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A look at how ModNation Racers offers both online and offline players a robust experience, regardless of connectivity status, by maintaining the game's core identity in both components.

Aaron & Alex Leach, Blogger

August 3, 2010

6 Min Read

[Written by Aaron Leach.]

Getting the opportunity to spend a lot of time with ModNation Racers for the Reviewcast and for the upcoming Pixel Picks episode brought up an issue that we’ve seen before on Pixelosophy, that of online versus on-disc content. With an incredibly deep online community component in ModNation Racers (MNR), this seemed like a great time to look at this subject again through an alternate lens.

While previous discussions focused on value to the consumer when considering the single player campaign versus the multiplayer portions that rely heavily on online connectivity, MNR presents a slightly different conundrum because of the sheer amount of content that is gained through online play. With this big of a disparity, is playing the game without getting online really the same experience? Is it worthy of the same $60 price tag? And finally, how should a reviewer approach this type of game?

For those that haven’t played the game, let’s take a look at the breakdown between MNR’s on-disc offerings and the online pieces. If players don’t have their PS3 hooked up to the world wide internets, they can expect over 20 tracks in a single player mode that actually has a story component to it. This isn’t too common for a kart-racer.

Additionally, there is some split-screen multiplayer action to be had. However, the game really shines with its creation options. Players can create characters, karts and tracks with ease. The creation systems for all three are deep yet simple, yielding great results with little time commitment from the player.

Now, if the player happens to jump online with the game, the online racing is obviously included, but the real treat comes from the creation/sharing community that already exists for the game. Players can jump online to upload and download creations with ease. Make a track; share it. See a kart that someone made that looks like The Shaggin’ Wagon from Dumb and Dumber; download it. It’s all super fast and super easy. This adds a virtually endless amount of new content to explore.

So getting back to our questions then; are the online and offline experiences the same with MNR? The answer to that is: Not really, but kinda. Here’s what I mean. Getting online with MNR puts such a staggering amount of unique content at the player’s disposal that players who rely solely on the on-disc options really are missing out on a great part of the total package.

That’s not to say that they aren’t going to be happy with their purchase; it’s just that they won’t be privy to one of the foundational cornerstones that the developers clearly had in mind when they were conceiving the MNR experience. To put it into perspective, let me share with you my first experience with the game.

Upon putting the disc in, I drove my default character around the hub world and was greeted by giant statues of Iron Man, Spider-Man and Mario. These were the current top creations on display, for easy download, and they looked great. This instantly piqued my curiosity to see what else the community had made.

A quick search for “Batman” yielded page after page of custom mods. Batmans, Jokers, Riddlers, Gray Ghosts, they were all there. For the next two hours, I did nothing but look for the most obscure and ridiculous crap I could find, and every time, the community did not disappoint. Seriously, I found a Rocko’s Modern Life mod. Awesome. I was already elated with this game without even getting into the game part. There’s really no way to explain to someone who plays this game offline just how awesome this was.

The interesting thing about this game though is that even though I feel like offline players have no idea what they’re missing, this game is still worth its full price tag. This is where the developers really got it right. While getting shortchanged in the online department would be something I would normally complain about, due to it severely reducing the amount of content for the player, I can’t go into full-on bitch-fest mode here because MNR is able to sidestep this issue to a degree. It does this with the inclusion of the creation tools on-disc.

While a player may not get to see what everyone else is creating, the amount of content is still technically infinite and only limited by what the player decides to create. Played through all the tracks? Make some more. Tired of your character? Make a new one. I believe the proper cliché here is: The sky’s the limit.

Again, this is where the game really succeeds and where it helps set a precedent for reviewers and consumers to consider when critiquing the game. It sets a standard by making sure the core principles of the game are left intact for both the online and offline experiences. Sure the experiences aren’t identical, but they are certainly comparable in that nothing is truly missing from the offline experience. Players can still race other players, participate in various modes and create unique content until their thumbs fall off.

This is the key concept that reviewers need to take into account when examining games with huge online components. Does the exclusion of online play, in whatever form it takes, seriously alter the core experiences that give a game its identity? Take Halo or Call of Duty for example. Removing the online bits from either of those titles severely limits what the player can do or experience with the game thereby taking value away from the player and the package as whole. It truly alters the identity of the game. This is exactly what doesn’t happen with MNR and is the reason it can be considered a landmark game in an increasingly online-heavy industry.

While online numbers are slowly growing, it’s still imperative that developers take note of what MNR has accomplished here in terms of giving all players a complete package regardless of their online situation. A game needs to express and maintain the developer’s vision for everyone who buys their game, not just the online crowd.

ModNation Racers not only manages this feat, but it also encourages gamers to get online by giving them incentive to do so rather than penalizing them for not being online. When more developers understand this approach, online adoption should go nowhere but up while trade-in rates, and therefore possibly used sales, should take an opposite trajectory due to the extended replay value. So, developers take note: Make your digital wares more ModNation-y, and we all come in first.

[Reprinted from www.pixelosophy.com.]

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