Review: Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (Sony PSP)
by Aaron Sirois on October 15, 2009

mscoverMotorstorm: Arctic Edge
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Bigbig Studios
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 09/30/2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m really not that into racing games.

However, I’m not adverse to playing them. In fact, I was really looking forward to Motorstorm for the PSP. Bigbig Studios is the developer that brought us the fun Pursuit Force series. They’ve proven to me they know what it takes to make a great game for Sony’s handheld. It was in no way a surprise that Sony gave them the task of bringing over one of its flagship PS3 titles to the PSP.

And I’ve got to say, these boys still know how to push the system to its limits.

Modes

To start things off, Festival is the game’s main mode. You’ll compete in about a hundred challenges with the overall goal being to increase your rank and unlock new events, vehicles, awards, and items to customize your vehicles. It’s not all straight up racing though. You’ll also have Time Ticker races where there are only four vehicles and points are allotted each second based on your position. The first person to get a set amount of points wins. Also, there are speed races where you need to drive through flags in order to get time boosts. If the clock runs out, it’s game over. Also, many of the races have restrictions as to what types of vehicles you can use and have predetermined racers for you to go against. One of my “favorites” was having to race against nothing but big rigs when I was stuck using an ATV. There’s also a good deal of races that give you a bonus objective, such as maintain first place for a set amount of time. Completing these will unlock bonus events. All in all it’s a well put together mode that will run you through each vehicle class and course multiple times as well as give you an ever increasing challenge.

Outside of that, all other modes can be found in Wreckreation. These include Time Attack, Standard, Time Ticker, and of course multiplayer.

Time Attack is a bit different this time around. Instead of just racing for the best time, you’re actually trying to get the best lap time. You can play against ghosts in order to compare yourself. There are plenty of ghosts from the developers on the UMD, but you can also upload your ghost online as well as download other’s ghosts without any difficulty. Online leader boards are of course included, although the time I saw of three seconds was probably just someone who found a way to cheat the system.

ms1The multiplayer options are pretty good. There’s a community feature to help find and add friends. You can create or join a game on any track with or without restrictions. My only complaint is that every time I wanted to play a game, I had to create it myself. Everyone else seemed too lazy to do it themselves. Once created, I had no problem filling spots in a matter of seconds. You can have a maximum of six players at once, and it all runs pretty smoothly. This is probably the best run online mode I’ve seen on any PSP game. For those without wireless, Ad-Hoc mode is also available.

A few extra modes such as a demolition derby or survival race would have gone a long way, but what’s here is a pretty complete package. The Festival is a well put together mode, and the others are fun enough to keep you playing. It isn’t the best racing setup on the system, but it does the job.

Graphics

Just a few moments into this game and you can tell Bigbig knows how to get a lot out of the PSP. The graphics in this are just gorgeous. The tracks are meticulously crafted and extremely detailed. While racing, I could see flags, hot air balloons, and even planes moving seamlessly in the background. When you drive through mud or deep snow with a heavy machine, you’ll see tracks left when you come back around. Snow will fly at the screen and melt as if it were a windshield. My favorite effect of all comes when wheeled vehicles drive through snow. The snow will slowly build up on the tires until they are lost in white. If you leave the powder and get on some solid ground, the snow will melt over time. This is the kind of detail you normally don’t find on a handheld system.

Being that this game takes place entirely in Alaska, you’re not going to see the type of locales you saw in the previous Motorstorm games. Instead, you get a lot of glaciers, snow covered mountains, caverns, and even a mud drenched logging town. With so much focus on just a few colors, it had a good chance of looking bland, but thanks to all of the details, weather, and even the lighting, the tracks have some of the best backgrounds since God of War: Chains of Olympus. There are also plenty of things strewn about the course to give it more life. There are half-pipes with large lettering, road signs telling you where to avoid, piles up lumber in the middle of the course, not to mention pools of deep mud, running water, and even some avalanches. All of it looks great.

The only thing that isn’t top notch are some of the vehicle models. From the driver’s seat, a few of the larger vehicles such as big rigs and snow pluggers look a bit blocky. Its not enough to take you out of the breath taking backdrops, but it’s a mar on an otherwise beautiful game.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, this is one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the PSP.

Audio

The first thing you’ll notice when you turn on the game is the music. Now, I’m not a big fan of most of the bands on the game, but I found it fit. The soundtrack is rife with songs by bands like The Hives, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Chemical brothers. The music is loud and gels with the action. However, if you want, you can make your own track list with MP3s on your PSP. Anything you have on there will already be listed in the customizable track list and apart from a few restrictions you’ll be able to put whatever you like on the game. There’s the occasional hiccup when it has to load a new song (only if it is one of your own), but it doesn’t hurt it at all.

Once you start getting into the races, the sound of the engines roaring will overpower your senses. Personally, I had to turn down the audio a bit just so it wasn’t overpowering the music. The engines sound good and all, but the mix could have used some work.

My biggest problem with the sound is when you crash. Motorstorm is one of those games that is in absolute love with crashes. When you crash, you get a generic shattering sound and then silence while your car rolls around. The music stops, there’s no sound of the car slamming into rock, or anything at all. Its supposed to put more focus on the visuals of the crash, but it just annoyed me.

There aren’t too many other things to talk about. You’ve got a sound for when your engine is about to overheat, a sound for when you’re using boost, a sound for honking your horn, and even a sound for when you punch a hapless bastard off of his ATV. It’s an overall good package.

Gameplay

ms2When it comes to racers, I generally avoid the more realistic type. Thankfully for me, Motorstorm is a series that would fit in well with all of the arcade machines that lined Chuck E Cheese when I was a kid. The reason I say that is because the gameplay is simple, fun, yet surprisingly deep.

Normal races pit you against nine other vehicles of varying classes. The courses themselves have a lot of variety in terms of what kinds of terrain you’ll be traversing through. What sets this series apart from other off roaders is that there are diverging paths all over the course. Most of the time, the different paths cater to specific classes. The narrow rocky paths are best suited for ATVs and motorcycles, while the wider paths with deep mud are fodder for big rigs. There are plenty of these paths in every race, so it isn’t very often you’ll take the same path more than once in a single race. With plenty of jumps, half-pipes, and even some ice bridges, the courses are some of the most fun courses I’ve played on any racing game.

The controls are pretty simple. You’ve got gas, brake, emergency break, boost, and even one to honk the horn. The latter can also be used as an attack button if you are in one of the vehicles where the driver is on the outside. Your boost will gradually heat up your engine as you use it, but you can cool it down by driving through deep snow or water. If you hold on too long, however, the engine will explode and you’ll have to reset to the track. The controls are pretty fast and loose. It felt familiar to me, having spent plenty of time with the Pursuit Force series in the past. Once you’ve gotten the hang of each vehicle class, you’ll be boosting and power sliding through turns like it was second nature.

Speaking of the vehicle classes, there are eight of them. These include bikes, ATVs, snow machines, rally cars, buggies, snow pluggers, snow cats, and big rigs. The snow machine and snow cat are new additions to the series, while the snow plugger is simply the mud plugger from earlier iterations. With each class, you have three different vehicles to select from. Each of the 24 vehicles has their own attributes in speed, acceleration, toughness, and handling. Vehicles in the same class will have similar stats, though slightly modified. Each vehicle definitely has its own feel to it. Lighter vehicles turn on a dime and accelerate faster, but are more prone to spinning out, flipping over, and simply getting mauled by the bigger machines. On the flip side, the bigger rigs are often faster, but have have terrible acceleration and handling. Still, there’s nothing quite like plowing a big rig through a group of hapless motorcycles and watching them fly all over the place.

There’s some slight customizability here as well. As you play you’ll unlock various paint jobs and body kits that can be used to give the car a new look. The options aren’t deep, but you can do a lot with what’s there. Unfortunately, the changes are all cosmetic in nature, so those hoping to tune their ride to greatness will be disappointed.

One thing of note is the AI. On lower difficulties, it is fine, but when the game starts to get harder, it’s like the drivers of the other vehicles just get nuts. The reason seems to be that the game stops trying to beat you, and starts trying to knock you out. I’ve seen larger class vehicles take routes that clearly weren’t meant for them, all for the purpose of throwing me off the side of a cliff. I’ve also been driving around only to have a rally car blaze at top speed at an angle that would only result in them running into a large ice wall. He missed me by an inch. I’ll go into this a bit more in the balance section of the review, but it’s something I felt should be brought up here as well.

Finally, I’d like to say that the game seems like it was made as a crash machine. Sometimes it felt like the physics in the game were designed to draw you into a big crash. There are small bumps that can send a light vehicle spiraling out of control. These are hard to see thanks to the size of the screen. On top of that, some of the wrecks I’ve gotten into were caused by what seemed to be mere taps or bumps on a wall or something. If you think this is normal, allow me to explain that tapping a wall with the side of my car should send it spiraling out of control, not cause my car to completely stop like I went headlong into it. The game needs its pound of flesh and needs it bad.

Aside from those two things, this is a hell of a fun racer that has a great sense of speed, variety, and even strategy. You’ll get better as you play and enjoy it the whole time.

Replayability

I’ve already gone over all of the modes in the game. Festival will take a good amount of time if you want to unlock everything and get a gold medal for each event. With about a hundred events and scaling difficulty, if offers some good value by itself.

ms3Multiplayer is where you’ll get the most replay value. Motorstorm is one of the few PSP games with a fully featured online mode. Now I have heard of some issues people have had connecting, but I didn’t experience any at all. In fact, this is the smoothest online play I’ve experienced on the system. As far as I know, only Wipeout Pulse was a racer this good online.

If you’re going to play by yourself, the 24 vehicles, 12 reversible courses, and three difficulty settings mean that you’ll be able to jump in and have some fun at any time. Depending on how much you get into it, the fully featured Time Attack mode can also add some serious mileage to your game.

All told, this game has plenty of things for you to do. This isn’t going to compare to something like Dissidia in terms of pure content, but it can definitely sit in your PSP for a while.

Balance

I believe I mentioned in a prior review that I really, truly, unequivocally suck at racing games. So I’m counting on overall game experience in order to judge this properly. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

Like I mentioned before, at a certain point in the game, the AI seems like it’s out for blood. The other drivers seem less intent on winning, and more intent on making sure that you don’t. This is especially true when you are in the lighter vehicles, as they are far easier for the computer to mess with. I’ve had so many crazy drivers boost themselves to the point of exploding in their attempts to ram me into a wall. It just got nuts. It doesn’t make the game too hard, because I am perhaps exaggerating just a bit, but it can definitely get annoying.

The game also has some rubber band AI at work. If you’re doing too good, you’ll get shocked at how fast a single mistake can cost you several places in the pack. Also, I’ve been in the fastest car in the game while holding down the boost button like a madman and even still unable to gain any ground on cars ahead of me. The worst of it seems to be when you’re in near last place. Instead of trying to catch up, you’ll have to constantly fight off the one or two guys behind you. It can be frustrating because you won’t feel like you’re making any headway.

Still, the game isn’t broken, and it isn’t often that hard. If you’re skilled, or become skilled, you can win any race with any vehicle. (Though some courses are simply better for certain courses.) Just don’t make more than a few mistakes towards the end of the game, or you’re in for a tough ride. It’s an overall nice balance with a few odd quirks.

Originality

This is the third game in the Motorstorm series, and apart from the new theme, it doesn’t really add much new to the series. This is still the crazy off road racing experience you’ve played before on the PS3.

I do believe that the Time Ticker racing mode is new and of course the ice bridges haven’t been seen before. But it’s not like these same types of features haven’t been seen in other racing games either.

It isn’t wholly unoriginal, but it definitely sticks to the Motorstorm format. Personally, I think that’s a very good thing.

Addictiveness

I’ve got to say that it was hard to put this game down. When I got my copy, I was knee deep into Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (Review coming shortly, I promise.) Now, that was a game I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced. We’re talking years of anticipation. Motorstorm was calling to me the entire time. I just had to pick it up and play it every half hour or so. I even pulled it out during lulls in the conversation with friends. They were not amused.

ms4What struck me the most is what happened when I lost. I have a tendency to get frustrated really easy when things aren’t going my way. This happened on several occasions. However, I didn’t turn off my PSP or start doing something else. Instead, I got only more pumped to finish first. I must have played this one event over a dozen times before I beat it. For me, that’s a game that’s got me hooked.

In my book, this is one of the most addicting PSP games I’ve played this year.

Appeal Factor

This hasn’t had the same buzz surrounding it as Gran Turismo or some of the other big PSP games coming out this year, but it has garnered its fair share of hype and anticipation. For me, once I heard Bigbig was doing it, I was stoked.

Motorstorm‘s fast and fun gameplay is something anyone can enjoy. It can be extremely accessible thanks to its number of vehicles, easy to pick up gameplay, and the fact that it is a blast to play.

The biggest draw has to be the fully featured online play. Other PSP games that have similar online capabilities (See Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron) have been some of the system’s biggest hits. I know there were a lot of people disappointed with Gran Turismo‘s lack of online, and this game will be just the ticket for those people.

Miscellaneous

If this game has proven anything, its that Bigbig is one of the best developers for the PSP. The presentation is top notch. The package is complete, and it goes the extra mile to give the player his/her money’s worth.

There aren’t too many PSP games that feature a robust online mode, customizable soundtrack, or half of the stuff the game does. From top to bottom, it is a true example of what can be done on the system when a developer goes all out.

If there’s one more thing I want to add, it’s that Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” is a perfect song to drive to in this game.

The Scores

Modes: Good
Graphics: Incredible
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackAnything negative I can think to say about Motorstorm: Arctic Edge is immediately nullified by how much good it brings to the table. At this point only Sony Bend and Ready at Dawn have gotten more out of the PSP than Bigbig. This is a game that any racing fan could enjoy on the go. For Motorstorm fans, this is a must have. Seriously, I can’t wait to see what these guys do next.



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