MotorStorm Pacific Rift

We loved the first game, but does Pacific Rift offer enough new thrills to justify a return visit?

PlayStation 3
Evolution Studios

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By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Renovation is the new innovation, or something like that. This winter's software schedule will be remembered more for perfecting old tricks than inventing new ones, a few pioneers like EA's Spore aside. Take Dead Space, a game whose greasily perfect lighting, holographic menus and goosebump-inducing starscapes positively sweat 'next generation', but a game nonetheless firmly lodged in 2005. Or how about Saints Row 2, perhaps best described as Grand Theft Auto 3: Vice City's layabout red-haired step-brother? There's nothing new under the sun, and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift certainly doesn't shirk the trend. This is essentially the same tuned-up, pimped-out box of chrome and mudguards as its warmly received predecessor, plus a scattering of extras: split-screen multiplayer, water, lava and vegetables.

Let's start with the vegetables. Yes indeedy, there's a whole bundle of those. The off-road Motorstorm Festival has relocated from the original game's Monument Valley setting to an equatorial island chain, see, so incidental flora is always on the menu. And that incidental flora wants you dead. With a vengeance.

It comes down particularly hard on the more fragile of Pacific Rift's eight rides. Where fatso vehicles such as the new Monster Trucks cannon through the sugar canes, ferns, grasses and low boughs that litter the game's 16 colossal, multi-tiered courses, the bikes and ATVs are liable to get snagged, thrown sideways at a crucial moment - and when you're careening along at a hundred miles an hour in company with cars five times your size, every moment is crucial. Whether you play the bruiser or the ballet dancer, though, you're going to find visibility an issue, with bushes and palm trees veiling each hairpin turn or bottleneck till the very last moment, and often after. Of all Pacific Rift's renovations, it's the instantaneous race restart that had us most thankful in the end.

Evolution Studios' fancy-pants new water hazards also have it in for lightweights: streams running across the track throw out your rear, while vine-tangled lagoons buoy you up and deny you traction. The flipside of that particular coin, however, is that a quick dip will cool you down if you overheat your ride through reckless boosting. Given that you'll rely on the old nitrous almost constantly, whether to pump additional air into a jump or bully out of a handbrake turn, how you exploit Pacific Rift's plentiful sources of H20 is an important concern, though not quite essential. Lava, by contrast, is very much something to avoid: it'll pile digits onto your thermometer if you come to close.

Once you've assimilated the newfound setting and its wiles, Pacific Rift starts to feel pretty familiar. The campaign splits the courses evenly between four element-specific categories, with experience points and hence higher Festival ranks awarded on a medal by medal basis. Some events or "tickets" pack sub-objectives such as a minimum time or number of wipe-outs - nailing these unlocks Speed and Eliminator events. Speed events are lukewarm solo checkpoint-to-checkpoint affairs, while in Eliminator the last-placed car blows up at ever-shortening intervals. The online modes benefit from a few sensible structural supports in the form of a ranking system and improved match-making.

For those PS3 owners who somehow dodged the oily embrace of the first title, Motorstorm's guiding principle is that lighter vehicles stick to the higher routes, while the bulky of tyre and sturdy of fender plough through the lowlands. Part of the beast's undeniable brilliance is that this principle isn't set in stone: every alternative route, short of a few well-hidden snickets and jumps for those weasel bikers, can be tackled with any ride - just be prepared to put in extra sweat and toil if you choose poorly.

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