MotorStorm dazzled on its release, but the rush to get the game out for the European PlayStation 3 launch resulted in a rather bare bones experience. In the months that followed developer Evolution Studios added more content and features, but we wanted a full-on sequel that took the best parts of the original, expanded on them and added all the things we'd have had in the first game had time not been an issue. MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is pretty much that. We've got a new island, more tracks, more vehicles, more game modes and the same exhilarating gameplay.
Pacific Rift's premise is very similar to that of the original game. Instead of heading to the middle of a desert you head to an island to take part in a racing festival - complete with over the top intro that sets the mood for the kind of epic racing that's about to take place. Rather than having a single identity, the courses in Pacific Rift are split into four quite distinct zones: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
One of the criticisms levelled at the original MotorStorm was the lack of variety in tracks. This isn't a problem in Pacific Rift, with zones and tracks within each zone looking and feeling very different to one another. You can be soaring high into the air after climbing a mountain on one track, only to be careering down a ravenous river on another. Evolution should be applauded for delivering on the variety front. Having said that, the tracks vary quite significantly in quality, with the Fire zone tracks in particular feeling less impressive than those in the other three zones.
The ticket system from the previous MotorStorm returns here, which is essentially another way of saying you need to win points in a certain amount of races before new tracks and events are unlocked. It's a fairly traditional progression system, with the slight difference being bonus event unlocks if certain objectives are achieved. These range from finishing a race with fewer than the specified wipe outs to finishing under a certain time. These special events can only be unlocked in this way, giving you a reason to replay completed events at a later stage.
If you're new to MotorStorm you'll probably be slightly surprised by the handling model Evolution Studios opted for. Although the game has the appearance and progression system of an arcade racer it's far from it. Cornering in Pacific Rift is just as tough as it was in the original game, so if you weren't a fan before you won't be now either. We'd have liked the handling to have had a slightly more arcade slant, but it's just a personal preference. Pacific Rift handles well for a serious racer - you just have to get the fact that it's not an arcade racer drilled into your head before it starts to click.
As in the first game you'll be racing in a number of different off-road vehicles. Bikes, ATVs, Buggies, Rally Cars, Racing Trucks, Mudpluggers, Big Rigs and Monster Trucks are all included. Fans will likely gravitate to their favourite vehicles from the original game, but races often force you to choose from a limited selection, including the new Monster Truck. This falls into the big class of vehicles, able to churn through boggy land and water, and smash through barriers that other vehicles can't.
We preferred the mix of speed, handling and weight the rally cars provided in MotorStorm and the same is true in Pacific Rift. Everyone will have their own preference though, and it'll likely come down to your style - aggressive drivers can barge with heavier vehicles (bike riders can only punch) while smaller vehicles can access routes the juggernauts can't get to. Each vehicle has an ideal route through each track which you'll need to work out and perfect, but the general rule is that higher ground is less likely to be muddy and water logged.
Pacific Rift's Festival mode will take a long time to beat, but if you want to try your hand at something else Evolution Studios has included a neat Time Attack mode complete with downloadable ghosts, developer times to beat and online leaderboards. There's also a free-play option if you want a more personalised race and single-system multiplayer for up to four players - something that works very well and only suffers from a slight degrade in visual quality.
Online multilayer is something that Evolution Studios managed to include in the original MotorStorm, but it felt like a tacked on feature, comparing rather poorly to the best online racers on the market. Pacific Rift promises to be an altogether better experience, although we've been unable to test how the 16-player online racing works (look for an update soon). Assuming this is relatively lag free, the ranked and unranked races should keep fans occupied for some time.
We were rather unsure about MotorStorm: Pacific Rift's visuals on the two occasions we'd seen it earlier in the year. Something about it just didn't pop like we wanted it to. It's really not until you sit back and take in the bigger picture, something we've now been able to do, that you see just how impressive the game looks. It's not as instantly spectacular as Disney's Pure, but it's grander. Pure had impressive draw distances, but while playing Pacific Rift you get the feeling that you're driving about on a massive island, rather than a single, albeit, large track. It is of course an illusion as you can't freely move about wherever you wish, but the sense of scale is truly immense.
It's not perfect, however, with a slightly patchy frame rate and some iffy textures being the biggest offenders. Still, this is one of the best looking games on the PS3 and will frequently blow you away with the detail in the environments. The game runs at an incredible speed too, providing an adrenaline rush that is worth the admission fee alone. It's just a shame that the speed often mixes very badly with the tough driving model. When you're flying through a track it feels like a stunning version of Nintendo's Excite Truck, but too many tight corners on certain tracks dampen the fun somewhat. MotorStorm featured an impressive soundtrack that got the blood pumping and Pacific Rift doesn't let the series down here either. You'll get a great festival atmosphere that really makes the most of a good surround sound set-up.
PlayStation has had some hugely impressive racing franchises over the years and Pacific Rift shows that MotorStorm is on its way to join the greats. We're still not completely sold on what we believe is an overly harsh handling model that frequently restricts the amount of fun the average gamer can have, but it's not an insurmountable problem. Once you're in the groove you'll find some incredible tracks to scream around at high speed and the online play should provide plenty of longevity. Some might see Pacific Rift as a safe follow-up, but with a brand new location, more tracks and more features, it's more or less exactly what fans wanted.