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We've all seen those police chase shows full of spectacular crashes. Motorstorm Apocalypse - where crashing is a regular gameplay feature - gives you the chance to recreate those moments from the safety of your own PS3.
It would be doing Motorstorm Apocalypse a disservice to describe it as just another racing game. Although the mechanics of standard racing games are all present (do a certain number of laps, finish in a certain position to qualify for the next race), it brings to racing a sense of mayhem unseen in most racing games. Your objective is not just to get through the race alive, but ideally to take out as many opposition racers as you can along the way.
There's something very satisfying about Apocalypse on an almost primeval level. Whilst there are set race tracks (you can't just go where you like) the no-rules, no-holds barred gameplay allows you a good deal of freedom to destroy other racers and even run over spectators. The game grabs you on a primitive level, giving you a real sense of triumph when you slam an opponent into a concrete barrier. If they do the same to you, the urge for revenge starts to take over and you hunt them down, determined to return the favour so that the actual race almost becomes incidental in your quest for retribution. This gives Apocalypse a slightly different feel and gives it an extra dimension which more sanitised games lack.
Graphics are starting to show their age as it's a few years old now, but they still do their job well. The cityscapes and backdrops to races are good and sum up the post-apocalyptic setting for the game; the different vehicles have real character and look and handle very differently. There's a real "Mad Max" feel to the game, particularly on the cars which look as though they have been cannibalised from about eight different vehicles. Again, it helps give Apocalypse a feel somewhat different to more standard racers.
What can be more of an issue is the track graphics. As you might expect, the roads are strewn with obstacles and clear markers are few and far between. Since the overall palette for the game is quite dark (mostly browns, greys and blacks), this does mean that the turns in the track are not always obvious. All too often you often find yourself suddenly hurtling at break-neck speed into a bend that you didn't even see coming.
Once you get to grips with the tracks, though, you start to appreciate just how cleverly designed they are. They are deliberately designed to lure the unwary driver into a trap, through cunning (if sometimes frustrating) placement of hazards. Clever drivers, though, can also use these to their advantage, keeping pace with a rival driver, and then slamming them into an obstacle, leaving them with nowhere to go. Play the game often enough, and you will build up this "insider" knowledge to give you an edge
The range of vehicles on offer make a real difference to the way you play the game, too. Trucks, for example, are sluggish to start with and have lower overall speeds, but can take far more damage. Other vehicles, such as motorbikes seem almost too fast with scenery just flashing past. I tend to be a speed freak on racing games and rarely use the brakes. Using that tactic on Apocalypse is a one-way ticket to Crashville and you really have to learn how to drive each vehicle and each track properly, using long straight sections to build up speed, before slowing down to take the tight corners.
Where Apocalypse can be an exercise in frustration is in the all too frequent ways your car can crash and explode? Hit a tree? Your car explodes. Hit another car? Your car explodes. Get the approach to a ramp wrong? Your car explodes. Use the boost too much and overheat the engine? Guess what happens...
The crashing is obviously part of the fun and some of them are spectacular. However, you sometimes get the impression that the developers were so in love with their crash engine that they made it the main gameplay feature. It seems like for every 10 seconds you spend racing, you spend another 10 seconds watching your car explode. When you get to the more difficult tracks, that ratio increases and games can end up being little more than a montage of crashes. Because of this, I find that Apocalypse is a game I tend to play in shorter bursts, rather than one I will sit and play for a whole evening. Crucially though your opponents will crash just as much as you do, so frequent crashes are not catastrophic and you still have a decent chance of beating a level, thanks to some well-judged enemy AI.
Controls do take a bit of getting used to. The left stick is used to steer and this just doesn't feel natural too me. There were too many times (particularly on early levels) where I forgot and pressed the right stick (which changes the camera view), resulting in (you guessed it) a crash that caused my car to explode! Of course, you adapt after a while, but it never feels entirely natural. Controls also feel a little twitchy and judging how hard you need to press the stick to take a corner can be awkward.
If you're fed up with standard sanitised racing games, Motorstorm Apocalypse is an appealing alternative for vehicle related chaos. Whether you treat it as a serious racer (i.e. try to unlock all the tracks and vehicles) or an opportunity to smash things up, it's a whole lot of fun. Yes, the frequent crashes can become frustrating, but once you accept that this is a deliberate design feature you can just sit back and enjoy them.
Motorstorm Apocalypse is never going to be on anyone's must-have list of PS3 titles, but if you enjoy racing games, then this is a fun alternative to more serious titles. New copies can be picked up for around £10 now, with second hand copies around half that. At that sort of price, you can't really go wrong.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013