Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ModNation Racers (PS3) Beta Impressions

ModNation Racers for the Playstation 3 is one of my most anticipated games of 2010. Only Super Mario Galaxy 2 outranked it. That said, I was very happy to learn that was invited to become a part of the beta for ModNation. I've had some time to tinker around with the game, get the ins and outs, and just play for a few hours or so to form some impressions. Will ModNation Racers push your pedal to the metal?

As is the beta, not all the features have been included. The majority of the track parts, avatar parts, and modes are locked away. As you start the beta, you're thrown into the hub, a circular area leading to all of the modes and options in ModNation Racers. There's the top three mods and karts of the day, a featured collection of tracks, online racing, quick race (which only has time trial available and not the quick race option), and the creation station where all the mods or game avatars, vehicles, and tracks can be created, downloaded, and shared.

Batman has a larger wingspan than you'd think.

The creation station is where all the imagination takes place. You can design a mod, but the options are rather limiting as most of the tattoos and art parts are locked for the retail release. Regardless, there's plenty of creative people already making famous game, television, and film characters such as Mario, Luigi, Link, Spider-man, Batman, Kratos of God of War fame, and many more. I've no idea how these characters are created, possibly gifted use of tattoos, but nonetheless, these are very impressive! Needless to say, I downloaded a wealth of characters. Also you can design a vehicle for your created or downloaded mod. You create the vehicle body, the paint job, and the size of your car. Nothing like Batman cruising in style in his patented Batmobile!

A cavalcade of characters from comics and games!

Luigi's got a sweet ride!

Track creation is the most complicated and rightfully so. It'd get boring rather quickly if the options were small. You could only design so many varied types of tracks. Thankfully, there's a host of options to choose from to create your track the way you want it. First, you can set up the topography of your track. From small hills to rugged mountains. Then you place your track. It's just like driving in the regular game. You can choose when the track slopes upward, downward, make it flat and so forth. Once you've created a full lap, you can start altering the track from dirt roads to concrete town streets, twist the track, widen or narrow parts, add shortcuts either obvious or hidden, and branch the track into several parts. You can also place scenery and props or have the game do it for you. There's only one available setting in the beta, the alpine, but the full release will more than likely feature many more.

I made a quick, beginner track called Windmill Valley. It's a rural road weaving through numerous windmills and around a beautiful blue lake. There's one big shortcut on the track, and it's obscured by multiple trees. It's a simple enough track that offers enough drifting opportunities to be fun for all skill levels. Nothing mind-boggling here.

Some shots of Windmill Valley, my first real course.

After your mod, vehicle, or track is completed, you can share it online. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, it's already much easier to find selected works by various creators. It's not an exact science, however, so I'd love to see that improved. Regardless, if you haven't a creative bone in your body, you can do what most of us are doing and download other people's work. There's already an exhaustive amount of great tracks, mods, and vehicles to select from, alter, and race away with or on.

Mario gives the thumbs up to his opponent.

Now that I've briefly gone over the creation aspects of the game, let's move onto the core mechanics of the gameplay. Firstly, starting up the game and driving for the very first time, the controls feel extremely loose. By now I've gotten used to them, but I'd still prefer some tighter steering instead of what we have now. Drifting is the main mechanic used in ModNation Racers. The longer you drift, the more your boost meter runs up similar to MySims Racing of all games. You can use your boost energy not only to boost (obviously), but you can also use it to shield yourself against opponent attacks. You can also gain boost points by drafting behind other racers as well.

Batman tracks down the Joker out in New Mexico.

Performance-wise, there's way too many load screens, and they're quite long, too. Many of those playing the beta have had the game crash on them multiple times. I've not seen this myself, but I'm knocking on wood as I type. Additionally, the framerate is set at thirty frames per second, and that number dips quite often with frequent slowdown and stuttering. Visually, the game is gorgeous with striking backgrounds, detailed landscapes, and plenty of neat things to look at as you breeze by.

Mamma-mia! I'm on a competitor's console!

All-in-all, ModNation Racers has several problems that bar it from being a perfect game. Thankfully, the game is only in beta right now with some form of release for the retail game in 2010. There needs to be work on the framerate, loading times, and looseness of the controls first and foremost. As it is now, ModNation Racers is shaping up to be an excellent kart racer with a wonderful creation system implemented into it. Whether or not the game rivals the quality or sales of something like Mario Kart is yet to be seen. Either way, you're looking at one of the rides of your life with ModNation Racers.

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