Motorstorm RC is a PS Vita launch title that very few who own or have looked at the console itself can fail to have noticed. There are many reasons why it has grabbed the attention of folks all over the world. It’s the latest game bearing the name of a fairly new but well-loved intellectual property. It incites vivid memories of the mid 1990’s and Micro Machines on the 16-bit consoles. Other reasons are more unique to this title and the machine you play it on – the fact that the game is cross-platform with true cross-play between the PS3 and the Vita (a first) and the fact it’s available for just £4.79. For these reasons and more the game deserves a one to one attachment rate amongst Vita owners, i.e. everyone who owns the handheld powerhouse should own this game. It truly is a stand-out title in general and a forward-looking standard bearer for the PS Vita. Everything it tries succeeds and ensures universal appeal. However, if you’re reading this you probably want to know if you should believe the hype (of which you’ve just read more) and why you should do so. So, why should you play this game?
The main reason of course is its insanely enjoyable brand of digital OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). To explain this fully requires a briefing on the game’s structure. As you start out the main focus is on festivals, of which there are four. Each of these festivals contains sixteen races varying from four wheel drive or big rig races against fellow (AI) competitors to drifting all the way round the track and onwards to hot laps in supercars. The aim in each is to beat the time, or score, or position that is needed to obtain one, two or three medals. Collect medals and unlock more tracks (up to sixteen per festival) and vehicles and designs whilst working towards the really quite challenging trophies relating to specific races or times (individual or collective). The festivals themselves are based on the previous Motorstorm games, so you have a Pacific Rift themed series of events as well as something a whole lot more apocalyptic.
The events are of course on a micro-scale. The vehicles are remote controlled. The courses are made up of boxes and pavements and logs and dirt. It’s all very well done and wholesomely chucklesome at first. Once you get going, however, each race is pretty much an intense funnel of narrow competitive focus. There is no chance to enjoy the surroundings, not if you’re pushing to win and beat your times and those of others. And that is pretty much all you’ll do. Time after time again you’ll tackle even just one race to get that one hot lap below the seemingly unachievable eleven seconds.
There is no game in recent times that has encouraged and managed score, or time attacks so well as Motorstorm. Especially not one so well suited to the various styles of play the user may find themselves expressing. A hot lap could take ten seconds. A full race will only take one minute something. Repeating it over and over again – something that the majority of players will need to do if they want to finish the game in part (or entirely – more later) – doesn’t lead to boredom. It’s too short to do that. Granted, if you had to compete against one time for two to three hours it could become boring. But it’s unlikely that would happen given the game mechanics, and if it did you would always be able to move onto one of the other sixty-four races.
Each race in the first instance seems utterly ridiculous. How you will ever get to the required times for anything approaching a gold medal is unimaginable. But try it a few times and you start to learn the track. A few more and each turn becomes inbuilt to your muscle memory. You work out then how best to take a particular turn, or when to take a straight on the inside or outside. The last step is fixing the bits you haven’t got. Normally there’ll come a time when you just get it, and ace that event. Gold medal banked; placed high up the leaderboard. It’s a really quite wonderful feeling. Enough actually that at times I wanted to fist pump for the world until I realised two things – one, I’d look eternally silly and two, I was playing on a handheld so accidentally dropping it would cause all kinds of pain.
The leaderboard is magnificent. Taking its cue from Criterion’s Need for Speed Autolog, it builds a variety of boards one of which is you and your friends. You never want to lose to your friends. There’s the obvious desire to place higher but the game also encourages you via the Pitwall, the real Autolog equivalent. It doesn’t just tell you that you have done better or worse than your friends, either – it tells you you’ve been thrashed or something equally depressing. The need to set the record straight no matter how much time it takes is immense. It’s also helpful because to get all the trophies you ultimately need to complete each festival in a certain cumulative time, and then all four festivals in another summed numeric. It’s challenging and really extends the life of the game. You may have all gold medals (maybe not) but you want to get the trophies to really finish the game and because you can see how it is possible – where have your friends saved significant time versus yourself – and also that it is possible when you see that mate who’s always been absolute rubbish at driving games has got that time and with it, the trophy.
If you did get bored of the racing you can always go and play in the playground. Drive a variety of cars and do things as diverse as jumping through basketball hoops, playing football and performing stunts for BMX bikes. It’s not going to be a time sink but it does allow regression of the adrenaline produced by a particularly devilish track or time and also hides away hidden cars if you can work out what to do to unlock them. The cars themselves do have a different feel – big rigs are heavy, cumbersome and unstable. Supercars are ridiculously hard to control given they’re always further ahead than you realise thanks to their speed. The different types of events feel different, too. Drifting is obviously a completely different focus but so is a race compared to a chase down of ten other vehicles, especially when raced on ice versus dirt! There is always something to do which is sufficiently different to what you’ve been doing for thirty goes, ensuring you keep playing.
If you want to keep playing, that is. It’s a handheld title first and foremost. Yes, you can play it on your PS3 (and most will want to at least boot it up given the trophies are counted again, but don’t have to be achieved again…) but the game looks less impressive and doesn’t feel quite right when played via Dualshock as opposed to Vita twin sticks. The control method can be changed, but the default setup requires one stick to accelerate and one to steer (the steering can be as per point of view or per car, i.e. left is left as the player sees it or as the car sees it). For sure the OLED screen of the Vita brings the game more to life than even a properly calibrated HD screen – probably because the game is small-scale at heart. Being able to pick it up in-between tube stops and achieve something really helps, too. The fact that you can progress in ten seconds or ten hours shows great design and betrays the home console. Having the cross-play functionality is a real bonus though. If only to show what can be done and the different ways it can be done (as opposed to Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 using such functionality to allow for Vita’s use as a super controller).
Ultimately the sheer quality of Motorstorm RC shines through in everything it does. It never fails to generate excitement, entertainment and challenge, even after so many hours with the game. The already released and forthcoming DLC only adds to the attraction. It races fantastically, it encourages play via so many methods and it really rewards and allows for improvement and progression. The game is a fantastic example of a racing game, a handheld game and a fine example of how to use multiplayer without just having classic multiplayer. A classic handheld game, then.