MotorStorm Pacific Rift - Time To Go Off-Road

October 24, 2008

Sony’s PS3 launch title, MotorStorm, gave racing fans a gritty taste of just how extreme off-road racing can be. Its impressive visuals and over-the-top crashes were impressive, but a bare-bones list of modes, including a lack of split-screen multiplayer, sold the concept a little short. Pacific Rift aims to pick up the pieces by alleviating prior complaints, but is it enough?
Pacific Rift, like its predecessor, is all about a grudge-filled, high-octane racing festival, which pits various vehicle classes against one another in a Mad Max-inspired free-for-all. Only this time, the setting has shifted from desert landscapes to a fictional tropical island paradise.

Single-player’s festival mode breaks down into four distinct environments: earth, air, fire, and water, with each theme offering over 20 separate racing events to compete in. Points are earned based on your performance, and they ultimately improve your overall rank and unlock a fleet of vehicles, events, and new driver skins—however faceless they may be. Aside from the straight-forward racing, you’ll compete in speed trials, where you must pass through various checkpoints, and the fast-paced eliminator challenge, where the last place racer is eliminated when the clock counts to zero.

Sixteen multi-route tracks pepper the game, so there’s plenty of landscape to uncover, and routes to familiarize yourself with. Tracks are so intricate you’ll find yourself playing through them numerous times just to find the most cost-effective route. Because of all these variables at play, no two races ever feel the same.

The iconic vehicles make a comeback, with the big-wheeled monster truck debuting for the first time. Each is rated based on their ability to perform on the track, with varying strengths and weaknesses. Bikes, ATVs, rally cars, buggies, trophy trucks, mudpluggers, and big rigs make up the full roster, giving you plenty of options.

Online returns and lets you compete in just race and elimination modes, and those without a broadband connection will appreciate that up to four people can play split-screen this time.

There are certainly more options than the first game, but Pacific Rift still falls a little short. Race, speed, and elimination are a lot of fun, but they’re still all about driving as fast as you can within the confines of a track. With physics this great, some kind of destruction derby or crash mode would’ve been a great addition.

Each vehicle controls exactly how you would expect. Motorcycles are nimble on dry ground, but come to a crawl in deep mud or water. Heavier classes make quick work of obstacles, and have prolonged boosts to level out the playing field, but are slow and clunky to drive.

All the vehicles have a learning curve. Effectively maneuvering through each track can be difficult at first. It’s possible to have your wheels cocked, the brakes firmly pressed, and still be the victim of an uncontrollable skid straight into disaster. Once you get a handle on each class, the controls are great—reacting to every last divot and mud bog.

Boosting is a must if you want to compete, and it provides a good deal of strategy. If you abuse it, your entire vehicle will overheat and explode. You can either monitor it constantly, or scan the track for patches of water that will cool it down. In the first game mud served this purpose, but in Pacific Rift you have more choices.

Each track has plenty of environmental obstacles to overcome. Volcanic areas heat up your engine’s temperature, water-logged areas are slippery, and rocky landscapes or heavy vegetation act like landmines. It’s a compelling way to not only battle your unfriendly competitors, but the environment itself. Some of the nastier obstacle-filled tracks, like the interior of a warehouse, seem to stray away from the beaten path but are a joy to plow through.

Playing MotorStorm: Pacific Rift will get your heart racing. With so many branching paths, competitors can come from anywhere, and one slight mistake or malicious bump can send you careening off-course. It has a great sense of speed, and the feeling of the unknown pervades every last lap of every last race.

We’re not sure if the first MotorStorm was way ahead of its time or if Pacific Rift is behind the curve, but the two games look predominantly the same. Well, there’s one huge exception. This time the frame-rate is buttery smooth. Despite the slight upgrade, water effects still look astounding, and intricate details like mud on the windshield, and tons of debris on each track set it on the top shelf of off-road racing games. Nothing else really comes close.

MotorStorm’s infamous bone-crushing crashes return in full force, and will still put a smile on your face with their copious ragdoll ballets. The music features the same compilation of punk, rock, and electronica, but you can always customize your own if you want. Our biggest gripe is the sound of the engines. If you crank it up, they become obnoxious.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is the game that should have been available at launch. If it had been released back then with these options, it would have been a home run. Standards are even higher now, so while the additions are great, there’s still room for improvement. Even so, few driving games will make you clinch your controller this tight or make your eyes water this hard. If you’re looking to sling some mud in the living room without ruining the couch, there are few choices better than Pacific Rift.