The Motorstorm series has always been one that I’ve wanted to like more than I’ve actually liked it. The first one looked great, but the poor handling killed it for me. While Pacific Rift’s addition of some cars to the mix helped that, I still found it coming up a little short in some ways. Apocalypse is the first entry I’ve actually liked not only as much as I hoped to going into it, but actually greatly exceeded my expectations. The Motorstorm tour is back, but is greatly affected by a huge quake, and as a result, chaos reigns supreme. Apocalypse combines the series’ usual fast-paced racing style with the action movie-esque stunts that destroyed the environments in Split/Second and created the most thrilling racing game of the generation
The change in setting from off-road areas to a mostly asphalt jungle are far more than just cosmetic. Taking the takes the series from off-road racing to a new cityscape setting that winds up being a huge improvement for the series as a whole. It’s been held back before by poor handling in the muddy settings and the new asphalt jungle setting is far the best one yet visually and for actual racing. Vehicles now have a solid surface to grip to and it’s amazing just how much more fun you can have with a game when you aren’t battling the controls to not only try and advance in a race, but just to enjoy the experience. Every vehicle type now feels like it handles properly, as opposed to everything controlling like a busted shopping cart.
Apocalypse’s symphony of destruction starts with things like bridges crumbling, and then builds to things like tornados raging while rain, thunder, and lightning ravage the environment, then a FERRIS WHEEL is rolled into your path resulting in you having to thread the needle between its broken sections to avoid crashing. And that’s in ONE STAGE. This is an insanely fast-paced racing game that will remind anyone who plays it of Split/Second, but without the control of being able to trigger these calamities. They’re rigged to happen in every race, and so while you lose the strategy of being able to carefully slam foes into the after effects of the destruction, you do gain a level of excitement because on the first run through, you have no idea what’s going to happen or when. Plus, there’s still a bit of that strategy in there because of large objects like dilapidated cars that you can plan to ram into to forge ahead. Beyond “just” other racers and having large parts of the environment hurtled at you, you’ll also have to deal with helicopters shooting at you and crazed bystanders latching onto your vehicle to slow you down.
There’s a lot happening at all times, and as a result, you’ll be retrying at least a few races in order to go onto the next one. Sometimes, the restarts can be fun - like when you come in one position behind, but do so after overheating your vehicle, and then there are the times when it isn’t. Usually, that comes from crashes being caused by the wonky hit detection when it comes to trackside obstacles. Some things, like street signs, can be smashed through, but then you’ll have something about the size of a street sign, and it will stop you dead and cost you seconds. If you’re in one of the smaller vehicles, you can find yourself becoming trapped in the environment itself. Sure, you can respawn, but it takes a couple of seconds to activate that, and it’s a hit or miss mechanic as well. Sometimes you’ll be in 5th and it’ll knock you back to 8th, or if you’re lucky, it’ll send you into 3rd or better. These issues are frustrating, but not game-breakers.
The career-esque Festival mode has been shifted from just being a series of races to one with a storyline surrounding them. Well, sort of - the motion comics used are part exposition to help you learn and also show you the characters behind the vehicles. You’ll play as three characters throughout the festival, with one for each of the three difficulties - rookie, pro, and veteran. Your playable characters have some personality, the rest largely don’t, and the motion comic style goes from being really well-done ala Twisted Metal 2 to just seeming cheaply-done, like when Tyler and his crew are destroying a casino. It’s really hit or miss, and while I appreciate the idea of trying to add some drama to the game, it’s too over the top to take seriously.
While it may not work as a storytelling medium, the mode is an outstanding way to show you how different each vehicle can be since you’ll be racing with all of them throughout it, and you have no real prep time because until the race loads, you don’t know which one you’ll be using. It’s another area where Apocalypse forces you to think on your feet and adapt to things as they happen. It’s quite a jarring change compared to how normal racing games give you so many options before a race, but a welcome one since it gets you out of whatever comfort zone you have and leads to you not only becoming a better player of not only this game, but other ones as well due to it.
Of course, beyond the festival, you’ve got the “wreckreation” mode to cause chaos in as well. Here, you can race on any track with any vehicle and also customize your vehicles. The former allows you to improve your skills with each of the 13 vehicle types, with nearly a half dozen being new to the series, including blazing-fast supercars and powerful muscle cars in either traditional or eliminator-style races. Vehicle customization is limited at first, but becomes more robust as you unlock more car parts you can change. One flaw in this system is that it requires online success to do, which is also the case for unlocking new vehicles. I’m all for encouraging players to try out as much of a game as possible - after all, the developers worked hard on it, but it seems a bit absurd to make it a requirement for things that should be pretty standard unlockables for single player.
While I may take some issue with the online-heavy aspect of things, I will say that the online play does deliver the goods. Apocalypse allows you to have up to 16 players per race and I never encountered lag during any of my races. I love the betting system that allows you to wager chips needed to unlock stuff on how you’ll do in relation to the other drivers - so someone on a hot streak can command a 1500 chip bonus, but you stand a greater chance of not beating their position compared to someone who isn’t and will net you 500 chips if you end the race in a better position. The wagering system is a fantastic way to add some excitement to a race, and also to level up much faster. It’s one of those features that isn’t a huge selling point - it’s probably not something that’s going to look very impressive on the back of a case, but it adds a lot of replay value to the final product.
Visually, Motorstorm Apocalypse is excellent as a whole, but with some caveats. The fact that seemingly a million things can happen at once while 16 racers are on-screen at once without slowdown is impressive, but it’s clear that some concessions had to be made to accommodate the action. One sacrifice is the muddy look of some of the racing surfaces - especially those that appear to be assembled of things like smashed cars ground into a smoothed racing surface. When you’re racing over them, they look fine, but when you smash near them, you see they’re just a rather ugly mess of stuff and the illusion is hurt. However, the totality of everything going on around you will, at least for the time being, elicit at least a “WOW” from bystanders. Comparing to the other mayhem-filled racer, Split/Second, I’d say that its environments looked better and its vehicle models were more detailed, but you can change more on these vehicles, and there’s more going on here than in Split/Second, so it’s a bit of a toss-up. Compared to the other Motorstorm games, this is easily the best-looking of the bunch because the vehicles look a little more detailed and there‘s just a lot more happening on-screen.
Apocalypse’s symphony of destruction sounds fantastic. The music, like Split/Second‘s, is your usual action movie fare - you’ve got a lot of fast music, some ominous stuff, and a good blend of music that not only fits racing games, but most importantly, fits the stages as well. The most impressive part of the audio to me was the sound effects, in particular the environmental effects. The aforementioned tornado and ferris wheel stage is not only my favorite one in the game, but also the best-sounding because as you’ve got a tornado whirling and lighting crashing, you’ll also race over rickety docks and hear each slab of wood creek as you race over them. It’s a pretty remarkable effect during play, and the developers did an amazing job of making each stage seem chaotic just with the sound design - it really sells that the city’s falling and you just happen to be racing over parts of it that haven’t been completely destroyed yet.
Despite some frustrating gameplay quirks, Motorstorm Apocalypse is a must-buy for series fanatics, and a must-play for newcomers because of its fast action, sharp controls, and incredible sound design. If you’ve tried the series in the past and just lost interest due to its control problems, at least give this one a rental and see just how much better the vehicles handle now. The development team at Evolution did a fantastic job crafting a thrilling experience here. It’s flawed, but ultimately succeeds at delivering the most exciting racing action on the market.