Review: ModNation Racers

KARTS ARE US

Developer: United Front Games
Genre: Racing
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 19, 2010
Compatability: n/a
Rating: 8.5

ModNation Racers is another title in Sony’s play, create, and share initiative that started with 2008’s Little Big Planet. MNR allows the player to race through both developer programmed tracks and community created ones, create tracks, racers, and karts, and put them up on the games share center and see your creations flourish. In the create and share aspects the game is an overwhelming success. A few nagging issues, both small and large, stop the game from achieving the level of success that the game is aiming for.

The first thing you will notice in the game is just how long it will take you to actually play it. The load times in this game are the worst I have seen since the PS1 era or the infamously bad Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, where the game could load for up to forty seconds. I timed how long the load times were from the game starting to actually being able to participate in a race and it clocked in at eighty-six seconds. That is almost a minute and a half. Granted it was two different load screens but it can only be described as atrocious. Interestingly enough the time it takes to download a creation is a matter of seconds. To be fair the game has to load a track that can be made up of literally thousands of different parts so the load times are understandable, but not excusable.

Customizations are massive.

With the load times out of the way we can talk about how fun the game really is. I don’t think it’s too forward to make the inevitable comparison to Mario Kart. With that said MNR is taking kart racing in a different direction. Instead of the familiarity we feel with the characters in Mario Kart, MNR is all about you creating the experience on your own. One example of this is that my racer for the majority of the games pretty hefty twenty-eight career made races, was Bender from Futurama and I rode around in the Bat mobile, then I switched it up and was Stone Cold Steve Austin in the Mystery Machine. There are literally hundreds of pages of created content for the game that you can lose hours to just finding what you want to cruise around in.

The game’s biggest strive is in the tools the game gives you to create. The character creation is robust and while you cannot change the default dimensions of the character you can deck him out pretty much however you can think of. The process is simple and at the end you really feel like your character is your own. The Kart creation tools are also strong. The tools allow anywhere from a slick Asian drift car, to a pickup truck caked with dirt, to once again the Bat mobile which is awesome. The most robust and impressive aspect of the game by a large margin however is the track creation. For all the complexities one could imagine when creating a track the developer has intelligently given shortcuts and tools that allow a both fluid and accessible process. I do not mean to say that it will be immediately understandable how to make the more complicated tracks but it is at least intuitive and with the help of many tutorials that explain the process step by step, it is possible for even the least creative, like myself, to make a fun and interesting track. The biggest problem with the creation process in general is that at the start your options are limited and the only way to unlock more is to play the single player. I understand the logic in forcing you to get used to the game (LBP did the same thing), but it is a bit of a missed opportunity and the best analogue I can give is fighting games that do not have all the characters unlocked at the outset. It is more an inconvenience than anything else.

Racing in MNR is simply fun. You will immediately get familiar with the karts' racing techniques.

I mentioned the career mode earlier and I think we should return to it. The mode is pretty lengthy and for the most part it is a blast. The tracks give you a feel for all the subtle nuances that more experienced racers will use. Starting with drifting and expanding from there the racing in MNR feels great and will feel familiar. Basically the racing breaks down to learning the track, mastering techniques such as drifting and drafting, and the power ups. There are only four different weapons and of them three are for attacking and one is a boost. That seems slim but each power can be leveled up by picking up another “item orb” which would give a total twelve. The weapons however are not varied and will quickly break down to getting a level three of whichever power up you currently have. There is a meter on the right of the screen that can be filled by doing the techniques described earlier and it brings interesting aspects to the game. The meters primary role it to show how much boost you have but with a simple button press you can use the energy to put up a defensive shield, giving the race a more tactical feel and the choice leads to some tense situations. Should I use the boost to get ahead or should I wait for a level three attack and try to defend? This small detail brings an interesting dynamic to the races.

The catch-up physics in the game, meaning that those behind the first place are a little faster than the one in first, are to be expected and by themselves, not bad. The problem comes from the fact that the catch-up physics seem to only apply to you. What I mean is that while you can never have a safe lead, a full lap can go by where you never see the first place racer from second. The AI is also a little buggy in the fact that when you are around other drivers they appear to act human, miss boosts, fall of ledges on hard turns, etc, but when you cannot see them they do not seem to make any mistakes. The presentation in the career mode is great and full of personality. The telecast presentation is brilliant with Gary and Biff being hilarious. There are cut scenes between races and they are usually funny and interesting. I may be alone in this but Pixar should dump Cars 2 and pick up the MNR characters instead. ModNation Racers is fun but there are a few nagging problems. Compounded with the games Achilles heel being the load times and you get a flawed, but overall fun game. I have played it for over twenty hours and I still want to go back and create more.

Reviewed by jamespugh5 – July 2, 2010

Graphics
The graphics are nothing special but the heavy stylized nature make the game easy to look at but maybe not memorable.
 
Sound
The sound effects and music will be instantly recognizable after playing the game for a bit and great voice acting makes the game a pleasure for the ears. If you hear the high pitch warning of a projectile once you will never forget it and your blood pressure will rise.
 
Fun
The game will keep you entertained and start your creative juices. Just like LBP though the fun you have in the game is directly proportional to how much you put into it. If you like to get lost in creating and the creations of others, the game is immensely fun.
 
Final Score

 

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