Coming up fast behind Mario Kart is ModNation Racers from Sony and United Front Games. Rather than just another kart-racer you’ll have your chance to create your own tracks and characters. It’s the next game in Sony’s ‘Play, Create, Share’ push started by Little Big Planet.
There’ll be plenty of single player tracks to try out but seamless online integration is the aim of the game with players being encouraged to race against a mix of AI and online racers while sharing their created or borrowed content. All this won’t matter squat though if the racing itself isn’t fun. So it’s a good thing we’ve had an extensive hands on then.
Pro’s do it sideways
Racers can expect to tear around tracks in various environments with surfaces changing between gravel, dirt, tarmac and grass, often on the same track with 2-12 players. The controls are simple with R2 to accelerate, X to drift, and Square for weapons.
You need to fill your boost bar for bursts of nitro or to perform side-swipes by flicking the right analogue stick. A little boost can be sacrificed to use a temporary shield too for blocking opponent’s weapons. Boost can be earned by drafting, drifting and spinning your car mid-air.
Drifting feels a hell of a lot more responsive than Mario Kart as you can manoeuvre around the track much easier, rather than being locked into a restrictive curve. Hitting a wall mid-drift robs you of the entire potential boost. It’s heart-breaking when you’ve held one for 15 seconds on a sky-high drifting spiral. It’s the same feeling as dropping a huge combo in the Tony Hawk games because you got greedy.
There’s a familiar blend of rockets, zappers, barriers and mines to pick up on the track. Grab two weapons and the first one will be upgraded. They’re ludicrously powerful and can bring you to an explosive halt. No matter where you are on the track, you’re never far away from a good hiding. The cheapest weapon though is the teleport portal which may see you zapped from the back to the lead.
Players will be able to choose what they want to do from the ModSpot which is the game’s hub menu. Confirmed options include a single player Career, quick race and split-screen multiplayer (hopefully 4 players). Online options include Hot Laps (like time trials), ranked and unranked races and options to race with a mix of AI and online racers to make sure races are always packed. In a smart move, you can race online with local split-screen for your sofa sharing buddies.
There’s an extensive set of editing tools to create your unique Mod character so you can stand out in the lobbies. It’s already seen some brilliantly-made cheeky copies of classic characters from Spider-Man, Mario, Clank (as in Ratchet &…) Helghast Soldiers and naturally, The Stig.
So the racing is shaping up nicely, but what about the track editor? Well, even with just the Alpine theme available for now (there’ll be more in the full game), it’s looking amazing. It’s so simple to use and will possibly provide as much entertainment as the racing itself.
Starting off driving a tarmac-layer to set down you track, you just drive the track that’s in your mind. You can alter the gradient as you go for dips and hills, and even go under or over existing sections of track without having to fiddle around looking for a bridge piece in the menus. As you set down the tarmac, a little map shows what you’ve got so far and also how to get to the finish line the quickest if you want to let the game do the rest for you. You can reverse to try a corner again or you can use separate, advanced editing tools later on for any part of the track, to tighten up a corner for example.
The terrain or the surrounding landscape can be altered with easy, yet deep options. Want to put the track on an island in the middle of a lake? Go for it. Not entirely happy with the way the sun shines on the tarmac? Put it anywhere you want in the sky. Simple drags of a cursor will see mountains pop up or valleys carved into the earth.
Once the track is laid down you can populate it and the surrounding areas with trees, houses, wildlife, boulders, advertisement boards and loads of other random items. You can auto-populate many features such as what appears on the roadside, fences, road surface, and weapon and boost strip placements or you can put every last item exactly where you want it. Thankfully there’s an Undo button for when you mess things up.
Depending on how much detail players want to add to their tracks, they could knock one together in a few minutes or spend hours creating their masterpiece. When you’re adding new features or changing the shape of the track, everything appears instantly, there’s no waiting while it loads only to realise you didn’t want it there. It doesn’t take ages to upload your track online either so you can publish away for fellow gamers to rate. If the full game can run this smoothly, it could really take off.
Coming round the final corner now….
At this stage we’ve only been let loose with one level theme and a small amount of the editing toolbox, but it’s already got us pumped to see what the full release has in store for us.
ModNation Racers might stand a much better chance of appealing to a wider audience than Little Big Planet which had a deep but tricky level editor and occasionally dodgy platforming that was a bit off-putting, especially with the amount of broken levels published. Making a race track is much simpler though and the pick-up-and-play handling and helps to provide some long need competition for Mario Kart on the PS3.