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ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

Brendan Griffiths
Games previews, ModNation Racers, PS3 games, Racing Games
Playstation 3

ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

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.

ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

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.

ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

Making tracks

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.

ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

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.

ModNation Racers: Hands-On Preview

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.

Add a comment7 comments
alex aka king of playstaion  Feb. 6, 2010 at 23:58

i have yet to buy a racing game for my ps3 so i told myself i would buy one this year and im having a hard time deciding between gran turismo 5, split/second and modnation racers.

they all have amazing qualities i want to check out modnation has the customazation and track building gt5 has 1000 real life cars and beautiful graphics and slip/second in third place for me now but still a heavy contender has the buildings that come tumbling down to put strategy into the races its gonna be a hard decision maybe ill wait till all the reviews come out to see witch one has the best allover game between sigle and multiplayer

Matt Gardner  Feb. 7, 2010 at 01:28

First Little Big Planet, now this. Sony have really captured the community spirit with games like these, and it's something I hope Microsoft wake up and take notice of. The best the 360 has is Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts...which is....how shall I put it?..... pretty crap.

Brendan Griffiths  Feb. 7, 2010 at 15:25

Well Alex, all three are looking awesome. I had a go at Split/Second at a Eurogamer Expo. It's was a hell of a lot of fun, even using the nasty ;) 360 pad. quite hard though, probably just my shocking 360 skills.

GT5 will be gorgeous but will it be fun? You've seen what I think of ModNation (see above article).

Seeing as you don't have any racing games at the mo though, you should definitely check out Burnout Paradise, especially if you like messing around online. Dirt 2 is an amazing rally game too. Pure's pretty cool for ATVs and under £10 now.

So go and get some practice racing in now as you've got a long wait before your 3 are out yet!!

Matt Gardner  Feb. 7, 2010 at 16:01

I second this. Burnout Paradise and DiRT 2 are both exceptionally good.

Brendan Griffiths  Feb. 8, 2010 at 19:29

There's no official release date for this at the moment. But a reliable contact at Sony told me it would probably be around May.

ODB  Feb. 15, 2010 at 14:23

best how? what category?

please dont ruin this site be becoming PS3 fanboys!

looks good though, hit the demo 1st day defo gonna get

Matt Gardner  Feb. 15, 2010 at 15:01

I love my 360 to bits (and it frequently falls apart into them) and it does a good number of things very well....but it sure as hell ain't perfect. Nintendo do cute, quirky everyman fun very very well. Sony got in on the action with LBP and this looks like their answer to Mario Kart. As yet, Microsoft don't really have anything of any particular note to offer in this sector, certainly not outside XBLA anyway.

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