Wednesday, April 13, 2011

'ModNation Racers' - Review

When people think of kart racing games they almost instantly think of 'Mario Kart' and rightly so as it basically created the sub-genre.  What is Kart Racing?  It's basically a type of racing game where you drive tiny vehicles around wacky environments while picking up power-ups and weapons.  Many games have copied it, some not bringing anything to the table, others, like 'ModNation Racers', brought a whole lot.

'ModNation Racers' was developed by United Front and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.  What makes this game so different than other "Mario Kart clones?"  The developers decided to take a page from Media Molecule's book and allow players to fully edit the tracks, karts, and racers.  In fact, when I first heard about the game I thought Media Molecule was the studio behind it.  Does 'ModNation Racers' add anything else to the genre?  Let's find out.

Gameplay is fairly identical to any other kart racer.  Players race around outrageous tracks, drift to build up boost energy, then use the energy to boost or activate shields that can block opponents attacks.  Weapons are collectible and upgradable to three levels.  They vary from missiles, lightning, turbo, and sonic, all of which have an alt-fire mode which allows them to be dropped as mines.  While useful, this caused me quite a few headaches as I would accidentally hold down the fire button a split second too long, triggering the alt-fire mode.  Unfortunately, there's no way I know of to cancel it once activated.

Each race has a few challenges consisting of things like taking out opponents on a certain part of the track to having over a certain amount of drift points in a race to not hitting a wall.  There's also a few "boss races" where you have to attempt to beat a named racer in either a one on one race, one on one trick race, or a one on one with henchmen race.  In the trick race the goal is to finish as fast as possible while racking up as many points as possible, the other two are fairly self explanitory.  The enemy AI varies between idiotic to controller throwing annoying when they seem to all team up against you near the end of a round, which would make sense in the one on one with henchmen race type, but I always found the henchmen would be more helpful than harmful.

MNR attempts to add a story to the single player mode, and while it succeeds, the story is abysmal at best.  It focuses around the horribly annoying Tag who, like his name implies, likes to do graffiti and, for some reason, has fangs.  The word "emo" always pops in my head when I see him as originally designed.  Of course he is infinitely customizable so his initial design isn't really that big of a drawback.  Throughout the game he is attempting to work his way up the ladder of the Modnation Racing Championship.  Along the way there's a few "plot twists" but really nothing worth mentioning.

The editor feature is where this game really shines.  Some of the creations that people have made are amazing and I can't even begin to imagine how they were put together.  While the game has tutorials on how to use the editing tools I still felt like the learning curve was higher than I'd like.  I am all thumbs when it comes to creating things though, so it's most likely user error.  I did attempt to create some tracks/karts/racers and one thing I think that would've made the editor easier to use for even a bumbling idiot like myself is keyboard and mouse support.  Attempting to fine tune sticker placement on a kart with a controller makes me feel like I'm trying to thread a needle blindfolded.

The biggest issues with the game, according to the masses, were loading time, enemy AI, and XP reward amounts.  All of which were addressed with patches.  By the time I played the game there was an easier difficulty level, greatly reduced loading times and greatly increased XP rewards for the various events that gain you XP.  That said, loading times were still a bit longer than one would think they'd need to be, enemy AI could still rubberband into first place, and the amount time needed to acquire the XP related trophies is still immense.  However, none of these issues had an effect on my rating.

The majority of trophies in this game are fairly easy and simply come from completing the single player campaign, completing all the challenges, and doing things so many times, like driving over boost pads, drifting, taking down opponents, etc.  Some trophies are poorly thought out, specifically the "Earn 100,000 drift points in one drift" because the only way to do it is on a track that is designed just for that trophy, as you cannot chain drifts together and your drift points reset after crossing the finish line, so you couldn't even do it on a track shorter than the max length.  The online trophies are... not entirely outrageous.  Sure, they are time consuming and can be somewhat hard, but I sorta expect it.  They range from completing a race, achieving rank 30, and getting within the 10% in the Hot Lap of the day.  The most difficult ones are winning a race series and rank 30, as they are the only two really holding me up from a platinum in this game.

Overall this is a solid kart racer with amazing customization options.  If I were a big racing game fan and/or were able to do anything impressive with the editors it would be an easy 9/10.  However, seeing as I'm not a huge fan of racing games, kart racing especially, and my inability to create anything worthwhile in the game forces me to give it a 7/10.

This review is based off a 100% completion run of the single player campaign on the "Easy" difficulty.  As of last check, 87% of the trophies were collected.

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