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Motorstorm: Arctic Edge

10:3014/09/2009Posted by Simeon Paskell2 Comments

Is giving an established franchise a heavy frosting of snow and shoving it onto a hand-held enough to warrant attention? Big Big Studios seem to think so, and in this instance we’re inclined to agree – Motorstorm’s transition to Sony’s handheld is a remarkably smooth one.

Motorstorm 1Evolution Studio’s mud-soaked original had the dubious honour of being a PS3 launch title; but rather than make a nervous, tentative first-step into the next-gen ball, Motorstorm embraced the opportunity with some aplomb, blasting air-horns in your ears and blowing diesel smoke in your eyes, and was undoubtedly a highlight of the PS3s early line-up. Obviously a sucker for punishment, the series once again assumes the role of launch-title, with Motorstorm: Arctic Edge accompanying Sony’s new PSP Go and revitalised, newly re-focused PSN. Once again it seems to relish the challenge.

For the uninitiated, Motorstorm is a racing game built on chaos, with motorbikes, rally cars, trucks, dune buggies and quad-bikes all tussling for the lead on large, multi-path tracks. The precision racing lines of more serious racers is jettisoned in favour of pushing yourself and your vehicle to the limit, while hoping you have the cat-like reflexes needed to hurtle headlong around complex courses. Collisions are inevitable and the twisted metal that follows is all part of the fun. This is pedal to the floor racing, where victory is as much a test of nerves as skilful driving, and this debut PSP incarnation is every bit as adrenaline-pumping as the first two games in the series.

Motorstorm 2Where Arctic Edge most impresses is in its production values. While obviously lacking an HD sheen, nearly every aspect of the original is present and correct; from the blisteringly fast (and not to mention solid) frame rates, large, detailed tracks, lovingly rendered vehicles, rock-solid physics engine and (often hilarious) rag-doll riders; it genuinely shines as a showcase for the PSP’s capabilities. Even small details such as track deformation, flags blowing in the wind and raindrops sticking to the camera are retained, all without a hint of slowdown. The result of this polish means that blasting your chosen vehicle through the game’s 12 tracks is every bit as visceral and visually impressive as its console based counterparts. The (customisable) soundtrack is also worthy of a mention, featuring the likes of Queen of the Stone Age, Radiohead and The Prodigy.

As the title suggests, Arctic Edge replaces the dusty deserts and tropical settings of its predecessors with blizzard-blasted wastelands, fields of ice and hazardous crevasses, in which the signature hotchpotch of vehicles feel right at home. Big Big Studios have taken the opportunity to expand the series as well as make good use of the Arctic setting. New vehicles have been introduced (snow cats, snow ploughs and ski-doos) along with bob-sleigh corners, avalanches and collapsing ice-bridges. Deep snow drifts now function to cool your engine and restore your boost and sheets of ice add a further obstacle to your progress. These additions go a long way to keeping the series feeling fresh, and validate Arctic Edge’s credentials as a bonafide, fully-fledged sequel.

Events come in three forms; traditional head-to-heads against 9 other drivers, a score-based ‘Time Ticker’ mode (in which holding the lead for the longest amount of time is key) and solo, against the clock dashes. Victories award points which allow you to progress through the game’s eight, increasingly difficult, ranks. Stars are awarded for meeting set requirements in certain races, which in turn unlock further events. If that wasn’t enough, new accessories with which to customise your vehicles and achievement-like badges are there for the taking.

Motorstorm 5All of this would be for nothing without challenging opponents to race against. Luckily, your AI controlled adversaries are pleasingly aggressive, making it all the more satisfying when you force them off the track into a deep crevasse. Mastering each of the vehicles and which of the multiple routes they’re most suited also adds a huge amount of replayability to the game, while forcing the use of certain vehicles for certain events further helps to keep you on your toes.

Arctic Edge is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and can be an undeniably cruel mistress (especially in the later races). Leading the pack for most of a race only to be shunted into a wall and dropped down to fifth on the last corner can be very gruelling, but unlike rubber-banding masters such as Mario Kart Wii, it manages to avoid being overly frustrating and definitely rewards skill and persistence. Sensibly, the opening volley of races are quite forgiving, with first places coming with ease to those familiar with the game, and no doubt serves to ease newcomers into the action.

Motorstorm 3Although the servers weren’t up and running at the time of writing, if the multiplayer features are as solidly implemented as the rest of the game, online racing should prove to be the cherry on top of a very enjoyable experience. While only 8-players will be supported (the single player features 10 vehicles), this should be enough to retain the chaotic feel of the game. The game also offers adhoc multiplayer and (for the Playstation 2 version) split screen functionality.

When a major console-based series makes the transition to a hand-held platform, there is always a fear that something will get lost in translation. While the relentless chaos will no doubt prove to be turn off for some, Big Big Studios has delivered as complete a Motorstorm experience as one could hope for. In many ways, Arctic Edge (along with Gran Turismo PSP) feels like a landmark release for Sony; in light of the rise of Apple’s App Store and its legion of low-cost, bite-sized gaming, Sony’s dogged pursuit of costly Playstation 2-quality portable-gaming can feel slightly outdated. However, we are happy to report that not only does Arctic Edge hold its own against its predecessors, it does an excellent job of re-confirming the validity of the PSP in this brave new world. That Big BIg Studios have managed to squeeze an experience previously only available on the Playstation 3 into your pocket is a genuine marvel – Motorstorm: Arctic Edge is feature rich, beautifully polished, graphically ambitious and, above all else, retains the oil, smoke and tears that fans know and love.

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