MotorStorm: Apocalypse is action all the way. It's packed full of collapsing skyscrapers and disintegrating bridges, with the driving experience built around turbo boosting, jumps and vehicular combat. But does turning your iPod up to max volume and listening to it for 6-8 hours automatically create a classic album you'll want to come back to again and again? Let's see what's underneath the rubble.
It's almost completely unrecognisable next to the original game that showed us the potential of Sony's new hardware back in 2006. The mud has gone. The explosions are bigger. Pedestrians throw Molotov cocktails at you. Now there's a sentence that would've sounded absurd four years ago.
Above: Looks strange, doesn't it? Better get used to MotorStorm's new bad boy image. Also, note the guns
But it's only one instance of the game getting more 'mature'. These same pedestrians can be run over and they fly around with ragdoll physics, occasionally clinging to your speeding vehicle before inevitably getting scraped off on a sheet of glass or pile of rubble. There's even some bad language in the new animated cut-scenes and the sense of humour is very dark, complete with a glass eye getting punched out. A woman's glass eye, too.
But has it worked? Arguably, not as well as it could have done. Despite the mature content, the humour feels rather immature and the story scenes seems to be aimed at teenaged boys – lots of large-breasted women and adrenaline junkie colloquialisms. The gritty art design also grates a little. Looking at a street that's full of rubble, smoke and debris is about as pleasing on the eye as... a street filled with rubble, smoke and debris. Odd, that.
That's not to say that the apocalyptic setting is dull. There are some downright spectacular set-pieces scattered throughout the game, often on the final lap of each race. The cyclone on the 'Waves of Mutilation' track, in particular, is a shockingly powerful-looking hazard and having to dodge fishing boats raining from the sky is something that doesn't happen very often in videogames.
Above: Environmental effects like this twister look spectacular, although you can't get sucked up in it, sadly
In fact, the first of the game's three stories contains two or three races on the second day that work superbly and everything seems to click. The set-pieces are getting more and more spectacular and you're learning some advanced techniques like cooling your engines in the air. As you near the end of the second day of the festival and things start getting genuinely apocalyptic, you start to think that maybe the game's just going to keep on getting better.
But then you hit the end of the first story and the festival's over. Time to start again from the beginning with a new character. From that point on, it never quite regains that level of cohesiveness and, as a result, you start to pay more attention to the game itself. And then comes the realisation that the actualy gameplay boils down to little more than 'trying not to crash'. Hmmm...
That's easier said than done, mind, especially as the route you're supposed to take is often hard to discern between the thick smoke and piles of rubble. The game has not one, not two, but three signposting devices (chevrons, marked gates and strips of red lights) yet still you'll sometimes find yourself driving towards a wall with no idea why you're not on the track any more. It's also telling that the game's new side-shifting barge attack is actually more useful for avoiding obstacles than for attacking rival racers, which is a shame.