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'MotorStorm' is a rough-and-tumble thrill ride

MotorStorm," Evolution's new extreme-sport race for the PS3 , is a rough-and-tumble thrill ride. The only rule? Get to the finish line first.
The premise of "MotorStorm?" Use a variety of vehicles to race other contestants. The rule? Get to the finish line first.
The premise of "MotorStorm?" Use a variety of vehicles to race other contestants. The rule? Get to the finish line first. Sony
/ Source: contributor

It's a rough-and-tumble life in the MotorStorm Festival, with hazards aplenty. Big rigs try to run you down, other motorcycles cut you off. Up ahead, a cliff looms — hit the boost and you might land safely. But fail and you'll end up as just a few pieces of shrapnel.

Welcome to "MotorStorm," Evolution's new extreme-sport race for the PS3 that makes "Road Warrior" look like "Mario Kart" The premise: You’ve entered the MotorStorm Festival, a driving spectacular in the Arizona desert. Using a variety of vehicles, you race other contestants for fame and glory. The only rule? Get to the finish line first.

“MotorStorm” (MSRP: $59.99. Rated T for Violence and Language) blows by the usual trappings of clichéd extreme-sports titles by offering a completely immersive experience. Mud flies up onto the screen. Bodies and metal scraps blast everywhere when you explode. And the soundtrack, featuring music from Spiritualized, Wolfmother and the Reverend Horton Heat, adds to the sense of high-octane speed. You never stop believing you’re in for the ride of your life.

Unlike other racing games, there are no rewards for sweet jumps or elegant slides. Then again, there’s no penalty for being nasty in “MotorStorm.”  How dirty can you get? Check your opponent into a rock wall. Smack a fellow motorcyclist as you pass by. Nudge your rival off a cliff. Learning how and when to play rough is as important as mastering the courses and vehicles.

And oh, the places you'll go. "MotorStorm" looks simple: Race as fast as you can. But there's plenty of terrain in this game, and the maps are designed to benefit certain vehicles. Lumbering trucks will have no problem with the low, muddy roads while nimble dirt bikes will operate best in the higher, dustier elevations packed with tight turns.

The controls are touchy, requiring flawless steering. One false move and you'll end up at the back of the pack. Enabling the motion sensors on the Sixaxis controller is only for the brave. Be ready to race a track several times before finding the perfect route. You won’t mind the repetition, however, because you’ll be having so much fun.

Cross the finish line in the top three and you’ll advance to the next race and earn points that unlock new races and vehicles. Every race adds something challenging, usually a new track or a specific vehicle. As you play through the single-player campaign, you’ll get a rich education in each vehicle and track.

And that comes in handy when you head into the heated anarchy found in the game’s multiplayer mode. Up to 12 players can compete online, fighting to climb from “Zero” status to “God.”  If you thought your computer rivals were clever in single-player mode, get ready for the sheer brutality levied by real humans. Take every dirty trick you learned and apply it first and fast.

But "MotorStorm" isn't perfect. The graphics lurch between gorgeous (scenery and vehicles) to bland (the bystanders resemble cardboard cutouts). Also, waiting for an online match is an exercise in patience. Too much time is spent in load screens, choosing rides and selecting races. Multiply that by 12 players and this racing game can feel like changing a flat. "MotorStorm" should take a page from another PS3 title, "Resistance: Fall of Man," which can assemble frantic and fun 40-man online battles with little downtime.

If you can stick through the frustration of long load times and constantly re-racing to improve your skills, then “MotorStorm” is for you. While not deep, it delivers what it promises: fun in the sun, and a true sense of victory when you come in first. If you own a PS3, it deserves a spot on your shelf, especially if you enjoy getting a little dirty behind the wheel.