Modnation Racers Preview

Modnation Racers for the PlayStation 3 is a kart racing game following in the footsteps of Littlebigplanet‘s “Play, Create, Share.” allowing users to share user generated content, this time in the form of tracks, kart’s and even avatars. Announced at E3 2009 and developed by United Front Games a relatively new studio who in partnership with Sony is hoping to redesign the kart racing genre. The general idea of the game is that everything can be created by the user including tracks, karts and avatars and then shared to the rest of the world. During the last month United Front Games has invited players to participate in a beta to test its online portions and to let players see a sneak peak at what is in store for them.

When you boot up the ModNation Racers beta you are greeted with a video showing colourful avatars who look alot like those collectable Vinyl toys that you see in hobby shows, racing around a track with some pretty upbeat music. Following that there is a really long loading screen which when I first saw it I thought my PS3 had frozen, luckily tuns out it is just really long. The loading screen is finally done and I am greeted by two commentators who start give tutorial on the menu system which turns out to be a little sandbox called the Plaza. The idea of this is that you control your kart in this tiny sandbox to go to the different modes of the game.  For example I drive to a little garage if i want to create my own kart, avatar or track, if I want to race I would drive to this start line. The Plaza is very colourful and easy to navigate with your kart but the novelty wears off pretty quickly as every time I want to race I have to drive all the way to the start line or, if I want to customise anything I would have to drive back to the garage. This does get old after a while since there is no other way to jump to any menus.

I decided to straight away create my avatar and a kart so off to the garage I went and this is where the game truly shines. The options for your Vinyl avatar are immense as you can create anything with the combination of hundreds of different skins, body parts, facial features and accessory’s. You can even just randomise your creation and I ended up with a metallic skin a top hat and Vampire teeth, which is fine with me. Kart customisation is the same as you have a combination of different parts of a car and you can create anything, from a traditional go kart to a formula race car or even something out of Whacky racers. The different options you have is just crazy, I mean if you wanted to you could make Batman and the Bat mobile it really is that impressive.

The other creation aspect is that you can create a track and this is done by having your avatar and kart put into a empty grass plain and driving into what ever shape you want the track to be. Just as a simple test I just drove in a circle. Once your done creating the shape of the track you can add background items such as trees, houses, lakes even rough patches on the road which can affect your traction. This is all very simple to do and I bet with some time people can create tracks that rival rainbow road on Mario Kart.

As you have noticed, I have yet to talk about the actual racing itself and there is a good reason for that; it is pretty bad. This just being a beta I only had the option of doing a time trial and a online race mode, I decided to get to grips with the game in a time trial first. For some reason the loading between the Plaza to a default racetrack took as long as when I booted up the game. Just to note in the time trial  no weapons or items were available to test. So now I was ready to race, problem was you  can not change the camera view so your stuck seeing the back of your kart up close and personal, making it very very hard to see what is ahead of you on the track. This is just basics of a racing game, you should always be able to change the view to suit you. The other problem is the jerky frame rate where the action would slow down constantly making me feel rather motion sick. Your are able to powerslide by braking and holding the analogue stick in the other direction, getting a small boost in the process, unfortunately boosting did feel kind of clunky. In all driving really did feel to my like a poor mans Mario Kart, nothing felt as tight and a lot of times the game did not respond to what I wanted it to do.

Having got used to the feel of the game I decided to try the online modes where I could race against over beta users. Driving to the online starting line I get put into a lobby with some other players. I wait and wait, about a minute later I get a message saying failure to connect..
After multiple attempts the game would not connect no matter how hard I try. I looked online and it was not just me who was having these issues as apparently most people in the beta could not connect online to either race or share content. Due to this network trouble in ModNation Racers I never got to test the sharing or online racing aspect of the game which really is a shame in a game like this.  I understand this is a beta and issues like this is why it is being tested, but it is still disappointing.

In all what do I think of the game so far? Well I see a game that has strong creation aspects and will keep creative gamers very busy, but its main core game play element is really poor. The racing itself feels tacked on and given to the B team while the A team worked on the creation aspects.
Of course the final retail version of the game could be totally different and I hope there will be fixes or workarounds to the demo so people can form a better opinion.

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