It's a tough year for racing games to make an impact. Gran Turismo 5 finally has a release date, Blur arrived with an intriguing Mario Kart/Project Gotham Racing hybrid feel, and Split/Second sent every building it possibly could plummeting to the ground with impressive vigour. On the other side of the spectrum, the Sega crew have already added their inevitable Sonic racing title to the catalogue; a game that proved to be a lot of fun in the right company. With the 'Play Create Share' tag firmly in tow, ModNation Racers' task of being the most entertaining original IP for the genre has gotten more difficult as 2010 has progressed.
That's not to say this isn't a quality product. As with the aforementioned racers, ModNation plays host to a number of excellent ideas, but also has major pitfalls that'll deter a certain type of player. You know, the type of that loves a ridiculous sense of speed, manic pile-ups, and destruction reigning from every conceivable orifice.. ModNation is more refined than that, putting the emphasis on the simple racing mechanics and creativity rather than causing unnecessary havoc.
As we saw with LittleBigPlanet, there's a world of possibilities to open up once you get online. The career mode is challenging, but the main entertainment comes from thrashing your kart against real racers from across the globe. Not only will the competition cease to decease online, there's thousands of free circuits, drivers and karts to download. So far, so very LittleBigPlanet.
ModNation's greatest strength is that players of all abilities can take part in competitive races together. It's remarkably simple, as drifting requires little direction, racking up your boost meter quickly and giving those at the back a chance to break forward. Power-ups are included, but are predictable and kill the flow of a close race considerably. Traditionally, firing a last minute red-shell to eliminate your foe and to steal the win is one of the greatest feelings in gaming, but power-ups feel so archaic here. There's three levels of power-ups to work through, meaning once you've picked up that useless bolt, there's no real damage until you drive through at least two more pick-up points. Getting hit with an attack is one of the game's most frustrating elements, as you lose a few seconds due to annoying animations and complete slow-down. By crushing your speed, racing line and the ability to control your kart on the point of impact, the close-knit action often loses enticing flavour.
Already, there's a plethora of interesting new content to download and get to grips with. Ever wanted to race in the A-Team van or the Mystery Machine? Little Timmy in New York has built it for you. The options are endless, and trawling through hundreds of pages of created content is rarely so much fun. Online racing is smooth, as players battle for XP and to be crowned the king of the road. This is the only racing title where you'll see Mario racing against Solid Snake and Master Chief, as the console boundaries are firmly squashed by those who invest time in building the game they want to see.
With the multiplayer so jam-packed full of goodness, those who aren't connected will experience a completely different side of the coin. Endless streams of content and challenge are replaced with repetitive races round dull tracks, and irritating commentators who do their best to intervene as often as possible. Even split-screen action won't be able to save those who aren't hooked up for global competition, as the entire title falls into a lull. It's telling that, if the online community was non-existent, ModNation would be an average product trying to dethrone richer single-player campaigns. If you're one of these people who hasn't connected their PS3's to the big wide world, this title may be the perfect introduction to the seriousness of getting 'PWNED' or abused by pre-pubescent 12 year old's from Texas on a daily basis.
Although full of life and vibrancy, it still feels like there's something missing in ModNation Racers. The game may be entertaining against human opponents, but that's not enough to place it above the rest. Minor irritations hinder an experience that is meant to put a smile on the player's face, as there's plenty to improve on for the inevitable sequel. We'd get rid of power-ups completely, or at least, implement them so they don't murder the flow of each race. There's room for one more killer idea here, as the doll-like characters are spot-on, the graphical style works well, and the community is a blast. Right now, the potential for a brilliant second outing shines bright, as ModNation fails to capture the imagination for longer than downloading that Stewie Griffin driver skin.