|System: PS3, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: United Front Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SONY||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 25, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (12 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
The kart racer is arguably one of the best gaming genres ever devised; almost no one can deny its charms. That being said, few companies have been able to put all of the best qualities the genre purports into one product. In fact, even though Nintendo and SEGA have each put out excellent kart entries this generation (the best currently available), the golden years of the kart racer seem to be behind us. It is into this somewhat tired environment that Sony and United Front Games have launched ModNation Racers - an innovative title that's equal parts kart racer and artist's canvas.
First and foremost, in order to be a great kart racer a game needs to have awesome tracks, inch-perfect controllability, and fun power-ups. In ModNation Racers' case, it's nailed two out of three. The tracks included in ModNation Racers are interesting to look at, challenging to master, and nicely varied. The developers did a great job creating tracks that hold the action perfectly and are a lot of fun to race. Obstacles such as cones, pylons, exploding barrels, and standing water will keep you honest, while shortcuts, boost pads, and clever ramps encourage experimentation. There's no doubt that the tracks in ModNation Racers will test you and keep you coming back for more.
Also extremely cool is the ability to create and share your own tracks with the ModNation community at large. Hopping into the track editor, which is made up of robust yet super-accessible tools, you can have a decent track made within minutes. Laying track, adding trees and buildings, changing backgrounds, and putting in awesome set-pieces is about as easy as driving along in your kart - you really don't have to be savvy in order to create some cool stuff, almost instantly. If you feel like sitting down for an hour or more to create a masterpiece, you can meticulously put together an excellent track, perhaps even getting others to download it, becoming a top-rated, even featured track. Sharing tracks with friends and the community is a great way to keep your game fresh. Additionally, sharing can be very rewarding, especially as more and more people pick it up and praise your work. That's right; whether they're your creations or belong to someone else, the ability to vote on tracks and leave comments is a very effective way of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Of course, what's the use of great courses to race in if the controls are terrible. Thankfully, the controls in ModNation Racers are very precise and quite enjoyable. The game's accessible yet tight control scheme means it's user-friendly for novice players as well as finely-tuned for expert gamers. Whether you're drifting around corners, boosting through a straightaway, or side-swiping opponents, the act of racing is masterfully translated to the controls. I especially enjoyed linking drifts and side-swiping the competition. Not only are the controls great for racing, but they are perfectly suited to navigating the menus and implementing customization tweaks. Despite the lack of a mouse, the controls are nearly ideal for whatever in-game task you want to perform.
Unfortunately, the power-up system isn't quite where it needs to be, especially when compared to the quality of the rest of the game. It's not so much that the power-ups are bad as they aren't well balanced, so they become a bit too powerful. I actually really like unleashing the rocket swarms and sonic booms, I just don't think they're appropriately countered and end up taking away more than they add to the game.
In ModNation Racers, cruising over a box is just the beginning of unleashing fury. The developer's decided that holding onto the power-up should reap greater rewards for players. As such, every time you pick up a power-up drop your current weapon will morph and become more powerful (to a max level of three). This essentially causes not only more damage to enemies but also increases weapon range and even includes additional, more potent secondary properties. While this is a great idea that's pretty well-implemented whilst racing against humans, it is thwarted by a very poor defensive counter. Rather than picking up defensive power-ups or items to combat an enemy's attack, you'll have to bring up your shields. Sounds simple enough, but trying to time the shields is a pain. This is only made worse because there is just an audio and no visual prompt of the impending doom.
Once you do get the timing down, there's still a lot of work to be done. Because weapons shot at you are varied, often stopping the initial onslaught isn't enough - you'll have to maintain shields up until the threat has completely passed. This wouldn't be such a big deal except for the fact that bringing up shields will use up a lot of your energy pool, the same energy pool used for turbo boosts. Consequently, activating the countermeasure means you'll use your turbo boost very infrequently, which shifts the game's emphasis from high-speed, breakneck racing to that of more conservative, patient racing. Also, weapons tend to be deployed by multiple racers at the same time, so getting past one or two weapons means you'll likely fall to a third due to a lack of stored up energy. This is very frustrating, especially against AI racers that seem to generate max power-ups randomly, all together, and at the worst times. This ends up injecting an item-induced rubber-banding into the game that's not particularly enjoyable. The shield system isn't well done and it isn't nearly as fun or rewarding as using a banana to take out a red shell.