Sony’s Modnation Racers is a game that goes several extra miles in the pursuit of sheer and unbridled entertainment, and yet it would’ve been a formidable proposition even if it didn’t. Adhering to the rules of the kart racer format whilst simultaneously digressing from them, it’s a commendably novel and compelling amalgam, that takes more than its fair share of stimulating risks. In playing by just as many rules as it breaks, Modnation Racers has shaken up a genre that has rested on a standardized plot of laurels for over a decade, and can safely be heralded as the (current) final word on the subject.
One thing that is certainly present and correct is the classic child-friendly tone, but as LittleBigPlanet similarly demonstrated, Nintendo are no longer the only company capable of creating a winning aura of cavalier, crowd-pleasing charm. The game never descends into irksome twee-ness, the racing commentators (so infuriating in SEGA’s otherwise excellent recent genre foray) are genuinely appealing and their banter is never intrusive, and the storyline, which begins in 1931 (replete with sepia-tinged ‘archive’ footage) is amiable and surprisingly involving.
The basics of play are simple and familiar, and the unusual control scheme, which may raise eyebrows when it appears on the game’s first load screen, takes around ten seconds to feel like the sharpest style conceivable. Replays of individual races are encouraged by addictive, track-specific achievements (finish first; trigger a certain number of boost pads; collide with and store a certain number of item pods) and nailing them results in the unlocking of various trinkets, clothing and car designs, and (of course) Playstation 3 trophies.
The best way in which the game builds on the foundations of the kart racer is in its use of boosting. Boosting is essential to avoid finishing in the bottom four, but balancing it with the combat is imperative if you want to actually win races. It acts as a form of in-race security currency. Once your boost bar is maxed-out, you are able to both shove or ‘Sideswipe’ your competitors off course when you get close enough (pulled off with a flick of the right thumbstick) or shield yourself from their attacks with a press of the B button. This turns every race into a constantly to-ing and fro-ing battle of wits; in turn both offensive and defensive.
As with LittleBigPlanet (Sony’s other flourishing embodiment of its ‘Play, Create, Share’ slogan) the real selling point here involves the ability to create your own tracks, and more so even than LittleBigPlanet’s impeccable play set, Modnation Racers has struck a perfect balance. The amount of customisable options is massively in-depth if you’re inclined to take your course-building seriously, but younger players are welcomed in by a captivatingly simple ‘Auto Complete’ dynamic, that involves nothing more than the push of a single button. Instant test-runs are always an option and on-the-fly tinkering is encouraged. Regardless of how much time you plan on spending in it, the mode is comprehensive, and quietly thrilling.
If there is one criticism to be leveled at the game, it is that there are a couple of instances where considerable loading times encroach (a result perhaps of having to occasionally load cinematics and courses at once) but if you’re looking for faults, that’s your lot. In a month in which some of the year’s biggest videogames are lining up to do savage battle on a weekly basis, gamers with a finite amount of play dough may be looking to cull a game or two from their present most-wanted lists. Those people are whole-heartedly encouraged to ensure that Modnation Racers definitely isn’t one of them.
Watch the Modnation Racers trailer here…