MotorStorm probably isn't the launch title you're expecting it to be. On the surface it looks like an arcade-style racer that allows you to recklessly hurtle around various canyon-themed courses while smashing into other vehicles. In reality it's a tough racer that requires real driving skill and time to lean the correct route through each of the courses. MotorStorm's got that next-gen "wow" factor but it's one of the deepest launch titles for the PlayStation 3.
Before you get too excited, it's worth noting that this depth is spread thinly over only two game modes. You get the core single-player festival mode that sees you enter in race after race in a variety of off-road vehicles, and online play. We're use to launch titles being a little bare bones, but MotorStorm really is lacking. More is coming through various content downloads but unless it's released for free (highly unlikely) you'll be paying for things that should have been included on the disc in the first place.
Thankfully, the festival mode is highly entertaining - at least once you've realised how much concentration needs to go into every race. The goal is to work through a series of racing tickets, each home to a handful of events. Each successful finish earns you points, which are needed to unlock later tickets. It's pretty standard racing game progression, but the racing is anything but. You'll be tasked with competing in bikes, trucks, rally cars, buggies and mud pluggers, and it's this variety that makes MotorStorm stand out as a must own PS3 racer.
Throughout the festival you'll skip between eight courses, all based in the same canyon location. This means that there's less variety than you might be used to but numerous branching paths and different times of day make the most of what's available. Each of the vehicles has a preferred route through each course, so, for example, bikes are best taken around the more dangerous winding routes that contain jumps, while big trucks perform best on straighter sections of track and don't mind a bit of mud around their wheels.
Signposts show which route is best for your vehicle, but it'll still take some time to nail each route. Due to the rough nature of the racing you'll also have to contend with the other racers, who can cause a few problems if you're in one of the more weedy vehicles. If you're not prepared and find your bike needing to swerve across the line of a series of trucks as you desperately try to get to your preferred path, be ready to meet an explosive end. Jostling with other racers is part and parcel of the experience, and you're never too far from a precarious situation - cliff edge, large rock face or similar.
So, racing in MotorStorm is great. Switch to the bonnet cam of your vehicle (or a closer third-person cam if you're on a bike) while racing amongst the 14 other vehicles and you get a real next-gen buzz. Mud can be seen flying around, you can see the suspension on then other vehicles reacting to the uneven track and there's an incredible feeling of immersion. Lack of rumble aside, it feels like you're there and this is MotorStorm's biggest feat. Ignite your boost and things go up a level, with the increased speed making an already hairy experience even more intense.
Things aren't perfect though. Our old pal Rubber-band AI makes a rather unwanted appearance and this means you're very rarely going to find yourself in a clear winning position. You might have the perfect race, only to crash on the final corner and see a stream of ten or more vehicles scream past. It's often pretty demoralising, but at the same time it works for you if you're behind. The real problem is that it works against the game's brutal racing style. You can work hard to push someone off a cliff or into a wall but a while later that racer will be right up with you again, and this means that the rough racing isn't nearly as rewarding as it ought to be.
Thankfully, online play makes up for the single-player mode's shortcomings, as the 'catch-up' feature can be disabled. This makes all the difference as every slight nudge and dirty tactic has a real impact. Performance online is solid, with little lag noticeable during the numerous 12-player races I took part in, but the whole implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The menus are bland and the options are extremely limited, but it's good fun and certainly one of the more worthwhile online experiences you can currently have with a PlayStation 3.
One of the main reasons why MotorStorm has become such a hyped PlayStation 3 title is its visuals. While many of the system's launch titles have failed to live up to its next-gen price tag, MotorStorm doesn't disappoint. Vehicle models look brilliant, mud deforms as you race, crashes look spectacular and the lighting is about as good as you'll see in a video game at the moment. It's the physics that steal the show though, with vehicles bouncing around naturally, often spinning through the air into other drivers in ways that look like impressive Hollywood stunts. If you want to show a game to your non-PS3-owning mates, this is it.
MotorStorm is a great game but it's impossible to overlook its shortcomings. It's a launch title in every sense of term (awkward motion control included), doing its bit to showcase the PlayStation 3's power but skimping on features. It's certainly one of the early titles that new PS3 owners should have on their shopping lists but there's no doubt that this is just a test for an inevitable, more feature rich sequel that will arrive in the future.