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After years of having to deal with petulant games journalists, vocal forum members and an increasingly fussy buying public, we’re not surprised that more and more developers are turning to us and saying “Fine! You don’t like what we’ve done? Why don’t you do it yourself, then?” After all, if we are given the responsibility of creating the game, we’re going to make ours absolutely perfect, right?
This is where we put our hands up and say “no”. We’re staring at our little blank, naked kart racer with a head like a boiled egg and we’ve got ‘developer’s block’. We’ve got a blank canvas, endless opportunities and we don’t know what to do. It doesn’t help that ModNation Racers’ brief beta trial showed how clever you could be if your mind worked quick enough; Kratos, Kermit the Frog, Spider-Man, Captain America, a Killzone soldier, Mario, Sonic. If you’ve thought of it, chances are somebody has already made it.
Even if you haven’t, you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it first. In the end we created our version of The Stig (easy, already been done better), Chun Li (took ages, looked crap, already been done) and internet meme Techno Viking (but only because we started with the beard). Equally bereft of innovative ideas, we also managed to cobble together a kart that sported last years’ Brawn F1 livery, a rusted, ‘rat look’ muscle car and, er, a camouflaged school bus. MNR’s potential stretches far further than the creator’s imagination…
In case you haven’t worked it out already, MNR is a Do It Yourself arcade kart racing game in the vein of LittleBigPlanet. From your Modspot (read: hub) you’ll be able to access the Career Mode, which serves as a tutorial, inspiration and method to unlock pieces for the other part of MNR – the Creation Station. It’s here where you create drivers, karts and, more importantly, tracks to use for yourself or share with the online world. Modspot will also be the place to start multi-player races, ogle some of the clever creations other people have made and be teased with premium content so you can pay money for new shoes and moustaches. It sounds like a lot to take in but don’t worry – the editing tools are the most accessible and intuitive to date.
Unlike LBP, which can rely heavily on a gamers’ knowledge of intricate mechanics and physics, MNR is – at its most basic level – is easy as drawing a loop. While LBP might require countless elements before you have manufactured an entertaining and barely functional level, MNR excels because creating a functional raceway is idiot proof. If you can make a track with a slot-cars kit, you can make a race-worthy circuit in MNR. With the added bonus of not having to hunt around for a missing corner piece or needing to replace metal brushes.
ModNation Racers isn’t the first memorable racing game with the ability to create your own content; we’ve been making circuits since the ancient 4D Sports Driving or V-Rally 2 on PSone. Let us not forget the successful (and much more recent) TrackMania either. But ModNation is in a different league. Again, key to its accomplishment is the trouble-free implementation. Complex components like jumps, overpasses, short-cuts and terrain changes are as simple as painting the track with a virtual brush. All the calculations go on behind the scenes while you’re free to plan your dream track, craft it, and then upload it for the world to judge. We can’t wait to see what happens once the more ingenious and creative gamers are let loose with the tools.
Considering how sophisticated and potentially complicated the make-your-own sections could’ve been, it’s surprising that the career mode races are the most frustrating part. MNR feels typical as far as kart racing goes (big drifts and bigger jumps with weapon-based pickups). The selection of rockets, lightning bolts and speed boosts will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a karting game. Sadly, things were sullied slightly; we experienced some annoyingly artificial rubber banding (where slower racers get speed boosts to make events more competitive).
It keeps things tight, but also means that no matter how well you drive, a win can be unfairly snatched at any moment. When you take into account the objectives you need to meet in your average race (score 10000 drift points, find and knock down ten concealed objects, attack a specific opponent in front of the grandstands and finish first) to unlock new parts, it can be irritating to repeat races. Particularly if you scored the drift points, got the bad guy, knocked over ten objects and then failed all of them because you came second. All we wanted was a bloody aerial shaped like a fishing rod for our cardboard car: is that too much to ask?
Even if MNR was ‘just’ a racing game, the annoyances would be minor. But ModNation Racers is far more than a kart game – it’s the new friendly face of DIY gaming. The creation tools are accessible and the editing mechanics comfortably familiar – more so than any other ‘make your own’ style game on PS3. It even caters to classic, often overlooked, split-screen racing alongside conventional 12-player online play. It’s the only kart racer you’ll ever need, and although not the best racing experience out there, it’s certainly the most fun. And if you don’t enjoy what’s on offer, you’ve only yourself to blame…
May 5, 2010