Taking place in a fictional desert, the premise of Motorstorm is of a giant dirt-racing festival featuring a variety of vehicles with which to fight your way to the finish. What sets it apart from what could've been a generic racer are some truly state of the art graphics married to some of the most frantic racing ever seen on a home console. Driving a bike along a track like Dust Devil, carnage ensuing all around as each and every AI driver acts with an almost pathological distaste for anyone within a whisker of themselves, is rather intense. With dust kicking up, highly detailed environments and some astounding weather effects it all makes for some of the most exhilarating, seat-of-your-pants racing ever. Races are graded from the fairly easy level one all the way up to the punishing demands of level four, which can test patience to boiling point and beyond. Each event is comprised of between 2 to 4 races and completion grants new tickets to enter advanced races. Points are also awarded which when certain levels are achieved, which unlock different vehicles.
A large portion of the action centers around the crash sequences. By pressing the triggers you can speed them up slightly, but they aren't skippable until after three seconds from when the crash camera has been initiated, when the player is able to press X and miss the rest of the sequence. Detailing every aspect of the impact, it can lead to some humorous moments. There's a slightly morbid fascination about seeing how badly it all went, combined with the hope that any drivers behind you became involved in the incident, slowing them down in the process. It never fails to impress seeing cars and bikes burst into flames, springs and parts of bodywork torn from their housing, and trying to avoid the carnage in the process. What does feel like an oversight is the lack of replays of a full race after it's ended. It would've been superb to either view or save some of the more outlandish races the player had taken part in, and feels like a missed opportunity.
Each vehicle has a boost meter, which becomes surprisingly tactical later on in races. Finding the right balance between boosting and letting the gauge cool down takes a fair bit of practice. It also allows for some wonderful endings to races, boosting right to the end, and trying to cross the line in a giant fireball. The tracks on offer are spellbinding in places. From the dropdown hell of Rain God Mesa, to the sublime Dust Devil, they all convey a wonderful sense of scale and scope. Much criticism has been levelled at the perceived lack of different arenas but this is addressed with different classes of vehicles. From dirt bikes which while nimble and will be thrown into a wall by any passing car to mud pluggers and giant rigs - each allows you to access different areas of the tracks. This requires learning many different routes which in turn are filled with various obstacles placed in fiendish locations. While slightly trial and error, repeated play will highlight the pros and cons of these various routes and the satisfaction of using one perfectly during a race is unsurpassed.
Another aspect that gives Motorstorm its unique feel is mud. What might appear to be merely a graphical flourish becomes something which will no doubt be copied often in the near future by other developers. While a bike will barely make a dent in a soft surface, a giant rig will leave huge troughs in the track, making areas impassable unless you boost out of the slippery mess you find yourself in, if you happen to stray into this muddy trap. It helps add to the immersion, as mud flies onto the bonnets of cars and riders of bikes, coating them in a fine then deep layer of filth which is only dispersed once you explode and are reset on the track.
Motorstorm conveys a real sense of barely contained fury at times, that the race is happening in spite of the player's participation. At times it could almost be mistaken for a TV broadcast, the quality is that staggering. The whole fight to the front is engaging and the pace is relentless from start to finish. No quarter is given nor asked for, as the player is never given a chance to relax and even if a lead is established over the chasing pack the slightest wrong turn will shunt the player back down the field. While players of lesser talent might be put off, those with the instinct to fight back will soon grasp the nettle, and a real sense of rivalry becomes part of the races as you battle with AI opponents for those elusive wins. A remarkable job has been done of putting the player at the very heart of the action, offering true interaction with the game.
The Sixaxis's tilt control utilised here probably works best amongst the PS3 launch titles. While not instantly accessible, getting used to the finer details of each vehicle class exposes a well-thought-out control scheme which will reward the more adventurous with total control of their chosen ride. Tilting side to side becomes second nature, as does tilting the controller up and down to control what angle you hit the ground at after a spectacular jump is cleared. Regular pad control is perfectly acceptable, requiring a learning curve which feels perfectly judged. while it may take some time to become familiar with the more nimble motorbike class, it can equally apply to every other vehicle the player unlocks through progression as they all require skill to control properly.
Something that can be lacking in most titles today is a genuine sense of humour. On this aspect Evolution have imbued their title with some very funny touches, with riders exhibiting a more fruity way of expressing themselves such as slapping their backsides at an opponent or flicking the V-sign. Names of races too are savvy and can poke fun at the host format - Giant Enemy Crab is a highlight. Instead of the developers coming across as embarrassing uncles dancing at a wedding, it feels like they are spot on with their targets.
Evolution Studios have taken the racing genre, stripped away all the excess flab that it has acquired over the years and rebuilt it, putting sheer fun at the top of the agenda once again. Motorstorm is a must-buy for any PlayStation 3 owner, it's that simple.