Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: ModNation Racers

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            Sony’s highly anticipated ModNation Racers is set to launch across Europe this coming Friday in two different flavours – both PlayStation 3 and this, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) version. Following the ethos of the successful LittleBigPlanet, “Play, Create, Share” is a welcoming tagline for any budding artist or have-a-go game designer. And here on the portable system, the quick fix of creation is all the more impressive.

            ModNation Racers is a Kart Racer is the same vein as Nintendo’s cherished Mario Kart series or SEGA’s recently released Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, and as such the competition is fierce. While Sony’s latest effort to progress the genre brings with it the very impressive customisation feature, it obviously remains the duty on the on-track action to engage the player in its many other activities. In that respect, ModNation Racers is not as wholly impressive as one might expect. It brings Electronic Theatre Imagea few new ideas, such as a boost and ability gauge dependant on drifting, airtime and taking out opponents and both shunt and shield skills, but is somewhat underwhelming in it’s presentation when compared to Mario Kart DS.

ModNation Racers’ Career Mode essentially acts as the entrance to the larger game, a feat which none of it’s Kart Racing competitors could claim despite their additional attractions. However, while the Career Mode may not have such a prominent position in ModNation Racers’ gameplay line-up, it’s certainly no less complete. Taking the player through a series of events divided into five tiers, the player will learn everything there is to know about ModNation Racers after an evening’s playthrough, ready for the real meat of the game – sharing their creations and taking on human opponents. After the introduction of the story and a couple of basic races, players are invited into the studio to customise their avatar, here referred to as a “Mod”.

            Selecting your choices from a series of menus displaying all the unlocked hairstyles, clothing and accessories, the design of Mods is no more in-depth than that which has been seen in countlessElectronic Theatre Image games, and is at the heart of the Xbox 360’s GamerTag personalisation. Thankfully, the Kart Studio allows for a much greater amount of customisation. Given plenty of pre-built vehicles to alter or even create your own from just a chassis, players have control over both performance and cosmetic details, though the former seems somewhat limited in its on-track execution. From suspension, wheels and the engine through to the body design and hood ornaments, everything is available for the player to fiddle with. It still never becomes any more complicated than selecting an item from a menu and choosing from its preordained colour schemes, but younger players will undoubtedly lose much time devoted to crafting new vehicles from the parts they unlock.

            The track studio is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the PSP ModNation Racers package, players can tailor near every aspect of their race courses. Again, a number of pre-built examples are Electronic Theatre Imageavailable for the player to practise with, but building your own from scratch is always going to be the most rewarding exercise. After choosing a theme, the player begins by placing a starting gate on the generated backdrop. Creating their track is then a simple case of driving, altering the layout with each turn you take. A helpful prediction appears at all times both as a map in the bottom right of the screen and directly in your path as you drive, and a number of indicators provide feedback on the length and level of challenge your track will feature. Players can then adjust their width, height and banking degree, as well as placing track items and thematic background items. Of course, all of this can be modified at any point during the creation process, and an immediately accessible test drive is the best way to realise your vision. Of course, everything you create can be shared online, and in ad hoc games with local PSP owning friends.

            A surprisingly well presented game, ModNation Racers features a slick and easily navigable frontend, supplying the player with plenty of options but never overwhelming so. The cut-scenes are well animated and the two commentators, Biff Tradwell and Gary Reasons, have a surprising amount of personality, acting as the narrator’s of the Career Mode’s most important plot highlights. In races however, the backgrounds are often Electronic Theatre Imageuninspired and lifeless in both the pre-constructed tracks and those which players have packed to the brim. The lack of connection with the tracks is reminiscent of the Nintendo 64’s Mickey’s Speedway, therein being that game’s biggest flaw.

            ModNation Racers for PSP is a surprisingly robust package, which while flawed has enough depth to satisfy both those wishing to explore their creative side on the go and those simply wishing for a new Kart Racer on their handheld system. The tools are incredibly intuitive and the chance to create extraordinarily rewarding. ModNation Racers sets a new standard for do-it-yourself handheld gaming, and promises great things are to come from its PlayStation 3 brother.            Electronic Theatre Image

















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