Preview: MotorStorm: Apocalypse (in 3-D)

The first thing I notice as I fit the 3-D glasses over my eyes and launch into the MotorStorm: Apocalypse E3 demo is that there are people running all over the place. "Looters ... crazies," art director Simon O'Brien corrects, as I plow into one, sending his ragdoll body flying out of the screen at us.

I figure I'm not going to have many, if any more chances to play MotorStorm: Apocalypse in 3-D (I'm no early adopter), so I settle in and run through the demo a few times. The third MotorStorm game for PS3 has been in development for two years and its 3-D component for half that time. Developer Evolution Studios has done an admirable job implementing this technical gimmick, and in 3-D mode the demo maintains a steady 30fps framerate and the visual details hold up (at least better than in Killzone 3's first take in 3-D).

MotorStorm: Apocalypse is understandably chaotic, however, and the 3-D distractions, like those flying crazies, make an already difficult race course more challenging to navigate. I slam into a few walls, not easily seeing turns in the impromptu "track" -- a straight-shot race through a crumbling, fictional West Coast city. I finish in something like 13th place and ask if I can see the game in "2-D mode," but the demo doesn't allow for us to switch over.
%Gallery-94881% As towering skyscrapers topple over and the freeway collapses into a dark underground tunnel (luckily, headlights have been added), MotorStorm: Apocalypse invites comparisons to Black Rock Studios' recent, "catastrophe evasion" racer Split/Second. During Apocalypse, all of the environmental destruction is predetermined -- it's scripted -- and not an apparent racing strategy (whereas Split/Second has players trigger the gameworld-changing events). Split/Second might offer the more engaging gameplay mechanic, but within the racing genre, large-scale environmental destruction is still relatively new; and Apocalypse can get away with its passive integration of exploding set pieces without being necessarily second-rate.

The apocalyptic theme fits in well with the general attitude of the series. To me, MotorStorm has always been about enjoying the hurt inflicted upon oneself and others more so than the thrill of winning a race. O'Brien says the development team hasn't tinkered much with the core gameplay, aside from a few updates, including the addition of some new vehicle classes (the demo featured a supercar). What has changed is a single-player Festival mode with deeper narrative elements. The Apocalypse story will alternate between three main characters as they ride out 48 hours of chaos.

O'Brien also touches on the revamped multiplayer Recreation mode, which is following in the now requisite tradition of Modern Warfare and adding an XP system and unlockable perks for handling, boosting and combat. XP will operate as a sort of currency, says O'Brien, and can be used to gamble on multiplayer race outcomes. Theoretically, you could gamble against yourself, throw the race and still win ... points. Clearly, there are some components of this system yet to be fully explained -- or even sorted out.

With a scheduled first quarter 2011 release, there's plenty of time to get MotorStorm: Apocalypse tuned up, and while it's not going to drastically depart from the gameplay that has earned a sizable fan base, this sequel isn't a listless rehash. Oh, you will revisit "classic" locations, O'Brien promises, but the apocalypse has reached these places too. Old tracks will be violently altered by earthquakes, creating new ground to cover -- with bruised and broken MotorStorm crazies.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.