Thursday, June 24, 2010

Finally, A Kart Racer That Can Compete... The Modnation Racers Review

Modnation Racers feels like a breathe of fresh air for the kart racing genre that is dominated by the Mario Kart series. It also takes the genre to new heights under the Play, Create, and Share formula made famous by LittleBigPlanet. All the customization elements allow players' imaginations to go through the roof or just attempt to replicate what has been popular in other games from characters, karts, and even the tracks. While it brings some new things to the table, it suffers from lingering flaws from other kart racers, specifically Mario Kart. Other than that, Modnation Racers is a solid start for a new kart racing franchise to stand toe to toe with the rest of the competition.

Modspot is the main hub world for Modnation Racers where you can access single player and multiplayer offerings, look at what is hot in the community in terms of user created mods, karts, and tracks, and the studio itself where your creations can be built. Even if you can drive around to those locations, you can still access those areas just by the pause menu. The single player offerings consist of the career mode, standard races, and time trials. The career mode does have a storyline, but not something to get crazy about even though it gives you a reason why you are racing to get at the top of the ladder. It is pretty much a series of races with optional challenges to complete. You can still perform the minimal requirements in these races to progress in the career, but at some point, you gotta win in order to move on to the series. As similar to other racers like Mario Kart, the computer AI can be ridiculously cheap especially in the later races where winning can be impossible as it takes some crazy amounts of luck to win. This allows for many moments of frustration and numerous race restarts when everything is not going your way, which is why positioning and timing do matter in terms of being successful in this game. The career has five series of races that can be beaten in a matter of hours and of course luck, but the fun doesn't end there.

The core gameplay is pretty simple if you played other kart racers before. There are weapons to get in the item circles from missiles, sonic bombs, thunder bolts, and boosts. These weapons can be saved for upgraded versions when you come across another item circle for more powerful attacks, in which there are three levels. Strategy does get put into consideration when dealing with these weapons in terms of usage of whether to save up for a powerful attack or use them now to hopefully get a quick lead. Usually, the level 3 weapons are pretty useful in the races from a warp that goes beyond what a regular boost can do those a storm of thunderbolts on the racers ahead of you. Also similar to other kart racers are obstacles to avoid as well and big jumps to do tricks for more points and boost meter, also can be gained by drifting as well. Usage of this meter is also crucial to success and it can used to boost and also as a shield against weapon attacks. When these systems all get put in together, Modnation Racers is indeed a solid kart racer, but sometimes it makes you wish there could be more weapons to use other than the normal four.

Even though the racing component of Modnation Racers is solid yet flawed, the creative aspect is where the game truly shines. Pretty much the major parts of the game are customizable from the mods you play as, the kart you drive, and also the tracks. New mods, karts, and tracks can be made in mere minutes thanks to the simple mechanics of customization being offered, but those with a big creative mind can also take their sweet time to make something really cool for the community to see seeing all the timing pay off. Then again, most of the popular customizations that were made are characters you are familiar with from all the famous IPs in existence from other games, movies, television, etc. The majority of the customizations are in fact from these IPs and no wonder there is not any copyright issues yet with any of this stuff like what LittleBigPlanet had to deal with when it came out even though those issues weren't much a problem there either. It does show though that the Play, Create, and Share formula can go beyond than just a platformer with Modnation Racers.

The online component is also another shining element in Modnation Racers as all your creations and others' can be shared and downloadable for everyone to use. There is even a rating system of which are the hottest tracks to drive on even though most of them are for trophy whoring purposes and replications of past games, characters to play as, and so on. The racing part also offers some modes for players to be able to race against from regular races, a five-race series, and time trials. There is also an experience system that combines your racing performance online and your creations into one for a big reputation in the community. For the most part online peformance seems solid pending with your connection, but if you are not online in the Modnation servers, you are missing out on the majority of the whole game. Tracks, karts, and mods can be downloaded in seconds as well.

The major flaw in Modnation Racers is its abysmal load times. It takes a couple of minutes at most to load up a race both offline and online even with the game's mandatory install. Loading up the Modspot is not that bad compared to the races, but it makes you question why would Sony put out a product like this in 2010 with horrendous loading. Other than that, the game performs at a solid framerate with rare cases of slowdown. However, there can be numerous situations where you go off track for no reason at all with no instant get back on the track button unless you're completely off course. Graphically, Modnation Racers looks fine with colorful characters that they give you, but the customizations do make the game way more diverse than it originally was. As for the sound, it is nothing much than just generic tunes despite some decent voice acting with the characters. The commentary can also get a little annoying at times too especially if you have replaying a race over and over again in the career mode.

I still enjoyed my time with Modnation Racers despite its setbacks from the absurd rubberbanding of the cheap A.I. and the long load times. It is great seeing all the creations that the community has made so far as well as feeling satisfied with some online victories. In addition, it is nice to see another kart racer other than Mario Kart make a statement in the genre and also taking it to new heights with all the customizable elements being offered. Online does matter in a game like this, but playing in offline means you are completely missing the whole point of this game. Modnation Racers is off to a solid start to something great if this becomes a franchise as I see a bright future for it since the community seems to be going crazy with all those creations online.

Score = 8/10

  • Play, Create, Share formula definitely works for a kart racer
  • Customizable elements are simple to use, but it does takes time to make something truly remarkable
  • The kart racing feels solid with the handling, weapons, and variety of obstacles to avoid
  • Online support is fantastic, but pretty much mandatory to enjoy the whole game
  • Abysmal load times both offline and online
  • Computer A.I. even at normal difficulty can be cheap and frustrating especially with the rubberbanding
  • More weapons would of been nice
  • Sound didn't do much for me and can be annoying at times.

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