ModNation Racers: Roadtrip
is really hung up on appearances.
“Customize everything!” it cries.
Choose a custom vehicle shell! Slap a sticker on your buggy! Dress up your
little “Mod” person as a fursuiting cowboy! This is all you! You are expressing
yourself and being creative! Isn’t that rad? To be sure, ModNation Racers: Roadtrip
is packed to bursting with potential tweaks, mods, and makeover options.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to care quite as much about the actual racing,
which is about as sloppy and bland as the customization is comprehensive. That
is a problem.
Consider: You can navigate
just about any of the few dozen included courses by simply steering left and
right. There’s a drift feature, sure, but that exists solely to charge your
special meter, which powers a turbo-boost and shield. The controls feel mushy,
botching any chance of capturing some much-needed traction. This is racing by
the strictest definition of the word, but it’s not exciting or invigorating.
Despite the drifting’s somewhat superfluous nature, we actually liked to drift
as much as possible, since sliding around the tracks at odd angles while
counter-steering felt a little more engaging than just pressing left and right
while holding down the gas.
Alas, that’s about as
interesting as the action gets. Weapons seem an afterthought; we usually
launched them at the first opportunity. Various themed courses introduce level-design
gimmicks like smashing traps and fire-breathing statues, but it’s all just so
much static when the core racing action feels so lifeless. The only reason you
might want to replay a given race is that each Career Mode event lets you
unlock new customization parts by completing two special objectives, such as going
one lap without touching a wall, or drifting a certain amount.
So, you’re thinking, if the
racing’s a bust, the customization had better deliver. It certainly gives you a
lot of choices. We spent about 20 minutes going through options and modding the
default Mod avatar into something resembling a bandanna-clad tiger lady, all by
choosing textures and accessories off of simple palettes. Car customization went
The real challenge comes in
designing custom tracks, which requires the use of a considerably more complicated
level editor. While the performance and input limitations of the Vita make the
process feel somewhat cumbersome, the level editor manages to be both
relatively powerful and easy to figure out. Shortcuts like automatic scenery
placement will let you get up and running in just minutes. Your first track
won’t be very good, but playing around with these beginner features intuitively
points the way toward more complex creations. It’s nicely done.
Just one problem: There’s
not much point to messing with any of this. Content-sharing options are
limited, and none of the customizations affect your in-race performance. While
you can upload your own maps and download others’ creations, that’s about the
extent of it - this is no LittleBigPlanet. Worse, Roadtrip is the first
ModNation Racers title to omit true online play, so you’re stuck in the limited
land of ad-hoc. This alone means that most folks will never touch the
multiplayer, which really takes the wind out of all that customization stuff.
If a Mod dons a zoot suit but no one’s around to appreciate it, maybe they should
have just stayed in their pajamas.
The game isn’t a good
demonstration of the Vita’s capabilities, either. Framerates are generally
shaky, with busy areas of complicated courses skirting near the single digits.
The voiceover and presentation flourishes of the PS3 version are gone. The interface
is annoying, relegating most of
the important options to fiddly corner touch-wheels and mostly omitting obvious
and sensible physical button alternatives. Then there are the load times, which
are upwards of 45 seconds in Career Mode. Roadtrip clearly could’ve used a few
more months of TLC.
ModNation Racers had a pretty good debut on the PS3, but the series has been on a downward
trajectory since. Sadly, ModNation Racers: Roadtrip only continues that trend.
It’s a complete misfire, and no amount of goofy skins or nifty track editors
can make up for the seriously busted fundamentals.