Sorry Dark Souls, I didn’t mean to leave you. It just sort of happened. I’ll be back soon, I promise.
After the original MotorStorm and before the franchise kind of jumped the shark with MotorStorm: Apocalypse – and to a certain extent, the more recent MotorStorm: RC – there was MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, an often overlooked adrenalin pumping hedonistic gas guzzling drunk of an arcade racer. Along with Dead Space and LittleBigPlanet, it pushed me into getting a PS3 and remains one of my favourite racing games beside F-Zero GX and Mario Kart DS.
Now, I don’t usually return to games once I’ve finished with them but after watching Empire of the Sun the other week, a film I haven’t seen in a long long time (the only thing I could remember about it was Christian Bale’s legs, seriously, I wish I’d had those things when I was that age), I decided to have a quick thrash on MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, for old time’s sake.
Oh my. Hello again Pacific Rift.
I’ve never been one for po-faced realistic racers; I’ve always preferred the ones that are a little larger than life (or in Micro Machines’ case, smaller than life), the ones with a bit of personality and spark about them. The Fury on the ZX Spectrum; Rock and Roll Racing, Uniracers (or Unirally in Europe), Super Mario Kart and Street Racer on the SNES; Super Cars and Super Off Road on the Amiga; Road Rash on the Mega Drive (why have we not seen this again?); Wipeout 2097 and Ridge Racer Type 4 on the Playstation; even Wacky Races on the Dreamcast. But the one game I look back on most fondly and attribute to my childish squeak when I first played MotorStorm: Pacific Rift back in 2008 is Stunt Car Racer (also on the Amiga). Take a look:
Stunt Car Racer was a game that terrified you the faster you went because, as you can see in the video, there isn’t a single thing keeping you on the track. The problem was, you wanted to go fast; it felt fast, faster than anything else I’d ever played. Formula 1 Grand Prix (another Geoff Crammond Amiga game) couldn’t hold a candle to it. Every bump was a potential springboard to send you flying off the track but that’s what made it special. You see, Stunt Car Racer was the first racing game I played that featured convincing physics and real three dimensionality, it wasn’t like Outrun or Super Hang On where, for all intents and purposes, you were moving left and right (and in some cases up and down) along a flat plane, your car pitched and rolled and bounced around with the track. It also smashed and broke.
Playing MotorStorm: Pacific Rift brought all these memories and feelings back with its chaotic blend of nitrous fuelled high speeds, soaring jumps and vehicle jostling (and crumpling) physics. Pacific Rift saw the MotorStorm festival spread its wings, moving away from the dusty sunbaked vistas of Monument Valley to a much more varied and ecologically volatile tropical island somewhere out in the Pacific. On offer were 16 huge tracks (plus 8 volcanic variants and 6 new ones with the Adrenaline DLC pack), each layered with different routes for the game’s 8 classes of vehicle and each one part of four separate elemental zones: fire, air, earth and water.
Each zone had certain characteristics that changed the dynamics of the race, so for instance, fire zone tracks led you through scorched molten lava fields causing your vehicle to overheat faster, increasing the likelihood of it exploding from over-boosting. Conversely, water zone tracks took place in and around rivers, along beaches and amidst waterfalls, cooling your engine down and allowing you to really put the pedal to the metal (provided your vehicle was capable of moving through water freely enough). Air and earth zones dumped you atop ridges with sheer drops, into dense jungles and boggy swamps and on to slippery mudslides; the island was as much a spectacle as it was a thrill seeker’s death trap. A really nice touch was that each track was also playable at four different times of day, this affected the weather, lighting and colour palette of each area and while entirely cosmetic, it did a great job of dramatically changing the mood of certain races and further reinforcing the volatility of the island.
After spending the last few months playing DiRT 2 on and off, a game which runs at 1360 x 768 maxed out at 60fps, I expected Pacific Rift to have lost some of its lustre since I last played it, but on the contrary; even at its muddy 720p resolution and lowly 30fps it’s still got that wow factor I remember. The reason for this is that MotorStorm: Pacific Rift doesn’t do anything by half, it’s a game of extremes: extreme speeds, extreme jumps, extreme crashes, extreme vehicles, extreme environments– quite frankly, it’s ridiculous. But that’s exactly why I love it and exactly why it’s awesome (in the real sense); there’s no other game out there that pits motorbikes and ATVs and buggies and rally cars and racing trucks and mudpluggers and big rigs and monster trucks against each other, at the same time, in some of the deadliest natural environments on the planet, and does it this well.
If the blend (read: trainwreck) of vehicles and the befuddling breadth of each track made racing tricky then the super aggressive AI — which would sooner take you (and itself) out than, y’now, actually preserve itself to win the race — didn’t help. I loved this because it made every overtake a very real risk. One of my favourite events in the festival, and arguably one of the hardest, is when you’re forced to race a motorbike against a grid of monster trucks in an ‘Eliminator’ round where the vehicle in last place gets destroyed every ten seconds until only one is left. The perpetual sense of vulnerability and the scale of these colossal vehicles surrounding your nimble but brittle bike makes the whole race a frenetic rush from uneasy start to engine-blowing finish.
If all this sounds a bit RAWK to you then that’s because, really, it is. It’s rock, it’s metal, it’s gasoline, it’s fire, it’s sore thumbs and blistered senses, which is funny because following my experience of Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP I looked into Less Talk More Rock, a sort of tentative philsophical game design manifesto by Superbrothers which essentially boils down to: ‘Get on with it’. They cite games like Rez, Ico, Another World, flOwer, Everday Shooter, Metroid Prime and Demon’s Souls as games which got on with ‘rocking’ instead of getting bogged down in ‘talking’ fluff. Interestingly, amongst these games is MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. Now from my experience, most racing games allow you to ‘rock on’ or get on with it straight away — the exception being DiRT which spends most of its time jabbering away, dudebro-ing it up and trying to be my best buddy — but unlike most racing games, with Pacific Rift there’s this rare sense that every part of it is in line with the spirit of the game and the crackling spark of an idea that inspired it; nothing jars or detracts from that; everything is geared towards the extreme; that’s why Pacific Rift is on the list. Even the soundtrack, which features music I wouldn’t typically listen to, fits so perfectly that not only do I keep it turned on, but I crank it right up.
Pacific Rift is also rare in that it offers online play for up to 12 players as well as — swallow your tea — 4 player split-screen. Given the sheer volume of things on screen at any one time it’s a wonder it even runs.
4 player split-screen though. Remember that? Remember when friends had to actually leave the house to play with you? Hmm, I think a long overdue games night is in order… and I know just the game.
Second only to WipEout HD’s own (damn that infernal E), Pacific Rift’s screenshot utility is a fantastic feature allowing people like me to spend nearly as much time pissing about with the framing of a shot as they do actually racing. While not offering things like depth of field, motion blurring and colour saturation like WipEout HD, there’s more flexibility here with regards to camera positioning and, with all the different tracks, vehicles and effects, much more variety to shoot. Here’s a selection of some of my favourite shots taken over the course of the last three or four years.