Review: MotorStorm Pacific Rift

Review: MotorStorm Pacific Rift

The first flushes of a console launch hide a multitude of sins. While MotorStorm isn’t the prime candidate from PS3’s natal period for retrospective denouncement by overexuberant critics – that dubious honour is perhaps reserved for Resistance: Fall of Man – Evolution would still have to live up to its name to make its sequel pass muster now that Sony’s platform has bedded in.

Refinement is the watchword for Pacific Rift, and transplanting the action to a more verdant setting is the most drastic shift of gear. The new venue, on an active volcanic island, allows for far greater variety in both scenery and terrain, making progress through the career an instantly more compelling prospect, and the 16 courses are designed around four elemental motifs. Earth zone tracks are traditional mud and dirt scrambles, albeit lined with far more vegetation, the Air zone caters for Rain God Mesa-inspired precipice hopping, Water zone courses involve brushes with rivers, waterfalls and the mighty Pacific itself, and the Fire zone is a series of frantic rallies past viscous lava flows. With a more consistently high standard of circuit design, the four corners of the island very nearly merit the number of repeated visits the career mode imposes.

The elemental theme also carries over to the boost system – a nuance that adds an optional strategic layer to MotorStorm’s existing mechanic. Overheating engines will dodge combustion when submerged in water and risk premature failure when exposed to the heat of fire or molten rock. It’s simply an extra consideration when choosing a route, but canny players will no doubt reap the rewards in multiplayer. It’s not the only area of the core racing package that has seen an overhaul, either. Handling has been noticeably tuned on many of the vehicles, particularly on the bikes, making it easier to clip the frond-lined apex as opposed to glacially orbiting it with catastrophic understeer. Evolution still insists on including certain classes that are simply no fun to drive, though, and attempting to persuade catatonic big rigs around an anfractuous Gordian knot of narrow dirt roads remains a torturous exercise in futility.

There are several areas in which this more ambitious sequel’s art direction fails to hurdle the limitations of the engine, and without exception the distant vistas are the primary visual draw on every circuit. Pacific Rift appears far more reliant on shaders in the foreground than its predecessor, and the visuals suffer overall as a result. There are some unpleasantly broad strokes on many of the ground textures, which blend into amorphousness mere metres ahead. The problem is only exacerbated by excessive motion blur, further serving to muddy the aesthetic – though not in the fashion Evolution intended.

Pacific Rift certainly feels a more complete game than its predecessor, but the state of the art has moved on considerably since the original wowed at launch. The game is disappointingly unattractive given the spectacular natural source that inspired it, and that ugliness conceals a conceptually beautiful game: looking beyond the Vaseline-smeared lens, you’ll find that many of the original’s irksome rough edges have been smoothed away as well.