Thursday, May 27, 2010

ModNation Racers (PS3) Review

If I were to pick one word to describe United Front Games’ first official game; ModNation Racers, my choice of word would probably be ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as Bayonetta mind you, but I have a nagging feeling that game may have been designed with that word spray-painted over all of the walls of the development offices.

This game is ridiculously fun, ridiculously fast, and can be - if you let it - ridiculously difficult. But I’ll get into that later. ModNation Racers is probably the best kart-racing game I’ve played in this console generation.

Let’s start with an easy point to make; the look. ModNation Racers is easily one of the best looking titles this year. You’re not going to find the lining of a jacket carefully modelled out onto your character, nor will you be able to practically feel the wind roaring through your character’s hair - if they have any. But the game’s cartoony graphical style is truly a feast for the eyes to see. The characters, the environments and the effects are all rendered in a spectacularly colourful display.

That barrel-shaped object appears to be getting closer! (Click for full image)

But, there have been times when a game has looked phenomenal but the gameplay just hasn’t been able to keep up. It’s sad when you’re playing a game with the graphical capabilities of Crysis and the gameplay mechanics of Ninjabread Man.

Fortunately, ModNation Racers plays just how it looks; like a dream. The karts handle well and the item pickups are insanely fun to use. If you’re not satisfied with how your kart controls you can switch around the acceleration, speed, handling, and drift capabilities. Increasing your acceleration will decrease your top-speed and vice-versa, and the same applies to handling and drift. This feature doesn’t attempt to make any one racer find the perfect example to follow; it merely offers more customisation to a game that already pushes your imagination to its limits.

Speaking of which, the customisation features in this game feel second to none. With the simple and effective editing tools I was creating some of my favourite characters (dubbed ‘Mods’ in game) in no time, such as Sub-Zero and Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, to Cole MacGrath from inFamous, with several of my own inventions thrown into the mix as well. The tools are easy-to-use and if you get stuck, there are tutorial videos that won’t require you to take a six-month crash course - no pun intended - to understand.

Even if you’re a core racing fanatic and want to get straight onto the track, this game will engage your creative motors - oh, I’m so witty - and simply make you want to create.

The kart creator takes many similarities to its character creator, and you’ll be able to fine tune and tweak your ride to your liking. It’s really very easy and almost effortless to create a kart that matches your character.

The track editor, on the other hand, is much more in-depth and can be a bit tricky at times to use. Though laying your track is easy enough - you simply drive around like you would on a racetrack, using an empty plateau to craft your track to your liking - you may at times realize that the tools are just not doing what you want them to do, despite your specifications. That said, it is not a difficult editor to use and there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment when you nail that killer track.

I’d hate to be that guy. (Click for full image)

With your track laid out, you can decorate it any way you like using a variety of props, terrain textures, powerups, obstacles, and jumps. You can even alter the layout of the track to add things like shortcuts and brutal turns.

My final say on the track editor? It is truly something that requires a bit of finesse to work properly, but once you get it down cold, you’ll be creating some great racetracks in no time.

Let’s move away from the creation tools and on to the sound. The game sounds magnificent, with addictive background tunes and sound effects that have been recorded perfectly. The voices of the characters are - and I will say surprisingly - fun to listen to. The commentators in particular are the ones I was at first sceptical of when I first saw previews of this game, but they are actually hilarious to listen to. Off character sounds for a moment, and on to effects which have been created masterfully. The roar of the engines - which sound different depending on which you picked for your kart - is great, and the explosions, the lightning, the speed, all spot on.

That in mind, let’s move on to the multiplayer, with up to four players being able to compete at once locally, this game is a dream for me, and I’d hope it would be for many other gamers. It’s very rare outside of Nintendo’s Wii to find a game that will allow four players to play at once while being in the same room and on the same console. More games need four-player local multiplayer, simply put. It’s just more fun to play a video game with your competition in the room with you, enjoying the spectacle.

The one problem I will add to this is the fact that more players will drop the amount of AI racers you can race against. Just playing three-player dropped my AI racer limit from ten (in two-player) to three. I’d assume that would go down again to two in a four-player race. I don’t know the reason for this, but fewer racers on the track tends to make the race feel a little empty at times.

So far I’ve been mostly positive of ModNation Racers, but this game is not perfect, no matter how little I can keep myself away from it. There are a few issues that could be corrected; most notable - and I am not the only one to mention this - is the loading times. Races can take up to and even above a minute to load, for a race that may only be double or triple that length. Reasons have been given for this, and there has even been hope suggested for a patch that will fix these issues in future, but for now it remains an annoyance. It’s not a game breaker, but it’s not exactly in the game’s favour either.

These guys will be hard to beat, even when they’re attacked by moving walls. (Click for full image)

My other big problem with the title is the brutality of the career mode AI. In your first series of races, you’ll be obliterating the competition, no problem. Maybe this could be the reason for the savage nature of the AI racers later on, but the issue still stands that unless you play this game to the point where you’re practically unbeatable in any situation, the later stages of the career will push you to your limits.

Beating a career race in third place in the later stages of the game often results in you unlocking a few pieces of creation content and progressing to the next race. But these races also offer challenges that require you to complete the prerequisites and place first to even complete them, which unlocks even more content for the creation tools.

Unfortunately, you often have to go out of your way to complete these challenges, and by the time you get that little completion sound and the tick in the top-left of your screen, your opponents will have breezed past you to the finish line and you don’t get anything because you placed seventh despite being first through practically the whole race. It’s annoying, and the career mode AI could do with a difficulty setting modifier in the options menu.

Sometimes, the career races just feel like luck is heavily involved when you do beat them, and that can tend to negate a sense of accomplishment.


Buy this game. Buy it and enjoy the hell out of it. I’ve yet to meet a game that doesn’t have flaws, but the positives in this game far outweigh the negatives. The colourful display - especially on the cover - may make this game look like a kid’s title, but this is truly a game to be enjoyed by all ages. The creation tools will inspire you to create some fantastic mods, karts, and tracks, and have them looking great. Some parts of the game, such as the load times, the AI ramping up in difficulty in career mode, and the trickier parts of the track editor can be annoyances, but they shouldn’t deter you from buying this game if you own a PlayStation 3.

United Front Games, I applaud you.

Presentation [8/10]
The load-times are a minor nuisance, but they can be overlooked. This game is presented almost flawlessly.
Graphics [9/10]
This is a game that looks amazing, without a doubt. An absolute spectacle to behold.
Sound [9/10]
The sound effects are perfect, and the characters are very amusing. But some areas are lacking, if only a little.
Gameplay [10/10]
Drifting, boosting, shields, powerups, jumps, item attacks, and quadruple-spins around clocktowers. This game plays brilliantly.
Replayability [9/10]
There are some minor issues that may turn gamers, including myself, off this game for a little while, but I can see this game being a mainstay in my collection. I won’t be putting this one down for a while yet.
9 out of 10