Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Network Players: 1-12
Required HDD Space: 3.2 GB
HD Video Output: 480p/720p
Dual Shock 3 Compatible
DTS Digital Surround
I remember the first time I saw Sony's recently released kart Racer, ModNation Racers, as it was unvieled at E3 2009. I was somewhat skeptical of the concept given that the whole "Play, Create, Share" motto was associated with LittleBigPlanet, a platform game that took gamers by storm. Making a kart racer with a solid single player, multiplayer racing expericne while offering up a fully supported online community to create and share items was something I didn't think could be done that easily. Well I have to say the I underestimated Vancouver, Canada based developer United Front Games. They have taken the kart racing genre and brought it into the world of HD like no one has done before while managing to open it up to a community free to create whatever their minds desire.
Visually ModNation Racers is pretty darn good looking kart racer. It is great to see a game like this truly using the power of the PS3. Sure, it may not tax the graphic chipset inside Sony's machine, but it does make use of what is available. Character, car, and level design are all very well done. There is a nice variety in each of these and you will enjoy every single one you see. As would be expected in a game like this, colours are bright and you will see lots of different things go on around the track as you race. Characters are also well animated. As they drive wildly around the track they steer, bump around, and even gesture to other drivers when they pass each other. There is ample use of special effects too such as particle effects, lighting, and lots of great explosions. The frame rate is rock steady and I did not notice any visual glitches (e.g. draw in, slow down or clipping) as I navigated each and every track. All in all I would say that this is one good looking kart racer.
The audio found in ModNation Racers is solid as well. That being said, the soundtrack works, but it seems somewhat generic in terms of it having a 'been there done that' feel before. Don't get me wrong, the music matches the action, and it's not annoying, but it is nothing particularly new. As for the voice work, I was pleasantly surprised with what was offered up. The MRC commentators and other character voices during the cut-scenes have some pretty witty sayings, while the cute sound effects from your own character as he races suits the kart style of game. As for the rest of the sound effects, they too were quite well done, from the sound of your kart skidding around a corner to that of your impending doom as an enemy's power-up comes to take you out. All in all most of the sound is very well done.
ModNation Racers is a kart racer plain and simple. If you are looking for anything else you best be movin' on right now. For those looking for a new kart racer, keep on reading. Given the motto of ModNation Racers, "Play, Create, Share", there is a whole lot going on here, so I am going to try to be as descriptive as possible while hopefully not boring you. I think that the best thing I can do is sum up the single player racing modes, the multiplayer racing modes, and then the create and share modes. So without further delay, here we go.
You will find that ModNation Racers is a true arcade racing experience, with drifting, drafting, and wild jumps taking precedence over realistic handling or cornering on rails. Of course given that this is a kart racer through-n-through, you will use power-ups and boost pads to dominate your adversaries. From missiles, sound waves, to bolts of lighting, all seems 'present and accounted' for here. Along with the wild world of power-ups you can also fill a power meter by jumping, drifting, and drafting your opponents. You will use this meter to activate either a temporary speed boost, temporary shield, or to sideswipe opponents. It is up to you what you will use it for, and when to use it.
Single Player is broken up into three main modes: Quick Race, Time Trial and Career.
Quick Race and Time Trial, are self explanatory. They allow you to play any of the tracks you may have open at any time. Depending on what mode you choose out of the two you will be able to adjust the number of laps, AI racers, difficulty, etc. As well, you can race in a Pure or Action mode in quick race where one will have no weapons or dynamic obstacles and the other will be pure kart racing bliss.
The single player Career Mode is where you'll spend a lot of time playing the game when playing on your own. Here you will play as Tag, a former graffiti artist turned Mod Racer. The story, which there is a semblance of such, has you taking Tag from the rank of an amateur racer to the top of the Mod Racing circuit. To do this you will play through 28 tracks in your quest for dominance. During your climb to the top you will be required to race each track and finish in third place or above. This unlocks the next track in the series. There are usually two other objectives for each track as well that, if completed, will help you to open up more unlockable content (e.g items or stickers). These objectives can be as simple as drifting enough to earn a specific number of points, taking all the shortcuts on a track, to destroying on-track items. You will also find that along with the standard lap style races you will compete in stunt challenges or grudge matches. I enjoyed the mix of styles here as it made the game more than just racing laps in an attempt to be first to the finish line. For some added replay, and incentive to explore each level, there are five hidden tokens on each track for you to find. These will reward you handsomely, so I'd recommend taking the time to find them.
The computer AI can be somewhat challenging during the single player modes. What I was somewhat impressed to see is that ModNation Racers does not rely on rubberband AI to challenge you as you play. If you get ahead you can stand a fair chance to stay there, as long as you're up to the task. Although the rubberband AI is not troublesome in this arcade kart racer, you will find that the AI is skilled at racing, and you'll have to bring your 'A-Game' to the table. This includes good use of weapons, learning the nuances and layout of the track, and knowing when and where to take a short-cut. All in all this game will challenge you, but it is not cheap in how it tests your driving skills.
Multiplayer mode is broken between split-screen and online. Split screen is actually pretty impressive as you can play four players on one screen at a time for some "all in the same room" multiplayer madness. I had a chance to play two-player split screen and it was pretty enjoyable with no noted issues. Fun stuff indeed, but the real enjoyable multiplayer is online over the PlayStation Network. You and up to 11 other racers, for a total of 12 players, can race online on any of the games 28 tracks, or any downloaded content that the host may have chosen. Should you not have the downloadable content that the host has chosen the game will automatically download it for you prior to racing. This is a cool little feature and something I think was well implemented. When going online, races are broken into Casual Races (for fun) or XP Races (Single or Series). XP races rewards you with experience points so you can level your online character up. Interestingly enough, you can also play split screen at home and take a friend online with you should you choose. Kudos to United Front Games for including this option. Overall the online portion of this game played pretty darn well. I have never been a huge fan of the PlayStation Network as I think Xbox LIVE has it beat, but ModNation Racers played pretty smooth, even with voice chat support. Races were as smooth as those that I played against the AI during my career in terms of the feel and experience.
So I have just gone through the single and multiplayer modes, but I have not even touched on the create and share portion, something that is an integral part of the whole ModNation Racers experience. Creation is the main key here, and after spending some time digging though it I have to say that it is all the tools made available to design characters (called Mods in this game), tracks, and vehicles are intuitive and have the capability to let your imagination run wild.
Track creation is very simple. You basically drive the track creator around a blank environment and come up with some sort of track design or layout for your pavement, bricks, dirt, or whatever surface you want to race on. What is amazing here is that everything happens by design, so should you go under a part of a track, or below ground, or through a mountain, the game will automatically put your tunnels, bridges and whatever else you may need onto the track. After you have your basic track design can then have the game 'auto-populate' the track with all your environmental details (e.g. buildings, trees, rocks, boost pads, power ups, etc) or you can take the time and individually place each item yourself. You will find that making a track is relatively easy and you will be racing around your creation in a matter of no time.
Characters and vehicles are just as easy, but yet different to make. You add in-game accessories to either of these that you have unlocked during your career mode. There is a lot that is available and I was somewhat amazed how I could add so much personality to either my own character or the vehicles that I tried to design. For those that want to take the time, you can layer logos or designs to come up with your own original creation in terms of logos or patterns. Again, you are only limited by your own imagination and the time you wish to invest.
I have to say that although I was impressed with what I was able to make, the community that has embraced this game is creative, talented, and just outright amazing. In terms of the tracks that are out there already, I found that along with some neat custom made tracks there are re-creations of real life tracks such as Monte Carlo, Tsukuba Circuit Japan, and Silverstone as well as some great re-creations of videogame based tracks from Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer and even Mario Kart. As for vehicles, I have seen such designs as the A-Team Van, Scooby Doo Van (Mystery Machine), a Futurama Spaceship, the Mach-5 (Speed Racer), various construction vehicles (e.g. cement truck), farm vehicles and so many others. Finally, the characters that have been created are astounding. I have come across amazing re-creations of Mario, Iron Man, Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell), Charlie Brown, Master Chief (Halo), Sylvester the Cat (Loony Toons), Link (Zelda), Stitch (Disney), Cookie Monster, Stewie (Family Guy), The Stig (Top Gear T.V. Series), Robocop, Samus Aran (Metroid Series), Chun Li (Street Fighter), Papa Smurf and Astro Boy to name only a handful. Everything I came across is only a fraction of what is out there as the never ending list goes on. If all of these creations are the types of things that are being made only five days after release (editors note: at time of writing this review), then I can't imagine what is going to be created and shared by community members over the next few months.
If I have only one complaint that take anything away from this games enjoyment, and it is something that I have heard about from many of those playing the game, it is that there are some really long load times. You will find that some of them can be close to a full minute, and given that you have to do a hard drive install weighing in at 3.2 GB, I was somewhat amazed by these waits. But not all is lost though, as once you load up specific areas (e.g. creation tools) there is not much, if anything, loading up again and you can feel free to enjoy until you go to something totally new. If you look what is beyond the long load times you may just feel a bit better about them. In the end, this is not a deal breaker by any part, it is just something that can be annoying and definitely worth noting in this review.
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