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Critical Reception: Sony's MotorStorm

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Sony's MotorStorm, a landmark PlayStation 3 release that has promised to set new standards for graphical quality and rival AI in the racing genre.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Sony's MotorStorm, a landmark PlayStation 3 release that has promised to set new standards for graphical quality and rival AI in the racing genre. Since the console's launch in November, PlayStation 3 fans have awaited the release of MotorStorm, an offroad racing title that promised to impress with its attention to graphic detail and convincing, true-to-life physics. MotorStorm was also promoted as a showcase of the processing power of the PS3, and was said to feature realistic rival AI and real-time deforming terrain that could change radically over the course of a race. Upon its initial release in Japan late last year, MotorStorm came under fire for its graphical quality, which did not reflect the same level of detail seen in early preview videos. As a result, critics have claimed that MotorStorm could be unable to live up to the lofty promises made by Sony, both in terms of graphical capability and in gameplay features. However, the U.S. version of MotorStorm has been received well by many critics so far, earning an average review score ratio of 85% at Gamerankings.com. "We've been told all sorts of things about MotorStorm," begins Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell in his review, scored at 8 out of 10. "There was all that stuff about persistent terrain detail. (...) There was talk of AI opposition reacting badly to engagement, nudging you into a ravine when the opportunity next arose. And of course there was that trailer at E3 two years ago." "And you know, some of it's true," he continues. "The persistent terrain detail works as advertised, the AI doesn't like to be mistreated, and as much as it'll pain some of you to read it, MotorStorm does look amazing." However: "None of that's a reason I particularly like MotorStorm." "I like it because it's the first racing game in ages to realise that you don't need 487 tracks; you just need a few really good ones," Bramwell explains. "I like it because it's the first racing game in ages to realise that you don't need endless modifications, inversions, reversals, reversions, diversions, or excursions to other genres; you just need a simple, straightforward series of excellent races." In spite of its limited number of tracks, Bramwell feels that MotorStorm is hardly lacking in game play length and longevity. "The tracks," he reasons, "are immense, taking several minutes to lap, and they're multifaceted." "So yeah, we've been told lots about MotorStorm," he concludes. "So let's be excited about the fact that it still manages to feel incredibly fresh, immediate and exotic, in spite of its notoriety." Chris Roper at IGN is also full of praise for MotorStorm in his 8.9 out of 10-rated review. "MotorStorm lives and thrives on the moments when you're right in the middle of a pack of vehicles, everyone pushing each other towards the cliff sides and you're doing all you can just to survive," he says. "Really, there are very, very few racing titles (or even games in general) around that deliver as engaging an experience as MotorStorm." "MotorStorm's track designs are generally fantastic," Roper notes in particular. "There are shortcuts everywhere, and a large part of your racing strategy will be based on which paths you take. In many courses there are so many options that half of your entire race can be unique, even after three laps." Unlike Bramwell at Eurogamer, however, Roper feels that the fun is somewhat cut short by the game's limited number of tracks. "While the tracks are excellently designed, the game's biggest drawback is that there simply aren't enough of them," he admits. "With fewer than ten tracks at your disposal, you'll quickly find that you're taking part in the same races over and over again. The tracks were designed in a forward manner, so you aren't able to race any of them in reverse, further limiting the variety." Still, Roper ends on a positive note: "Sony has jump-started its newest racing franchise in a fantastic way. Yes, the limited number of tracks and gameplay options hold it back quite a bit, but the fundamental racing is incredible. The variety in vehicle types is great, the track designs are awesome and the online is extremely fun." 1UP's John Davidson is somewhat less forgiving in his review, in which he awards MotorStorm with a score of 7.5 out of 10. Davidson claims that the title's fast-paced gameplay and its realistic visuals are its greatest assets. "The sense of barely controlled velocity is shockingly convincing thanks to the spectacular visuals, bouncy camerawork, glorious lighting, and (sometimes obstructive) splattering mud effects," he remarks. "It's a game that will make you proud to own a PS3." "So," he continues, "why the measly score of 7.5? Surely something this gorgeous is nothing less than a glorious example of PS3 supremacy? In short, it's simply because it's far too shallow an experience. Play the lone single-player career mode for any length of time and the frustrations start to kick in, hard." Despite the strength of its online multiplayer modes, Davidson feels that MotorStorm suffers as a single-player experience. "To be honest, as a single-player game it's just too limited, and yet at the same time far too long," he writes. "After an initial push to open stuff up, you'll almost certainly want to only play online as much as possible, because it actually provides a lot of what you'll no doubt be craving from the overall experience." However, Davidson claims that the online experience makes the package as a whole worthwhile, and will likely end up cementing MotorStorm's future status as a well-remembered classic. "All of us here who played MotorStorm agreed that the online mode was truly its best quality," he says, "and more than anything else provides a tantalizing glimpse of the future of this franchise." "Whether Sony chooses to enhance the experience with downloadable content, or to move quickly on a sequel remains to be seen," Davidson concludes, "but what seems inevitable is that this is a first-party franchise that will join the likes of Wipeout and Twisted Metal as part of the fabric of PlayStation gaming culture." While critics feel that MotorStorm has lived up to most of the promises made by Sony prior to its release, its small number of tracks could potentially limit its long-term appeal. Whether this is a major issue or not appears to be a matter of personal taste, though many sources claim that as a single-player experience, MotorStorm comes up short. For gamers looking to race online with others, however, MotorStorm seems to have a lot to offer.

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