Unlike past Motorstorms, Motorstorm: Apocalypse isn't technically an off-road racer so much as it is a what's-left-of-the-road racer. It unsurprisingly takes the earthquake-prone San Francisco Bay Area for its environmental inspiration; you get to race through a bohemian neighborhood, the obligatory waterfront, and underground transit systems.
After a few races, we got the impression that Evolution Studios had more fun in designing the tracks in Apocalypse when compared to past Motorstorms. Just the sheer ridiculousness of racing atop collapsed skyscrapers hundreds of feet above ground level makes falling off these buildings grossly amusing. Watching your motocross avatar plummet to his doom calls to mind the 150-foot high jumps and messy landings in the Motorcross Madness series. At least by holding the X button you can reset your rider back on the track to keep you in the race.
Our preview session also let us check out Apocalypse in 3D; no surprise considering how much Sony's pushing that feature for practically all their 1st party titles. 3D gaming can be a point of contention with many players since it often results in a visual down-rez so the game can double-render itself for the 3D effect. While this was very evident in Killzone 3, it was pleasing to see that the textures of Apocalypse in 2D and 3D look nearly identical, perhaps because the game isn't as visually demanding as KZ3. Make no mistake, there is definitely detail in Motorstorm: Apocalypse; you would need to have it in order to make the fallen city look interesting.
The Motorstorm games have stood out for being one of the few racers that allow a mix of different vehicle classes in the same race (although you already knew that from looking at the box art). This is no exception with Apocalypse, and the game's ruined metropolitan look only complements the chaotic free-for-all nature of the car variety. We even took the time to test sportscars, bikes, and muscle cars in the same track, and sure enough, each one was to keep up with the pack. Staying with the series’ arcade controls, it's no surprise that while each vehicle handles differently, getting used to each class' controls takes little time to get used to, often in the time it takes to complete a lap.
As with any staged event, our early multiplayer session made us take the online performance with a grain of salt. Thankfully, there were some off-site participants from the game's QA team who raced along with us to help simulate the real world conditions. Apocalypse’s development is far enough along that many of our multiplayer sessions were free of connectivity issues. Apocalypse supports four-player local splitscreen as well as a more chaotic 16-player online mode. One appealing incentive for going online is the collection of perks-based loadouts. You can race with three enhancements at a time and can improve everything from tire grips to crash recovery times to boosting.
With all the urban devastation, you'd think Motorstorm: Apocalypse was an "aftermath" sequel to Disney Interactive's Split/Second. And just because so much carnage has already taken place doesn’t mean that more isn’t on the way, like say during a race itself. So on top of that 4x4 hounding you on your rearview mirror, you’ll have to be mindful of a landscape that is still unstable and where course conditions can change at a moment's notice. Three installments in, Motorstorm: Apocalypse trashy design and use of dynamic set pieces feels well timed in a competitive racing game market where gimmicks can only go so far. We’re optimistic Apocalypse will be a game of substance, and we hope to confirm that upon its April 12 release.