The skyline is a mess of collapsing architecture. The smoky heavens rain down slabs of concrete and broken glass. Roads are littered with the burning carcasses of abandoned cars and boats are belched out of the violent seas. Tarmac ruptures and machinery explodes, the odd bolt of lightning stabs through the clouds. It's an urban apocalypse, and you're right there in the middle of it, foot on the gas, tearing through the dying city.
It's overwhelming at first. The third MotorStorm presents destruction like nothing else before it, battering your senses with everything nature can muster. While Charles Richter would point to a number on the far end of his famous scale and warn you off the place, this is precisely the reason why the Stormers – the series' adrenaline craving racers – have flocked to The City in the first place. They're actively pursuing the earthquake, hoping that the inhospitable conditions will grant them the best racing experience of their lives. The fruitcakes.
The Festival, as the Stormers call the three-day event, is also the name of the game's narrative-driven story mode, which stitches races together with trendy comic book cutscenes. These are well-orchestrated, and while the dialogue is cheesier than a family bag of Wotsits, they're entertaining nonetheless. The colourful cast of characters bet on races, pursue romances, and plot revenge on their rivals. Even so, this is all incredibly detached from what happens on the track. Aside from the odd duel towards the end of each character's storyline, the cutscenes bear no relation to the action.
The Festival is split across the paths of three characters: boy racer Mash, topless gambler Tyler, and the haggard festival co-ordinator, Big Dog. The three adrenaline junkies also serve to differentiate between the game's trio of difficulty modes - rookie, pro and veteran. Each character jumps behind the wheel of a variety of vehicles throughout the festival, from monster trucks, buggies and ATVs to the all-new supercars, superbikes, hot hatches, muscle cars and low-riders. As always, the diversity of motors is suitably vast.
The handling isn't as tight as that on offer in say Hot Pursuit or Split/Second (the bikes are particularly iffy), but compared to previous entries in the series vehicles have more grip and don't feel as heavy when turning - even the race truck can corner fairly well. As with previous games, tapping X will activate your nitrous, but holding it down for too long will cause your engine to burst into flames. Driving through water is a good way to cool it down, simultaneously allowing your boosters to hold out for extended periods of time. Skilled players will plan their routes around these pools of water, shaving precious seconds off their lap times in the process. And should another vehicle get too close, Square and Circle can be used to shunt your opponents left and right.
Ultimately it's the environments, not the cars, that define the MotorStorm experience. For the first time in the series, Evolution Studios has taken the action into an urban setting, and the California Bay-inspired City is the perfect host for the carnage. As always, tracks offer multiple routes to the finish line, with buildings, ramps and tunnels each taking the race down a different path. Like its predecessors, there's just as much vertical variety as there is horizontal, which spreads out each race nicely.