Did you see what I mean? Amped 3 was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you stuck with it, the crazy presentation actually started to work. It never felt smug, it felt like these guys really just had a great time being as nutty as possible in their little vignettes, and whether they were animated, stop-motion, or whatever, it was evident a lot of care went into their silliness. As a sharp change in direction for the franchise, I understand why it wasn’t really a success, but I always considered it a shame that more people didn’t give it a chance.

Motorstorm Apocalypse is the half-assed version of that. You’ve got a wacky cast of characters with silly interpersonal drama fueling their competition, but I think Evolution Studios let the interns handle it. There’s none of the creativity or skill that went into Amped 3. Instead we get a bunch of comic illustrations that look like Todd McFarlane rejects, cheaply and stiffly “animated”, terrible voice acting, and all in service of a story that leaves you with the uncomfortable feeling that someone, somewhere, honestly thought this was “cool”.

In the middle of the race, it almost works. Bouncing over the top of the interstate on-ramp, you come face to face with a firing squad of homeless guys with rocket launchers. You’ll crash through their ranks just as a salvo from an assault helicopter reduces your highway to rubble and drops the course back down to ground level. Sequences like that are pretty awesome when they come together — right up there with the tornados and collapsing skyscrapers I raved about — and you can’t pull that off without your tongue firmly lodged in your cheek. It’s just a shame these high points aren’t in a better game.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about the biggest disaster of all: releasing your game while the PlayStation Network is offline.
(Click here for the previous Motorstorm Apocalypse entry.)

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.