When I heard that the second title in Sony’s “Play, Create, Share” series was going to be a kart racer, I was suitably impressed — hyped even. I was lucky and landed a spot in the ModNation Racers beta. Here, I had an absolute ball with the concept of absolute customisation. The only thing really hindering the game at that point was insanely long load times. Lost in the myriad of game (and particularly racing game) releases lately, I’d left ModNation Racers for a while before finally checking it out. Things have changed since the Beta. Some good, some bad…
ModNation Racers relies on almost limitless customisation in its racing. With an incredibly powerful set of modification tools at your disposal, you can create almost any Mod, Kart and Track designs you can imagine. Before even touching the racing, I just sat down at the creation studio, building a Kart that was as close to and as reminiscent of the Griswold Family Truckster as I could make with the default bits and pieces. Then I had a play with the racer (otherwise know as ‘Mods’) creation. Starting off with a completely blank canvas (or mannequin), eventually turning it into a hideous half-cow, half-man freak of nature.
Truly though, you don’t really discover the absolute power of the tools available until you check out the Share section. Just a search for the highest rated Mod designs give you a look at authentic and passionate recreations of all your favourite video game, book and cinema characters. Mario, Iron Man, Inspector Gadget, the Monopoly Guy, Mickey Mouse, Wolverine, Link, Wile E. Coyote, Papa Smurf.. The list goes on and on. I couldn’t run a search without coming up with at least 5-10 results for my text. And seeing all the designs only gets your creative juices flowing even more.
If designing your car and driver wasn’t enough, you have the immensely powerful Track Editor at your disposal too. This little gem of customisation allows you to create tracks – elaborate, detailed tracks – in minutes. Simply ‘drive’ the track creation tool around a sandbox environment, laying your tarmac as you go, finish the drawing – and ‘Auto Populate’ it with ModNation Racers’ own selection of world detail – and you’re done. Track created.
Of course, for the more personal touch, all of the creation tools have their respective ‘Advanced’ Editors. These allow for more precise, more elaborate and far more power in detailed design. Even this advanced mode of creation isn’t terribly hard to come to grips with – an absolute testament to the work United Front Games have put into delivering a unique and easily accessed customisation palette.
Unfortunately, where this all falls over, is the actual racing itself. For an arcade kart racer that definitely doesn’t take itself seriously, all the fast pace and panache of the creation aspect is lost in some very stop-go, frustrating racing.
Item/weapon pickups are abundant – and collecting more than one packs extra punch on your selected weapon. Once hit with these items, you as a driver lose control of your kart in most instances – and come grinding to a halt on the race track. You don’t just slow down, or spin out like in other races such as Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing – you stop. Then either re-spawn or resume – and you’re forced to accelerate back up to pace, meanwhile watching all of your opponents sail past. And have the whole thing repeated on the next corner.
The difficulty of deflecting attacks (avoiding them is almost impossible, save for one or two ‘line of sight’ attacks) is ridiculous, with only a short-fuse shield available, that requires use of your boost charge to activate – but its just not enough. More powerful attacks break this shield anyway, and/or have multiple stages of attack, so deflecting the original missile only delays the inevitable.
It’s a painful and arduous experience to say the least. And it only gets worse as you advance through the career and your foes possess even more rigged A.I capabilities and rubber-banding.
Thankfully, the experience is saved somewhat by playing online where you don’t feel so completely overwhelmed by rubber-band A.I and a constant, flawless execution of attacks. Online foes are obviously Human, and Humans make mistakes. Thus, the experience is all the more improved by closer racing and a definite feeling of “I can actually win this” as opposed to the “I’ll get blown up in 1st place, 5 metres from the finish line only to rank 7th” you get in the Career.
Another downside to the ModNation Racers package is the insanely long loading times. They’ve definitely improved from the Beta, but they’re still not great. You have an initial game load that’s a good 20 odd seconds. Then proceeding into most of the ‘Stations’ from your starting point requires another 20-45 second load. And be careful you don’t accidentally click back from one of these Stations, as you’ll need to endure a 30 second load to boot the original ModSpot, plus another 30 second load to get back into the area you were just at. Each race has a similar loading time and I often find myself just restarting races to keep playing, rather than exiting and lengthily loading another race.
It is a shame that the cool-down between weapon/pick-up attacks and resuming the race hasn’t been reduced – ModNation Racers just doesn’t have that frenetic, exciting race pace of current titles like Sonic & Sega All Stars – or classics like Mario Kart. It feels all about defense, rather than racing.
The creation and customisation alone though makes this title something special though. Never before have we seen such powerful custom tools for a racing title. Certainly the mod community will flourish here for a long time.
Graphics & Sound
Everything has this Pixar-esque colour scheme and design flare to it all. It’s all bright splashes of colour and flamboyant styling. Everything from the default area, the ModSpot, to menu systems, tracks, environments and creation stations look great. Your Mod, Kart and Track previews look gorgeous, though there is some quality degradation in cut-scenes and on-track with more complex Mod and Kart designs. With the exception of split-screen racing, its silky smooth frame rates during racing.
It sounds great as well. Screeching kart tyres, flame trails ‘scalding’ the ground, incoming missile alerts, sonic pulses and explosions. There’s a variety of in-game cutscenes and ‘advertisements’ between Career races that are worth a laugh, but the voice acting is a little weak on some comedic delivery.
ModNation Racers is a kart racer that holds some incredible power in the world of customisation. There’s probably never been such a well-oiled, user-friendly, vastly customisable kart racer before. You can literally design just about anything, from crazy karts, to marvellous Mod Racers, to insane tracks. And all SO easily. Sadly, it is marred by interrupted racing that just doesn’t flow. It becomes more about getting lucky in weapon avoidance than it does actually racing your Friends or the AI to the finish line.