Review – ModNation Racers
Madman at the wheel.
Kart racing (as we know it today) has to be one of those genres that never would have existed had it not been for one seminal title. Wacky racers, impractical vehicles, weird and wonderful tracks and of course weapons about as powerful as the average suitcase nuke all come together to form the modern kart racer. Nintendo have long held the crown in this genre, and by Nintendo I of course mean Mario Kart, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been a fair share of contenders to the throne (suggest your own in the comments field). Sony has decided they want a piece of this pie and are combining kart racer fundamentals to their â€œPlay, Create, Shareâ€ brand, has Mod Nation Racers got what it takes to bring about a kart racer renaissance or will this creative Mecca turn out like so much other user generated content pap.
On the surface ModNation Racers looks as sleek, colourful and cutesy as you’d expect from a kart racer, gameplay is pretty much as one would expect also. Karts race around themed landscapes, drive over speed boost panels, collect power-ups and fly over massive ramps with enjoyable regularity. The aim of the game is to place in the top three after each race and then advance to the next stage. Feeling sociable? Then play some multiplayer, either locally or online and despite the PlayStation Network not being as robust and reliable as some other online gaming services out there, it’s as fun as ever to be annihilated by American teenagers.
So that’s the bare bone basics but there’s plenty other nice little additions the game has before they even bring out the big guns of level creation.
As with any self respecting karter, weapons play a large part. Once a ‘weapon crate’ has been collected you have the option to fire it forward or drop it behind you, as is the case in similar games. ModNation Racers adds an extra level of depth with the option to power up your weapon by driving over more crates. A fully powered up level three weapon can have a phenomenal impact on the race be it in the form of an almighty barrage of missiles landing upon racers or by allowing you to travel at greatly enhanced speeds and even teleporting you ahead of the competition. As satisfying as it is to release such destruction on the opponents, more often than not you will be cursing the screen when the AI does this to you and being that it’s the most effective strategy, they’ll be doing it a lot.
Karts have a boost ability that is fueled by the usual drifting round corners, damaging opponents and getting huge air time. Boost will help you outrun certain weapons but each kart can use their boost bar to power a temporary protective shield around them thus adding another element of strategy â€“ essential if you hope to stand a change against the afore mentioned WMDs at other races disposal.
Okay, so that’s the basics and even on this level the game is impressive and enjoyable. Of course the real ingenuity in the game comes from the endless possibilities for creating racers, karts and tracks – which quite frankly is amazing.
No point beating about the bush then, just about anything is possible when it comes to designing racers and karts. No point in even pretending I have a creative bone in my body but from all the readily available user creations to download, you can race with anyone from Kermit the Frog, Iron Man, Power Rangers, Batman to Sephiroth, Elmo or Mr Peanut. Literally I’ve spent hours trawling for the finest character and vehicle creations online and despite being completely superficial, there’s nothing quite like driving about in Optimus Prime whilst dressed as the Cookie Monster or racing in Ecto-1 as The Stig.
Track creation is obviously the main focus here and its even easier to knock something race worthy out than it is to crate a racer or kart. Just drive around the general shape of the track as if you were racing it. Once completed you can choose to ‘auto populate’ the track with scenery or give it a bash yourself, insert obstacles, shortcuts, ramps, speed boosts and weapons. Even a numpty like myself can create amusing diversions, although I’m sure it will take a little longer before we begin to see some AAA tracks created by other users. As with LittleBigPlanet, it seems that many tracks are just being created with the sole purpose of unlocking Playstation Trophies as quickly as possible.
Is ModNation Racers a good game? Yes, yes it is and it’s reflected in the score. Is is a great game? Well no not really. The thing is this kind of thing as been done and done well before. Gripshift on the PSP or Trackmania on the PC being two prime examples of this but like I said,ModNation Racers is still a good game.
The game itself is pretty average Mario Kart style affair. It has two modes none of which involve arena based fights but either plain drifting or racing so there might be some problems there for some people. The graphics are nice and very clean looking and the game does not take itself too seriously which is great.
The loading times might annoy some people as they are longer than the average game and there is slow down with some levels, especially in split screen. While the track editor is very good it’s not as flexible as the LittleBigPlanet editor so don’t think you are going to be able to make Tetris or Mario 1-1 on this bad boy. With that said if you like karting games but for some reason don’t own a Wii or a PSP then this is the game for you as it’s a very nice power-up based racer.
Secondary Score: 7/10
As with all creations you can give them a star rating out of five in order to allow the cream of the crop to float to the surface in addition to commenting on other peoples creations, unfortunately the emphasis here seems to be on overtly critical twats just bursting to give their two cents on what they’d have done better to your work of art. Overall the actual system of searching for user generated content has been implemented superbly, whether you’re looking for creations by a particular user, looking for top rated, newest editions or even just searching for comic book characters in the search field it all comes together rather beautifully.
The game isn’t perfect of course, as mentioned previously, the AI racers can provide quite a challenge at times and as most humans would do use the occasional cheap tactic to get the upper hand. Probably the biggest complaint about the game is the load times before starting a race, it’s certainly a problem I can over look for now, but it is still worthy of note. The story mode (and I use ‘story’ very loosely here) is as flimsy as you’d imagine but seeing as this is the area you are least likely to spend your time, I doubt many will complain about its lack of depth.
Having a game whose main focus is on encouraging users to create content themselves makes it impossible to predict what we will see in the future. ModNation Racers offers an incredible wealth of tools but will the average gamer want to spend much time and effort doing this? I strongly believe that the community will rise to the challenge.
ModNation Racers is a great kart racer and a great showcase to the creativity of many gamers out there. There’s a ton of fun to be had and I literally can’t wait to see all the unique and copywrite infringing creations over the coming months. Pick a track, choose a racer and if you’re really lucky, you could end up driving in the PEOWW-mobile.