ModNation Racers (Closed Beta) // PS3
January 21, 2010
ModNation Racers, the upcoming PS3-exclusive racing game from United Front Games, hasn’t been on my radar at all. I’ve seen it mentioned in a few thread comments on gaming sites, on blog posts about the games that people are most looking forward to in 2010, but with racing being my least favourite genre, I hadn’t looked into any details of this at all. That all changed when I noticed this post on the EU PlayStation blog, detailing the beta for ModNation Racers and its 100,000 download limit. Caught up in the hype, I promptly booted up the PSN and commenced with the 2GB download. Several hours later, I was ready to race.
Straight off the bat, let’s get the comparisons with LittleBigPlanet out the way. The similarity is clearly obvious from the get-go, but with LittleBigPlanet getting it so right, it’s inevitable that other titles with user-generated-content as its beating heart will follow the trail that Media Molecule have so successfully blazed. Whereas Sackboy embodies textured cloth and stuffing, the Mod is pure shiny vinyl toy, hard black outlines and crisp vector artwork. Oh, to be the 2D graphic artist on this project; the guy must have had a blast.
The customisation options are staggering. My creation – a confusing hybrid of hi-vis jacket (straight out of the YMCA music video) and horned Viking helmet – went through many iterations before I got bored of all the choice and clicked Accept. The combinations are pretty close to endless, and just a cursory glance at the Mods that more creative minds had conjured up were enough to bring forth a chuckle – a quick spot-check threw up parodies of Spiderman, a Helghast Soldier, and even Winnie the Pooh.
Mods aren’t the only element of the game that can be customised. You can also create your own kart to race him/her in, which adds yet another layer of customisation to the mix. On top of that, there is the option to create your own tracks, a feature that is likely to provide longevity for ModNation Racers long after the developer-created tracks are mastered. Whether the title can top the 1m+ user-created levels of LBP remains to be seen, and it all depends on the breadth of the creation tools to be released in the full game whether United Front Games can top this lofty figure.
Of course the collaborative, community aspect of ModNation Racers wouldn’t be worth a damn if the gameplay underpinning it all is not up to scratch. My few races, waged competitively online, instantly evoked Mario Kart (which isn’t a surprise really) with its liberal sprinkling of power-ups strewn across the track. It was a little unclear what was being picked up though, and without the rich history and imagery of the Mario universe to draw upon, weapons fell the wrong side of ‘generic’, with staples such as a rocket and speed boost being the order of the day. Hopefully clearer signposting in the final code will make it instantly obvious what weapon is currently in your arsenal, and I’d be surprised if United Front Games didn’t have a few aces up their sleeves, in terms of weaponry, for the full release of the game.
XP is earned in those races that are designated as XP games, adding another string to the longevity bow. I expect XP to earn special skills, kart upgrades or skin unlocks and perhaps even titles/emblems as seen recently in Modern Warfare 2 and Street Fighter IV. Leaderboards will be a shoe-in, of that there is little doubt.
I’ve only had time to spend an hour or two with ModNation Racers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m missing some huge sections of the beta that haven’t become immediately obvious to me. Judged on the handful of races I’ve competed in however, the game shows a lot of promise, and fans of user-generated-content will likely squeal with delight at the sheer scope of options available here. Those amongst us whose apathy or impatience for lengthy creation sessions will effectively strip that layer of gloss away may have to look harder for reasons to keep ModNation Racers in their disc drives, but it’s far too early to make that call when such a small selection of tracks and features are available to test.