28th June 2010 - I liked the idea of ModNation Racers from the first “on stage” demo I saw a few months back. Combining fun, addictive karting with the creative stroke of Little Big Planet seemed to be a winning mix on paper. That's what the guys from United Front Games have bet on, and produced ModNation Racers, a quirky title with customization galore and racing for young and old alike. We know that good ideas on paper don't necessarily translate to a great game. I set out with a positive feeling to see where this title fell once the rubber hit the road.
This game is at its core a racing game and so that's the first thing I wanted to get stuck into before worrying about all the customizing (which at first is overwhelming). After the ridiculously long install, I made my way straight to the campaign. I'll start the racing now.....right. After a long and boring story I get to another loading screen which takes about 45 seconds. At this stage I was hoping the game was going to be good because the amount of time it took me to just play a single race was, to be frank, frustrating. Thankfully ModNation's gameplay is solid and (importantly) fun.
The controls aren't customizable so can take a few minutes to get used to if you prefer different set-ups. Once you settle in though you are in for a real treat. All the elements you would expect like acceleration, brakes, drifting, firing weapons and bumping other drivers are there and work well together. Drifting is easily performed and controlled, which is crucial as it's an important element to win games. ModNation Racers has been designed to reward players for executing drifts, drafting, and attacking other drivers by filling up a meter on the side of the screen with said moves. This then adds a strategic element because the meter can either be used to boost ahead or activate a shield protecting you from the many attacks from your rivals.
The pick-ups placed around the track vary from speed boosts to your typical rockets and lightning blast. Each has the ability to be upgraded to three levels by simply running over another pick-up pod before being used. This becomes very useful and daunting, as avoiding a single rocket is not too much of a challenge, but a dozen becomes a whole other story. When you are taken out it really slows your flow, making good opportunity for changes in the lead.
The tracks are well designed - nice and wide to facilitate multiple players drifting, placement of pick-ups, and moving obstacles. The track design works in with the other gameplay elements to allow players opportunity to get ahead, but by the same token make it possible to catch leaders so there aren't massive gaps between the drivers.
One thing I wasn't a fan of, and that tainted the experience, was the story in the main campaign. It attempted to put some context, personality and humour into the game but it failed dismally. The story is unnecessary and doesn't make you feel more attached to your characters. The cut scenes are too long, don't add any depth and so are pointless. Finally, it tries so hard to be funny that it's painful to watch and just comes across as obnoxious. I'm not sure who the target audience is with this approach, and it's a shame.
The multiplayer off-line is simple and allows up to four-player split screen with bots making up the rest of the field. On-line multiplayer allows two players on the same console and up to 12 players in matches. There are casual races and XP races that allow you to gain points to upgrade your character. The online community is good for sharing all the creations people make, allowing characters, karts and tracks to be on display.
The good thing about ModNation Racers is that if you're busy or just not into creating stuff, the racing is excellent (minus the load times). If you do like to get the creative juices flowing there are so many options here it can be overwhelming at first. The characters (called Mods incidentally) and karts are easily changed with straightforward categories making you a pro in just a few minutes. Creating Mods is very similar to Little Big Planet in that the basic character shape is set and you change the skin, hair, eyes, clothes etc. With the karts you can pick the body type, paint job, stickers and accessories. It's an easy process and can be as detailed or as simple as you can be bothered to make it. Creating your own tracks is an impressively simple affair too. Lay the track in the direction you want, change elevation on the fly, and then add course items and populate the surrounding area. Easy.
So all in all great gameplay right? Good controls, single and multiplayer options, lots of customization - what could be better? The stupid, stupid, stupid load times for each and every track and when moving between areas. It takes the better part of a minute to load up a race, every single time. Every single time. If you have just finished a race and didn't pass, it has to load up again. If you think that a minute is not a long time, have your mates around and see how much it disrupts gameplay to be sitting there doing nothing for almost a minute every few minutes. Especially with Gen Ys this is going to be hard to swallow and a big mistake by the developers. Now I know they can probably improve it with a firmware update, and I hope they do because it's so painful myself and friends couldn't handle the game for more than about 30min blocks.
ModNation has a unique cartoon look with colourful graphics that run smoothly and make racing a pleasure to watch. Small details like the fire out of the tyres with long drifts and players' poses as they get big air are welcome. Weapons look great when fired and hit and the infinite combination of character and kart designs mean the screen never gets drab. The tracks and surrounding area are populated with backgrounds that create a solid theme and don't get too distracting. I never experienced any issues with the frame rate or noticed bugs during gameplay.
The music during gameplay is neither great nor poor but simply does the job, which is probably to allow the cool sound effects to shine. Rubber burning, the rumble of wood planks or cobble stone streets, missiles exploding and shouts from characters are all well done and add to the racing experience. The voice acting from the commentators and during the story is cheesy and horrible to listen to though - where is that mute button?!
Gamers will certainly get their money's worth with this title. With a main campaign that has unlockables giving incentive for replay, modification to your hearts delight, and an online community that will no doubt sprout loads of tracks and online competition this game will keep eager racers coming back for many months.
There is a lot to like about ModNation Racers. As a kart racer the gameplay is fun, controls are responsive, and some skill and strategy is required to win. The creative and customization elements are massive and, although they may overwhelm some players initially, ultimately are fairly easy to get into and use. The online community is easy to access and Little Big Planet has already shown us that creating and sharing community content is a winner and there is no reason ModNation Racers won't do the same. A few issues like the terrible story and voice acting are easily overlooked because of the strong gameplay. So many things to like and yet for me there was one big problem that stopped it being the game it could have been. Those friggin' load times. They really do detract from the flow of the game and you can only take so many before your patience runs out and you change the game for something less dragging. Hopefully this will get rectified with firmware but as it stands it's a heavy weight on an otherwise fast and fun game.
AAG SCORE: 7.5/10
- Great racing mechanics
- Customization galore
- Rich online community setup
- Long and frequent load times
- Did I mention the load times?
- Boring, unfunny and unnecessary story in campaign mode
Reviewed and written by Khye Davey