There's so much to the create and share aspects of ModNation that it's easy to forget that there's actual racing too. You've got powersliding crazy karts, shortcuts, ridiculously powerful weapons, turbo boosts, shields and even on-track traps. The racing boils down to a neat jump-to-slide mechanic, with karts then able to hug the racing line while retaining good speed, earn boost and then turbo off into the distance. The handling is good, with skilled racers able to powerslide and boost for most of each track, but it doesn't feel quite as refined as the handling in SEGA's recent All-Stars Racing.
As always the use of power-ups will rub some people up the wrong way as they give lesser drivers a chance to catch up, but on the whole the best players will still come out on top. There's some depth here that might not be obvious from the start. Weapons have three levels of power, able to affect more rival drivers as you level them up by collecting pick-ups, and a neat shield system provides you with some protection if you time its use correctly. There's also a barge move, lifted straight out of Midway's underrated Wheelman - a quick flick on the right analogue stick and you'll send your kart flying sideways into whoever happens to be jostling for position. The on-track traps sadly feel a bit gimmicky and don't add much to the arcade action other than the odd annoying moment.
Track designs are good and the locations varied, but aren't as charming as what we've seen down the years in Mario Kart, and more recently in Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing. This is ModNation Racer's biggest problem: it just feels a bit plain. Whether you're playing alone in single races or through the career, online with friends or split-screen on one TV, there's fun to be had, but you can't escape the feeling that there's something missing.
A lot of effort has gone into trying to give the career mode a story, but, quite frankly, the pre and post race cutscenes are terrible. If you're of a certain age you'll remember MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch. The commentators you'll grow to hate here are from the same school of cheesy dialogue, but aren't as potty mouthed, resulting in the kind of banter you'd find in a primary school playground. It's all been put together very well, but these sequences don't hit the mark.
In-game visuals are clean and sharp, although the tracks lack the spark I'd have liked to see. There's nothing breathtaking on show here, and in many ways the course designs in Mario Kart Wii, a game on a significantly underpowered console, are more visually appealing. There's the odd frame rate stutter, but for the most part you'll be screaming along at a nice steady clip, often soaring high into the sky off turbo charged ramps. The music is annoying in the extreme, though, and not something you'll be glad is lodged in your brain after a few hours with the game. Most unforgivable is the terribly slow load times, which really start to grate after a while. Considering the game has a mandatory install before you begin, the huge wait between races is hard to understand.
As an example of a game that gives users the tools to create their own content, ModNation Racers is up there with the best. The track creation tools are brilliant and for many gamers will justify the price tag on their own. With some neat sharing functionality there's every chance excellent, new, free content will be appearing for some time. If you're more interested in the actual karting experience, though, you might find ModNation to be ever so slightly lacking in personality. It's good fun with mates and has a surprising amount of depth, but lacks the magic that would have elevated it to a must own title.