Little Big Planet brought the "Play, Create, Share" ethos to the PlayStation 3, and ModNation Racers applies the same concept to the kart racer. The result is a game that offers you all the tools you need to create your own karts, tracks, and racers and then easily share your creations online with the community. These features are excellent--both simple enough for beginners and powerful enough for creative types to match anything from the developer. The fiercely competitive AI makes the single player career more challenging than it needs to be, and long load times are a bind across all game modes. However, played with friends locally or online, ModNation Racers is a fun, rewarding and novel addition to the genre.
6263615NoneThe racing is fast-paced and frantic, and gets very challenging later on.
Once you've played the first tutorial race, you're dropped into ModNation Racers' central hub, which connects all of the play, create, and share elements of the game. You can select game modes either by browsing the menu system or by physically driving your kart to the corresponding area of the hub. If you're online, the world is populated by other racers whom you can communicate with, share content with, or challenge to a race. The hub also highlights some of the highest rated content from users around the world, with statues of user-created characters, such as Mario, Ryu, and Spider-Man, and karts that have been made to look like locomotives, aeroplanes, or even the A-Team van. There's a clear emphasis on sharing at all times--you can drive up to anything you see and press the square button to browse, rate, and download items. It's a brilliantly implemented system, with seamless online integration providing a stream of new content.
The gameplay is based around karting staples--drifting and drafting are key, while power-ups and boost pads keep the action frantic. ModNation Racers introduces quite a few variations on these themes, though. The power-ups fall into four categories: boost, missile, sound, and lightning. As in Diddy Kong Racing, the more power-ups you collect, the more potency you add to the original pick-up. For example, the first rocket is a tiny little explosive that you have to aim manually, but if you wait and pick up two more power-ups, you'll be upgraded to a shower of rockets that will home in on an opponent.
You gain points by drifting, drafting, and spinning your kart in mid-air, all of which fuel a power bar that allows you to boost for short periods of time, put up a temporary shield or sideswipe opponents. The shield protects you incoming attacks, which are preceded by a warning siren, and as long as there's some space between you and the person who fired it, you can usually time a deflection. You can also use the power bar to sideswipe your opponents using the right analog stick, which can help you earn race-specific rewards or knock players off the track.
These gameplay mechanics mean that there's a lot going on in ModNation Racers, and it's definitely one of the most advanced kart racers on the market. The risk/reward nature of the power bar adds plenty of depth, while the tracks reward replayability with an abundance of shortcuts and unlockables. The racing is fun, with many courses offering long corners to drift around and massive jumps to stunt off. There's certainly a lot to take in at first, but these elements all come together to make a deep and rewarding kart racing experience.
ModNation Racers has all the tools you need to create your very own monstrosities, just like this.
The single player career mode will be the first port of call for many, where you unlock much of the creator content as you progress. You control a graffiti artist called Tag, and it's your job to take him from the amateur ranks to the top of the ModNation Racing Championship. The aim of each race is to come in third or above, which unlocks the next track in the series. However, the better you perform in each race, the more unlockable content you get--specific challenges such as "earn 3000 drift points", or "smash up the roadside furniture", reward you with even more items. Unfortunately, you also have to finish on the podium or in first place to get the reward, which becomes very difficult about halfway through the career. Most races are standard three-lap affairs, but stunt races and grudge matches mix things up, as you have to out-score your opponents or physically take them out, respectively.
The career mode is a bit more frustrating than it needs to be thanks to an incredibly punishing difficulty level. The AI racers are very skilled, gaining an advantage early on in most races and becoming proficient with weapons and shields once you get past the first tour. The track designs also become fiendishly tough at around the same time, with obstacles, traps and ravines to avoid and shortcuts to find if you're going to win. This means it can take multiple attempts to learn the best route through each course, but extra content is rewarded to those who spend the time to really master them. The career is also punctuated with TV-style race reports and story elements, and while they're cute and light-hearted with occasional laughs, they lack the charm necessary to stop you from skipping over.