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Disaster-porn: Motorstorm Apocalypse’s Southern hits 11

Tuesday, 8th March 2011 12:17 GMT By Keza Macdonald

We talk to Matt Southern, Evolution Studios’ action-hungry game director, about the upcoming Motorstorm Apocalypse and the emerging “action-racing” genre – and burn through a few races to test out his claims.

Motorstorm Apocalypse

Action-racer set in fictional West Coast US.

Developed by Sony-owned, UK-based Evolution Studios.

Out March 16 in the EU and April 12 in the US.

New vehicles include supercars, superbikes, hot hatches, muscle cars and choppers.

3D supported.

Home site.

Motorstorm Apocalypse’s epic destruction initially struck me as a last resort. “Shit,” I imagined someone at Evolution saying to a board of designers. “Our games are getting boring. We can’t compete on the same level at GT5 or Forza. We need a gimmick, stat. Let’s make literally everything explode as often as possible. And throw in some earthquakes. And a tsunami, yeah? Got to have a tsunami.”

It turns out, thankfully, that it’s handled with rather more subtlety – though “subtle” isn’t a word that many people would use to describe a racing game in which extreme sportsters are chased around a track by a tornado whilst buildings blow up and collapse onto the road in disassembled chunks. It does look incredible – the camera briefly zooms in on impending disasters like falling buildings in slow-motion, lending a cinematic, action-movie voyeurism to these moments of utter chaos.

Disaster-porn

Motorstorm Apocalypse is unashamed disaster-porn, but Evolution Studios knows not to overplay these impressive set-pieces. The destruction is built around an end-of-world narrative. Tracks are morphed dynamically over time – the debris of that helicopter that you watched fall out of the sky during one race will remain on the track for the next.

“If every race had the same insane level of damage and destruction it would probably get really old,” acknowledges director Matt Southern (who is, in fact, rather Northern) – a very sensible observation. “We wanted a good rhythm across the single-player experience. So not every race is insanely ripped apart. But we’ve always got natural as well as man made disasters happening – so you can race a track that you’ve already seen get wrecked, and it can get wrecked even more by, say, a human presence.”

Evolution explains the concept of
“wreckreation”. This amounts to smashing
the shit out of everything and winning.

This dynamic nature lets Evolution get the absolute most out of every track in the game. Instead of static environments, each track can now host five or six radically different races, depending on the level of destruction. “Basically every time you revisit a track, it’s a different race,” he asserts. “In most racers, variety comes from just making the AI more brutal, but we’ve also got this extra layer of other options available to create variety in the tracks. So persistence was really important to us – things don’t stay the same from race to race.”

Dramatic explosions and tornado close-ups aside, Apocalypse is a Motorstorm game through and through. It’s still very exacting and crash-happy, particularly on the bikes – clip a rogue chunk of scenery and you’ll still go flying off a cliff or into a wall. In these environments, the crashes are especially spectacular. Boosting at ridiculous across precarious, half-demolished rooftops adds yet another element of danger, on top of the ever-present threat of huge-scale natural catastrophe.

A new species in the racing genre

It’s elements like boosting and ramming, reckons Southern, that are starting to define a new species in the racing genre – the action-racer. Matt considers this emerging trend to be a reaction against the age-old racing-game dichotomy: sim versus arcade. “For a long time there was simulation racing and arcade racing, and in all honesty I think the genre has struggled this generation to try and do things within those two categories,” he says. “For me, the arcade is slowly morphing into what I call the action racer, which is trying to match and better the way vehicles are used in blockbuster movies and other high-octane entertainment.

“So we need tonnes of explosions – the idea is that there’s racing AND other stuff that’s very cool. For us, that additional layer of gameplay mechanic like boosting and ramming, and the fact that you’re racing through a very dynamic environment is where this genre has to go. The more you can figure out what you can do with the tech, the more you can start to match the visuals of those movies. When you’re growing up playing games, there’s an instinctive reaction when you’re watching something to think ‘Yeah, it’s still just a movie – I wish I had a pad in my hand and was playing this experience.’ That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

The Motorstorm series

Evolution, formed in 1999, turned its full attention to the Motorstorm series after selling to Sony in 2007. Apocalypse is the studio’s third Motorstorm game, following the original in 2006 and a sequel, Pacific Rift, in 2008. A PSP and PS2 version, Arctic Edge, was developed by Bigbig Studios and released in 2009.

As a game-ification of disaster movies, Motorstorm Apocalypse is lavish. The short-form race format allows for a barrage of visually impressive moments – it’s utterly relentless. One of the tracks, Boardwalk, is set in an American West Coast seaside town. You race through torn-up docks and wrecked amusement parks, assaulted by torrential rain, lightening and flash-floods. It’s a full-on assault on the senses, to the point where three consecutive races were actually quite exhausting.

In the face of such extreme changes to the nature of the tracks themselves, it’s tempting to forgive the absence of significant improvements to the actual racing itself; Motorstorm found its groove with Pacific Rift, and it’s sticking with it. There are huge changes to the multiplayer, though, which features perks and ability trees reminiscent of an FPS – a perk that puts you back on the track twice as quickly after a crash sounds especially useful.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog has had a huge impact on what we expect from our online functionality in racing games. Leaderboards are no longer enough – integrated multiplayer is the way forward. Southern believes that there is still ample room for racing games to expand in this direction. “What NFS has nailed, or got very close to nailing, is this idea that when we say online, we no longer just mean multiplayer – we mean social gaming,” he says. “Like a lot of developers, [Criterion is] looking for things to do with racing that have never been done before, the thing that might cement it again as a really important type of game to have on your console.

“I really like the social functions of Hot Pursuit, and we’ve got similar functions planned. I think that’s something you’ll see happening a lot more, now. Racing is no longer just about racing against others or setting great times or fixating on leaderboards, but about sharing content and building fraternities together. Other genres have had a lead there, but I think it really fits racing nicely. Hopefully we’ll do something at least as good.”

Motorstorm’s vision of the future isn’t as apocalyptic as you might expect, then. It envisions a racing genre that embraces elements from much more diverse entertainment, from FPS perks to action-film visual impact. As long as things keep blowing up, everything’s looking fine from here.

Motorstorm Apocalypse launches for PS3 on March 16 in the EU and April 12 in the US.

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6 Comments

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  1. Joe Anderson

    I can confirm that this game is awesome. :) Especially online.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Mondayding

    Yep, I saw it at Eurogamer last year, one very cool looking game.

    I’m pleased to see that the action racer is getting a genre name now because, like many other gamers, I find GT and Forza just a little bit too clinical and sensible.

    Give me ramming people off the road and blowing things up while screaming along at unrealistic speeds anyday.

    Leads me to thinking sad thoughts about the never going to happen Blur 2…

    #2 3 years ago
  3. HaMmOdY

    if this game relies too MUCH on the NOS just like the first 2, then pass. Will get it cheap.

    I really like the concept of this game, but there’s no sense of speed. It needs ” Gimme fuel, Gimme fire “

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Detale

    Loved the first two, can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    Looking forward to seeing what they do with this one.

    Imagine if they added Play Create Share concepts to this…

    #5 3 years ago
  6. StolenGlory

    @3

    “Gimme Fuel, Gimme fire”

    GIMME THAT WHAT I DESIRE! BOOM!

    Ahem. Sorry.

    #6 3 years ago