Burning up the Arctic
MotorStorm: Arctic Edge marks the first time the renowned, Sony-exclusive, arcade racing series has made its way to the PlayStation Portable. Like its console predecessors, Arctic Edge sports great graphics, expansive tracks, lots of vehicle options, and great gameplay. Truly, Arctic Edge does an amazing job of bringing the best of the franchise onto the portable platform. While many of you may be more interested in the handheld racing title Polyphony Digital has got brewing, BigBig Studios’ effort is nothing to scoff at. MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is a lot of fun crammed into a tiny package!
If you’ve never played any of the MotorStorm games, know that they are arcade racers set at a giant racing festival. The first two games for the PS3 were set in Monument Valley and the Hawaiian Islands. Artctic Edge, as the name implies, takes place in a far chillier venue: Alaska above the Arctic Circle. The branching tracks and the constantly changing terrain types the series is known for are also present in this portable version, affording players lots of great paths to race through. Players can choose from eight different vehicle types including bikes, ATVs, Snow Machines, Buggies, Rally Cars, Snowpluggers, Snowcats, and Big Rigs. All of these diverse vehicles have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the course and the path you choose. The game also implements arcade goodies such as a boost function and slo-mo crash sequences. While the MotorStorm series may not be the most technical racer, it is certainly one of the most fun – and Arctic Edge does the franchise proud.
A few different modes of play are included in the package, but the most important is undoubtedly the Festival. Festival is the career offering that takes place on 12 different tracks across a mountainous region in Alaska. The tracks take advantage of varying altitude in order to produce different racing conditions. Whether you’re racing from peak to peak or getting down and dirty in a lowland valley, diverse terrain is the game’s hallmark. The goal of each race is to win, place, or show in order to garner points. Accumulating enough points across several events will allow you to rise in rank, of which there are eight ranks in all.
Attaining new ranks will open up new tracks, race types, vehicles, drivers, customization pieces, videos, and more. In fact, Arctic Edge does a great job of rewarding players all game long. There are 24 unlockable cars, 12 tracks, 50 badges, 33 customizations, 8 ranks, 4 race types, 11 media items, 24 Drivers, and cross game emblems from Pursuit Force, Killzone, Little Big Planet, and Wipeout. The badge-collecting meta-game, similar to Trophies, which are awarded to you for demonstrating your prowess across all modes of play is particularly rewarding. Badges are awarded for great play, pulling off difficult maneuvers, advancing through the game modes, finding Easter eggs, and even just for fiddling around with all the options available in Arctic Edge.
Within Festival, event types include Race (beat seven other A.I. competitors), Speed (race solo through 30 gates, gaining bonus seconds with each gate in order to beat time benchmarks), Time-Ticker (points are scored every second depending on race position, the first to 999 wins), and Invitational (elite rank events that have you race in a series of standard race types). All these modes are fun and keep things varied. However, Race is certainly the prominent event type, and that’s a good thing because it is the most entertaining offering.
Outside of Festival, players can also take on the Wreckreation modes. Wreckreation includes Time Attack, Free-play, and Multiplayer. Time Attack has you setting top times on 12 tracks with all of the eight different vehicle types. Not only will you try and set your own best times, but you can also try to beat the times set by other players via the leaderboards and those of the game’s developers by racing their ghosts (beating the developer times will even net you a shiny badge). Free-play simply lets you set the race parameters including forward or reverse paths on tracks, A.I. difficulty level, vehicle variety participating in the race, and event type. Finally, Multiplayer can be played with up to seven others in both ad-hoc and infrastructure. Unfortunately, the build we were able to play offered no access to local or online multiplayer, so we can’t speak to playability or functionality.
Regardless of setting, MotorStorm titles always look brilliant, and Arctic Edge is no exception. I was surprised at just how good the game looks in spite of its compact size. That being said, don’t expect PS3 visuals on your PSP. For instance, the Festival atmosphere isn’t as well rendered and the crash sequences are not remotely as satisfying. Also, the vehicles look a little blocky and less polished than I would have liked. Nevertheless, textures are quite good, the lighting effects are excellent, courses are very detailed, and backgrounds are inspired. In fact, the graphics, overall, look so good you might even want to take a couple screen shots. Thankfully, Arctic Edge has a photo mode that lets you do so. Simply pausing the game mid-race will allow you to access the photo functionality. Photo mode lets you adjust the camera angles anyway you want in order to capture the moment just perfectly. Save it to your MemoryStick and you can send it to friends or even use it as a wallpaper.
As solid as the visuals are, the sound tries to outdo them. There are lots of solid rock tracks that not only support the feeling of the game, but they are also of crystal-clear quality. If these tunes aren’t quite your style, you can create track playlists from tunes you have loaded on your MemoryStick. Sound effects are also spot-on. The sounds of the car engines, the burst of the nitro boost, and the crunch of metal while bumping really enhance the gameplay. Additionally, the game’s opening monologue, like those of the two preceding titles, makes it seem like your about to watch a summer action film.
The game’s one flaw is found in its control scheme. While the developers did a great job offering players a few key option selections for adapting the controls to their play style, the PSP simply isn’t particularly well designed for supporting racing. The analog nub is simply too small to enjoy the game comfortably. Surprisingly, BigBig Studios was able to get the nub to control with a great amount of precision, but naturally they weren’t able to make it any more ergonomic. If things get too uncomfortable, you can always switch to the digital pad, but then you lose a lot of control subtlety. Additionally, holding down the acceleration and boost buttons (via the X and R buttons) gets to cramping your hands after just a handful of races. On the upside, the different vehicle and terrain types handle distinctly – a testament to the developers’ interest in making this title unique.
All in all, this is a great title, not only for the PSP, but in general. Players will really enjoy all the polish that has gone into the game, the quality tracks, the different vehicles, the varied game modes, multiplayer and leaderboard support, all the unlockables, etc. The only thing that seems to hold this game back is the hardware itself, as controlling this title is challenging due to the less-than-ergonomic design of the PSP. If you are a person that leads more towards arcade racing, skip Gran Turismo and give Arctic Edge a try instead.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The visuals, while obviously a significant step down from the PS3 titles, still manage to do the series proud. 3.5 Control
The PSP just isn’t designed for racing. As such, the game’s controls suffer from the hardware’s shortcomings. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music supports the gameplay and is crystal-clear. The sound effects enhance the experience too. Being able to play your own music is a nice touch. 4.3 Play Value
A handful of single-player modes along with community and multiplayer support will have you racing for awhile. The gameplay is of high enough quality that anyone will feel as though they’ve gotten their money’s worth. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.