MotorStorm Apocalypse review: Crash test dummy

As far as awesome spectacles in gaming go, MotorStorm Apocalypse is up there with the best. I don't know if I've ever seen a game, let alone a racer, with this amount of action happening at any given moment. I can't help but marvel at the degree and detail of the destruction it renders on a city-wide scale -- which is a problem, since I'm supposed to be focused on racing.

Everything comes at you so fast, furious, loud and bright that opponents trying to ram you off the "track" (little in this game resembles an actual race course) are the least of your worries. No, the greatest risk is running into the scenery ... over and over and over again.%Gallery-121827%

The phrase "rough around the edges" gets bandied around a lot when talking about games, but I can't think of one in recent memory to which it applies more appropriately or literally.

There's a racing festival / battle being held in an earthquake-ravaged costal city (hence the title's delay following the real-life quake devastation in Japan) and it's drawn the attention of newbie racer Mash (that's you!). You'll guide the upstart through a series of races designed to highlight the specific strengths of different vehicles (cars, trucks, bikes, quads) on varying terrain, before it all opens up and lets you choose the best vehicle for each job.

There are moments when the planets align and the experience becomes pure arcade racing magic -- but they're only moments.

Back to the racing, or, as I started to think of it, "high-speed scenery avoidance." There's something obviously cool about racing through a course that's constantly changing (in this case through natural disaster) and having these cataclysmic events playing out as you vie for first place. Just the idea of using the devastation as an advantage -- a shortcut, maybe -- is a great one.

During the course of each race, new paths are formed (and old ones rendered unusable) by buildings toppling over, massive cracks forming, the track splitting and wrenching its way skyward into makeshift ramps. The destruction isn't always natural, though. Heavily armed groups are fighting for control of the devastated city, and racers will sometimes come under fire from tanks and helicopters.

To succeed in any real way at being a top MotorStormer requires the concentration and nerves of a zen master. The best advice I can offer for anyone attempting to play this game is: STAY CALM. Otherwise, like me, you'll still hit the same little sliver of course geometry nine out of 10 times and go hurtling off in a ball of fire. The twitchy control doesn't help, nor does the fact that even the largest vehicle feels like it's filled with some lighter-than-air gas. Actually, I think the real culprit is a physics model that's clearly way past its prime -- and that was in 2006 with the original (and far less crash-filled) game.

When racing in lighter vehicles, the feeling of them being too light I mentioned translates directly into over-correcting and general over-steering. That's not a problem in the largest vehicles, but while driving them you'll encounter under-responsive handling seemingly meant to reinforce the fact that they're heavier, but it's just not right.

Multiplayer is plagued by the same problems, which isn't surprising when you consider it's a carbon copy of single-player's race types. There aren't any real standout features to elevate it beyond a back-of-the-box bullet point. It is a lot more hectic than single player, which creates more opportunities to ... crash. The game also seems to have problems determining who's in which place from time to time (for example, I'd blow past 3rd place and still be 4th).

MotorStorm Apocalypse really nails the whole apocalypse thing, no question. It's the actual racing that's taken the back seat. There are moments when the planets align and the experience becomes pure arcade racing magic -- but they're only moments. The rest of the time you're just an angsty, glorified crash test dummy.

This review is based on final retail sample of MotorStorm Apocalypse provided by Sony.