IMPRESSIONS: Down and dirty with the dogs in the Motorstorm demo

Faceguard not included. But highly recommended.

This is why the Japanese love MotorStorm so much, that it peaked at the top of their sales charts. This is why SPOnG says it’s a potential “killer app” come the PS3’s much-awaited launch in Europe. This is why in the recent MotorStorm articles we’ve had, most people are just saying how good this game is, as even just fifteen minutes into the demo, MotorStorm demonstrates a lot of what’s great about the PS3. Yee doggie, this is one humdinger of a racer!

Break down the controls, Lloyd

You gotta appreciate the extra travel on those triggers.The control setup for MotorStorm follows the “alternative” setup, with brakes assigned to L2 and the gas to R2, as opposed to the “normal” setup of face-button or stick-mapping the car’s a-go-go. No option to change it if you’re more used to the normal setup, but it ain’t too bad for two reasons. One, it demonstrates one great design feature of the SIXAXIS: the decision to make the L/R2 shoulder buttons in a trigger-like format. It is WAY easier to judge subtle differences in trigger pressure (and thus brake/gas force) with a swinging trigger than with a pressure-sensitive bumper as it was with the DualShock 2.

Second reason: this is so far the one demo we’ve seen that uses the SIXAXIS’ motion sensitivity, and the game demonstrates motion-sensing well. Maybe too well. If you’re still not used to motion-sensing controllers, it’s rather easy to exaggerate control inputs and send your vehicle of choice weaving worse than a DUI in Malibu. Especially if your vehicle is LEF (light and extremely fragile), as you’ll see later, so you may want to swap over to the stick in that case. On the other hand, MotorStorm is a great instructional tool on the finer uses of the SIXAXIS as a control input device.

The SIXAXIS is connected to two types of vehicles in the demo: trucks and bikes (a.k.a., LEF). Trust me: neither will last in the treacherous environment that is MotorStorm. If you’re on a bike, you dang well gotta learn the fine art of balancing yourself in the air as you land, as there are many ways to hit the ground wrong and eat dirt instead. Trucks are more forgivable, not only in terms of handling on the dirt, but also if you decide to use motion-sensing. The heavy vehicles tend to dampen some of the less exaggerated swings of the controller, though it’s still twitchy to control with the SIXAXIS.

Guess what comes after the big-air jump? Scenery, physics, and achy breaky trucks!

Faceguard not included. But highly recommended.

This is why the Japanese love MotorStorm so much, that it peaked at the top of their sales charts. This is why SPOnG says it’s a potential “killer app” come the PS3’s much-awaited launch in Europe. This is why in the recent MotorStorm articles we’ve had, most people are just saying how good this game is, as even just fifteen minutes into the demo, MotorStorm demonstrates a lot of what’s great about the PS3. Yee doggie, this is one humdinger of a racer!

Break down the controls, Lloyd

You gotta appreciate the extra travel on those triggers.The control setup for MotorStorm follows the “alternative” setup, with brakes assigned to L2 and the gas to R2, as opposed to the “normal” setup of face-button or stick-mapping the car’s a-go-go. No option to change it if you’re more used to the normal setup, but it ain’t too bad for two reasons. One, it demonstrates one great design feature of the SIXAXIS: the decision to make the L/R2 shoulder buttons in a trigger-like format. It is WAY easier to judge subtle differences in trigger pressure (and thus brake/gas force) with a swinging trigger than with a pressure-sensitive bumper as it was with the DualShock 2.

Second reason: this is so far the one demo we’ve seen that uses the SIXAXIS’ motion sensitivity, and the game demonstrates motion-sensing well. Maybe too well. If you’re still not used to motion-sensing controllers, it’s rather easy to exaggerate control inputs and send your vehicle of choice weaving worse than a DUI in Malibu. Especially if your vehicle is LEF (light and extremely fragile), as you’ll see later, so you may want to swap over to the stick in that case. On the other hand, MotorStorm is a great instructional tool on the finer uses of the SIXAXIS as a control input device.

The SIXAXIS is connected to two types of vehicles in the demo: trucks and bikes (a.k.a., LEF). Trust me: neither will last in the treacherous environment that is MotorStorm. If you’re on a bike, you dang well gotta learn the fine art of balancing yourself in the air as you land, as there are many ways to hit the ground wrong and eat dirt instead. Trucks are more forgivable, not only in terms of handling on the dirt, but also if you decide to use motion-sensing. The heavy vehicles tend to dampen some of the less exaggerated swings of the controller, though it’s still twitchy to control with the SIXAXIS.

It’s a purdy environment to careen into…

Ooh, pretty scenery, must impale ATV against it...

Truck or bike (you only get two of each in the demo), they ride in the other star of MotorStorm, which is the vast and rugged expanse of the virtual Monument Valley. Even in this single track the demo allows you to play in, everything looks so weathered, so dusty… this ain’t the man-made tracks of Formula One Championship Edition or Gran Turismo (and that’s even counting the rally tracks in the latter game). There is nary a hint of guardrails anywhere, and the most you’d get would be some ramps. In fact, one hazard of this treacherous environment is that it’s easy to fall off the track and into oblivion. Thank goodness you’re sent back up after a few seconds. The open expanse does allow for shortcuts, though, so do keep an eye out for them, too.

Be careful where you go, as this environment has a way of punishing you for your mistakes. Running into cliff walls on low-speed turns are one thing, and because of the au naturale nature of the track, it’s easy to snag into jutting rock faces, slip one tire off of a ledge and flip over to your doom, or impale yourself into the few man-made structures like reinforced sign posts. Even trucks can’t survive ramming themselves into the wall, and end up going up in flames as penance for their mistake. The good news is that the environment punishes everyone equally, which makes for dynamic position grid changes as leaders of the pack are suddenly sent reeling back to the back because they flipped over like a dead roach.

The physics are killer, but is the AI murder?

Oh no, the insurance company won't believe THIS.Seeing the Havok logo on the startup reminds me of the physics of the game, and so far, they rock as much as the rocky track. Sure, it’s slightly “off the wall,” as one description puts it, but the vehicles behave solidly and predictably at all speeds and collisions. Just wish it wasn’t so easy for the truck to snag any of its wheels on a ledge and thus go bowling over for fair, or that the bike wasn’t so light that it has a tendency to fly off the handle if you lose control – but that’s the fun of off-road. And again, you’ll thank the doggone environment for messing up your opponents in the same way, too. Haha, AI caught a rail and joined the Air Force!

So far, no one has ganged up on me yet or given me the one-fingered salute in the game (even on the bike), so I’m not so sure if I’ve seen the bumped-up “human-like” AI Nigel Kershaw was talking about (just remember this is the demo, so the real thing could be different in this department). The racers in this game do push back, however – when the field gets crowded with vehicles slamming into one another, it really does feel like it’s Sunday at the demo derby. And with online (hopefully!) coming to the NA and EU versions of the game (and perhaps an add-on for the Japanese version as well), all them people jostling for first place sounds like loads of fun.

If you crash and burn when no one’s looking, do you make a sound?

The game’s sounds are decent, too. There’s the rumble from the deep diesels of the trucks, the rattle of a dirt bike, you hear the tires dig through dirt in a fast turn, and I swear to God there’s this air horn that keeps going off somewhere. The vehicle asplosions could be made louder, though – or perhaps we should just go out and buy a woofer for our TV set to really feel the bass.

It is official. Chris L. is the king of the sick and wrong.However, it’s kinda hard to place the rock-based soundtrack, though, as it’s kind of hard to pick it out from the roar of all those engines and boosters going off – but it fits the environment and gameplay well. We are, however, wondering if Evolution might also include the option to play MP3s in the later-released versions. Call me weird, but Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” actually kinda works, in a weird and slightly psychotic kind of way. “Don’t break my heart…” (truck snags a rock formation and flips into the air) “My achy breaky heart…” (truck falls back nose-first into the ground and blows up)… see? (Well, ZZ Top’s “Viva Las Vegas” is also a good fit.)

There you have it. Even if it’s limited to one track and four wheels to wreck, the MotorStorm demo is so far the most fun we had tooling with the PS3, and not to mention the dirtiest. While the Japanese are probably learning how to say “Yee doggie!” in Nihonggo, the country folk in North America and Europe have got a while to wait ’til the scheduled release next year. Yeah, well, the demo indicates that it’s well worth the wait, especially when Evolution gets the full online on board.

Here’s to hoping the real game beats this demo by the proverbial thousand miles. Now point this cowpoke to the nearest car wash, lil’ feller; I’ves got a ton of dirt to wash off. Of me – the truck can wait.

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