A diamond in the island: don't pass this racer up.
The original Motorstorm was met with mixed reviews, and for good reason. The core arcade racing engine was brilliant, with a good sense of speed, sound vehicle handling and physics, incredible damage modeling, impressive hit detection, and persistant track deformation. The track designs were nearly flawless. The seven different vehicle types (Bikes, ATVs, Buggies, Rally Cars, Racing Trucks, Mudpluggers, and Big Rigs) were balanced and fun to drive. The graphics were stunning.
What was wrong? As fun as the tracks were, there were only eight (excluding pay-for DLC). The environments were breathtaking, but the southwestern-US desert setting of Monument Valley was somewhat monotonous. The online community was small but dedicated, and the experience was surprisingly lag free, although it suffered a bit from less than stellar lobbies and wait times. Though the racing itself was an absolute blast, there were no other event types apart from time attack, and no splitscreen multiplayer of any kind. Finally, the load times. The load times were god awful. Some of the worst I've ever experienced in any game. EVER.
So how does Evolution Studios follow up a great but flawed new IP? Enter Pacific Rift.
Graphics? Check. The visuals have been kicked up a notch, with more colors, great draw distance, beautiful lighting/water/fire/lava/smoke effects, the whole package.
Vechicles? Check. All seven vehicle types make a triumphant return, and herald the arrival of an eighth member: the Monster Truck. The pros and cons of each vehicle class are now even more pronounced as there's more than just alternate routes and scattered mud on which to base your optimal racing lines. Which brings us to the next point...
Tracks? Check. Try sixteen courses over the previous title's eight. Try four gorgeous environmental settings: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. Try longer, more intricate, and more varied laps. Try the addition of foliage, streams, rivers, and waterfalls, fire, and lava. If you thought Bikes had a rough go at the mud, try the rapids. Plus, the water and fire have additional affects on your engine temperature. I bet you can figure out which does what.. This definitely makes for more strategic route planning: should I take the short path next to the molten lava which will limit my boost, or the longer path through the shower canopy to cool the engine and allow for longer boost? The beauty of the tracks are that there really is no wrong answer, as each route is viable based upon the situation.
Race types? Check. The addition of Elimination races (last place explodes every few seconds) and Speed events (checkpoint-to-checkpoint solo ventures) are interesting, though a more varied stable of event types would have been welcome. Also, offline splitscreen is available for up to 4 players. The frame rate and graphics maintain a high level of quality, though four separate screens makes things quite chaotic at times. It's a nice option, but you will probably still spend most of your time in the single-player Festival races or online.
A.I.? Well, sort of "check." The brutal artificial intelligence of the NPC racers you square off against throughout Pacific Rift's Festival seems to have been directly ported over from Monument Valley. On the higher difficulty levels, even seasoned vets have to depend on random acts of god to defeat some of these superhuman vehicles with unlimited boost and unholy turning ability. The "rubberband" effect is still very much in play, meaning you can finish a race in 3:40 to net a nice silver medal and finish in 3:18 the very next race on the same track (that's a 22 second difference for those not keeping score) and still get second place. There's something indescribably frustrating in knowing that skill has relatively little to do with winning the higher level races. However, there is a plus side to this madness: there are few experiences in gaming which can lift your spirits to the epic heights felt when finally getting first on a brutal race in Motorstorm. It keeps you coming back for more.
Online? Check. It's as easy as ever getting into a race and pitting your skills against real-life, virtual people. Again, it is largely lag free, and proves to be an all around brilliant experience. There's definitely something to be said for being roundly bested by real people, as opposed to unfairly advantaged AI. Also, again, the community is small, but it's usually not difficult getting into a full room of sixteen. If only it didn't kick you to the front lobby after every race...
Load times? CHECK. Load times have been improved tremendously. So much so, in fact, that there's no real need to go into any more detail.
There are some other minor additions, such as Bike/ATV ducking/bunny hopping and side-swipe attacks, however, it is the inclusion of Trophies which adds the most addictive wrinkle into the whole package. Virtually everything from simply completing races, to ranking up online, to exploding across the finish line for a gold can net you Trophies, which in turn often unlock new vehicle models, liveries, and drivers. This does much to give Pacific Rift longevity, something Monument Valley could have sorely used.
Just like the original Motorstorm, Pacific Rift brings an incredibly enjoyable off-road, arcade racing experience to the PS3. Pacific Rift stands as the best racing game I've played all year, and my favorite since, well, the first Motorstorm, and probably Driver on the original Playstation.