It's always nice when video games learn from the success of their competitors, adding new features or tweaking old ones to better keep up with the leading edge. It's unfortunate, though, when those changes are lifted whole cloth instead of smoothly integrated into an existing setup. That is the unhappy case with MotorStorm Apocalypse, the latest in the venerable MotorStorm series. It is a game that does a lot of things right, but none very compellingly so.
Like the MotorStorm games, Apocalypse is a straightforward racing title that features a bevy of vehicles, from motorcycles to ATVs to monster trucks, in primarily off-road tracks. Well, primarily sort-of-off-road, as Apocalypse departs from the wilderness setting of other MotorStorm games and instead puts players in a post-apocalyptic version of a city based on California's Bay Area.
Part of the new hook in Apocalypse is that the city is still fuming, blowing up, and falling apart years after the disaster took place. So, as in Black Rock Studio's Split/Second, events occur that alter the tracks as you race: buildings collapse, roads crack into sudden crevasses, and helicopters appear out of nowhere to launch missiles at the racers.
Unlike Split/Second, though, players have no control over when these events occur – they just do, typically at the beginning of the last lap of any race. This makes them all-too predictable, especially once you've raced a given track a few times, and completely kills the sense of "what's gonna happen next?" that Split/Second captured so well.
As for the racing itself, it's not bad. You accelerate. You brake. People bang into you. You go off jumps. Whee! MotorStorm's patented turbo-booster is back again, and as in the other games, environmental factors (like fire from burning buildings) can make it overheat faster, or (in the case of pools of water) cool it down so you can sit on it for longer.
New to Apocalypse is the ability to "air cool" your turbo – going off a jump and releasing the accelerator will allow air to rapidly flow through your engine, cooling off the turbo charger. I hardly ever used this technique, however, because you pretty much never, ever want to release the accelerator for any reason. Right trigger and your right middle finger are gonna be BFF's, let me tell you.
Multiplayer is similar to other MotorStorm games, with both local split-screen and online options available. Players pick a vehicle, choose a track, and go at it. Not a whole lot of changes here, except that Apocalypse has a prodigious amount of "rubber-banding" – the phenomenon by which whenever one player gets too far ahead of the others, the game pushes the others closer while pulling the leader back, to ensure that races are always "competitive." This also occurs in the single-player game, but it's not as intrusive, or as obvious.
All these criticisms may make it sound like Apocalypse is a substandard game, but it that isn’t the case. However, the ways that it differs from previous MotorStorm games are mostly bungled or simply boring, while the most enjoyable elements have been present throughout the series. Apocalypse is just a vanilla, if basically solid, racing game that tries to throw a few curveballs at you, but ends up hitting the backstop instead of the strike zone.