This returning feature aside, you'd be forgiven for mistaking MotorStorm Apocalypse for some other franchise entirely. Off-road racing has always been the series' roots, and while this is still technically an off-road (or perhaps broken road) affair, it still feels like a rather different beast. It didn't help much that Sony's recent demo featured a scuffed-up sports car as the only available ride, rather than the ATVs, rally cars and bikes and so forth that we've come to expect. Still, I've no doubt that most these vehicles will still be available - I spotted at least one biker during the madness of the race, although he could have been one of the random NPC motorists who loiter the track. Handling-wise the new game seemed a lot more forgiving and a touch more arcade-y than its immediate predecessor, although this may be due to the fact that the difficulty had been dialled down for the press. Has Apocalypse really strayed that far from its established formula? Only time will tell.
Either way, there's some innovative stuff going on here. The career mode has an over-arching story to it - and for once this actually sounds like a fairly well-handled addition. At the very start of the game there's a playable prologue that finds the MotorStorm carrier ship rocking up on the coast, after which you invade the US mainland from launch boats - a bit like Mad Max doing Saving Private Ryan; we were only shown stills and concept art from this bit, but it sounds wonderful. After that there's a separate campaign for each of the three difficulty levels, following a trio of protagonists over the course of 48 hours. "The Rookie" is a newcomer to the MotorStorm Festival, a stowaway on the carrier who looks a bit like Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man; "The Rookie" is our middle-ground everyman and somewhat resembles Timothy Olyphant with a pair of flying goggles on his head. Finally we have "The Veteran": a grizzled old ball-breaker who looks like the physical personification of a ZZ Top concert. Judging from his appearance, he lives only for the smell of petrol and the taste of sour whiskey - and he could make your mum pregnant by just looking at her.
As a result of the persistent timeline you'll be able to watch the city as it falls to bits: if a building falls over in the first race, for example, it'll be mess of concrete and twisted metal when you're next racing through that area. At the start of the campaign your surroundings will be heavily damaged but just about standing; by the time the two-day MotorStorm Festival wraps up, everything will have well and truly gone to Hell. At the end of each campaign there'll apparently be a sort of epilogue, too - a crazy dash back to the carrier before the entire city is finally swallowed, digested and pooped out by Mother Nature.
It all sounds like enormous fun, and that's before the unrevealed multiplayer is taken into account. Beyond that, there's also the unexpected bonus of a track creation system. Evolution hasn't revealed too much about this yet, but it has said that it will enable players to fiddle around with all the same explosive props of the pre-made tracks, and that it will use some kind of simple "word-based" system; upon further investigation, it seems that the editors will use the same sort of logic gates we've seen in WarioWare DIY; at a guess I'd imagine that you might form commands along the lines of "PLAYER is near CAR, EXPLODE" - although that's pure speculation.
Sony's demo only offered one race and a single sports car to use, but that didn't stop a healthy sense of competition from spawning among the assembled press. We egged each other on, jeered when someone crashed, and then reached over for the pad to take another go for ourselves. We knew that that the fine weather was still waiting for us outside, and yet we stuck around for Just Another Go. Even at this pre-alpha stage, MotorStorm: Apocalypse is surprisingly addictive - and perhaps that's the most encouraging sign of all.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse will be released exclusively on PS3