ModNation Racers Hands-On

We visit United Front Games to take a closer look at the fully customizable kart racer that is heading to the PlayStation 3.

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Next up in the Play, Create, Share genre that Sony initiated with Little Big Planet is ModNation Racers, a classic kart racing game that lets you customize your own character and racing kart and build a professional-looking track from scratch in just minutes. We made a trip to Vancouver to meet up with United Front Games, the developer behind ModNation Racers, and had the opportunity to create our own character, test our skills on the track, and use our imagination to create the craziest course possible. What surprised us is just how easy it was to make a fun little course, and given the powerful and easy-to-use editor tools, there should be some exciting tracks once this goes out to the entire public.

Before diving into the game, we watched the intro to ModNation Racers to get a quick glimpse of the story. We were introduced to Biff and Gary, two commentators who were discussing the new season of the ModNation Racers Championship (MRC), a premier international kart competition. They went on to talk about how the MRC got started and how it's all up in the air in terms of where the next champion will come from. We'll assume for now that it would be us. We were then taken to the modspot, an area that functions as an interactive menu in which you can jump into your racing career or race against friends online or offline. Other options in the modspot include the creation station--where you'll customize your kart and racer--and next to it was a podium with some of the best karts and characters. The latest news, coming attractions, hottest tracks of the day, and a list of players are all displayed and accessible by driving up to the signs. When you're online, you'll be able to meet with other racers and talk to them via voice message or text. If you don't want to drive around the modspot to get to where you want to go, pressing start will bring up a quick menu so you can just select which mode you want to play.

Our first stop was the creation station, where we got to customize our own racer. The wacky and customizable characters in the game are known as mods and were inspired by urban vinyl culture. It's like being able to design your own plastic toy, because you're given a blank mold to start with and you can immediately start to dress him or her up and slap decals and other fun stuff on. There's a randomize option if you want to skip the process, but it's fun to mess around because there are so many options when it comes to customizing your mod. You can easily spend a good chunk of time trying to create something classy, funny, hideous, or plain. The circular menus are self-explanatory and easy to navigate, and a help button is there if you need additional info. You can shuffle through a variety of eyes, ears, hair, skin, clothing, stickers, and odds and ends to add to your mod as well as change the texture of your character. To give you an idea of how many options there are, we saw 260 types of eyes, 315 mouths, 20 noses, 29 hairstyles, and 51 skins, and there's more. For more-advanced adjustments, you can rotate, shift, and change the color of accessories. A color wheel is there for you to pick the ride shade, and there's a match-color button if you want to be color coordinated in the least amount of time. The only thing you can't do is create your own designs from scratch, but you can layer decals to create your own unique designs.

Pimp your ride.

After decorating our vampire bunny mod, we were eager to jump into a few races to check out some previously seen tracks as well as a couple of new ones. Unlike in some other kart racers, your performance is entirely based on your own skill and how you drive, because the customization of your mod and kart are superficial. By drafting, drifting, and spinning in the air during jumps, you'll raise your boost meter, which will help keep you ahead of the pack. The L1 button activates your boost, and it's important to make sure your meter isn't empty, because you need it if you want to swipe your opponents with the right analog stick. Gas is mapped to the R2 button, and the X button is used for hopping and drifting. For a quick start at the beginning, you need to hit the L1 button when the last light goes off, but the trick is that the three-two-one countdown is always timed differently. Even if you don't get a good start, the items you'll pick up on the track are dependent on what place you're in to help bring you up to the front if you're lagging behind. We saw missiles, spiked mines, portals that let you warp through some of the track, and powerful boosts that can easily move you up a few ranks. The square button unleashes the item that you've picked up, but you can hold it if you want to leave it behind you. By saving your item and picking up another, you can upgrade the weapon that you've picked up for an even more powerful attack later. As long as you have some boost left in your meter, you can shield yourself from attacks by using the circle button to bring up a bubble shield.

Things to watch out for on the track include a variety of farm animals, poles that pop out of the ground, moving platforms, rolling barrels, and machines that shoot out flames. The game is fast-paced so that sometimes you won't really see what just flew by, but you'll get to know the hazards well once you start playing around with the track editor. It looks like there will be several themes to choose from, but we were given access only to the alpine theme. Before paving our track, we decided to edit our environment first, and by using a variety of landscape brushes, we were able to manipulate the terrain with a simple push of a button. Watching the beautiful mountains rise instantly is impressive, and by pressing L1, we were able to switch the functionality of the brush to create lakes with very little effort. Once we were happy with our landscape, we switched to the track editor, which allowed us to drive around and find the perfect starting point. The drive-to-create track studio makes it incredibly easy to create the track you want to drive on. After putting down the starting line, a giant steamroller was ours to control as we weaved around the green pasture, leaving a trail of asphalt behind us. We could change the elevation at any time or drive through mountains. The best part is that other than driving into the track itself, you can go virtually anywhere, and the landscape will mold itself around you. If you want to go through a mountain, the rock will give way so that you can go through. You can choose to drive along the terrain so that you don't go through anything or stay in free drive. Either way it's incredibly easy and you're done as soon as you loop back to the starting line, or you can hit the triangle button to auto-complete.

Anything is possible when you're given hundreds of options.

A new feature that has been added is the auto-population command, which will bring your track to life by randomly filling up your track with props, boosts, and other items. This way, you don't have to manually place individual trees or houses to make your track look nice. It's going to look fantastic from the get-go, and once you do a test run on it, you'll know whether or not you want to add more boost pads or a jump somewhere, take out a fence or two, or throw in some cattle. There's an option to add more props along the track, making it easy to plop down items, and you'll conveniently be placed next to the last thing you put down when you enter a test run.

This entire track-making process can take as little as five minutes, but if you want to make something really incredible, it'll take a bit more time, though it's intuitive and easy to use. There are more-advanced options where you can manage the finer details, like adjusting the width of the track or the spline. The developers showed us a spectacular-looking track that took them weeks to create. It had moving platforms, banked turns, insane jumps, a spiral track, and a ton of triggers on the road to activate hazards. With the track studio, it's easy enough for anyone to come up with a functional track in minutes.

The most exciting part is seeing what the community can come up with, because once you've mastered the tracks that are included in a kart racer, there isn't much left to do unless you take the competition online. We really enjoyed our time with ModNation Racers, especially when playing around with the track editor. It's one of the easiest creation tools that we've come across, there are no long-winded tutorials to bog you down, and it hardly ever tells you that you can't put an object in a certain place. If you decide to put a ramp that is too big to fit on a particular section of the road, the terrain will adjust itself so that you can put that ramp down. As we mentioned earlier, as long as you don't steamroll your track into itself, you can go anywhere within the confines of the zone and place anything wherever you want and the editor will handle the rest. We look forward to spending more time with the game as it gets closer to its spring 2010 release date.

Discussion

91 comments
alexweile
alexweile

I can't wait for Little Big Racing!

bpifer311
bpifer311

Looks rad... been waiting for a good cart game for the PS3

ForeverFlames
ForeverFlames

I think this game shows that there is still creativity out there, its taking a basic cart racing formula that many have grown to love from other series (namely the Mario Kart Series) and allowing the creative market to literally create their own experience (juts like LittleBigPlanet) ...all I can say is, Wow!

zarif99
zarif99

WOW.... so little big planet was the HD version of new super mario bros. and now modnation racers is the HD version of mariokart with a few extras!!!!

heds777
heds777

I want this game so badly. It looks awesome

Infinite_Access
Infinite_Access

Like how some fanboy came and thumbed down every "this will be awesome" type post. by the way: THIS WILL BE AWESOME

gerhet
gerhet

little big planet of racing..huhmmm

bloath
bloath

this game is gonna be awesome!

TXGAMER7
TXGAMER7

i think this game is pretty great because of all tha customization availble

young_reckless
young_reckless

looks super cool cant wait to see how deep you can go in the game

Ravage27
Ravage27

funny, with so many great games coming out next year, this is at the top of my list, sharing its spot with GT5. There's this thing about custom tracks that really turns me on :) 2010 is going to be such an expensive year...MAG,WKC,HeavyRain,SO4(maybe),GOW3,GT5,FF13,ModNationRacers followed by The Last Guardian and very possibly Resistance3 for the hols...

buft
buft

sackkart ,this looks really really good,if its fun im in

LizardFuel
LizardFuel

Little Big Planet+Mario Kart is an equation that can't go wrong.

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

Well done im looking forward to this title. I enjoyed LBP a great deal and was very impressed with it.Made some very dark lvls too.May my darkness reign supreme on this game too.

Harerazer
Harerazer

@ IAMturok4 Resistance 1 and 2, Gears 1 and 2, Halo 1,2,3, and ODST...I guess diversity and real gaming skill elude you. Ha ha ha What a shame but the reality is that your opinion really doesn't matter much to the industry. You're gonna buy every cookie cutter shooter they produce and not buy anything else.

seankane
seankane

Looks more user-friendly than LBP. That game seemed like a lot of work for just a quick level, while this will enable hours of replay value for the individual tracks. I'm getting more and more convinced I want a PS3 now.......finally.

Vanadane
Vanadane

I want this sooooo bad...!!!!

Tylsamzx
Tylsamzx

WHEN IS SPRING ?! WHEN IS SPRING ?! I HAVE NO IDEA !! PLEASE TELL ME !!!!! WHICH MONTH ?!

windriderz
windriderz

BEST!! I LIKE IT :D . must get this 1 when it out ^^

IAMturok4
IAMturok4

its a pretty dumb exclusif ve if you ask me compared to resistance 1 and 2 they should maybe consider doing better exclusive games to beat xbox with there gears 1 and 2 and halo 1,2,3,and odst, but respect to ps3 and xbox

muller39
muller39

PS3 Exclusive, what else can you say?

Midnightshade29
Midnightshade29

This game is looking cool!! This is why I love my ps3 so much..games that give you choice. I like how they are making it easy to start but not limiting you...as you can modify everything!! As a hardcore gamer with pc gaming roots this really means a lot to me.. it's one of the things that made lbp so fun to create levels for. That last track they showed with the multiple levels was wicked! I hope you can make loops and other stunts... The game Stunts (or stunt racer) was doing track creation back on the pc in 1990.... there really hasn't been a game like that till now... I'm syked!!!

Midnightshade29
Midnightshade29

@ Morphine_OD - go back to playing your expansion pak - ODST and stop bashing a great looking game!!!!

hughespsn
hughespsn

this game looks awesome.. might be the first Kart game i'll consider buying at launch.. :)

flyingteddy
flyingteddy

I think this one could really push the community sharing aspect further than LBP, I found LBP quite difficult to make a decent level but the tool they show looks much easier but it's clearly powerful for those who want to really tweak it. and Morphine_OD you clearly don't appreciate what was shown.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

looks quite cheap, basically it's just a map-editor and a cart-editor put together in one package, powered by an outdated cartoon-like engine to run it.

hsyd
hsyd

Cant wait :) Looking back now, I realize I played and owned a few kart games like this back with PS1 and Loved them! Motortunes, Crash Team Racing, Speed Punks etc This is going to be awesome :D

jimbob40k
jimbob40k

looks really cool, cant wait to get a copy and build the nurburgring, lol

Devotee777
Devotee777

looks pretty fun. ill be checking this out for sure. PSN: Eternal_Exciter

Zidaneski
Zidaneski

I think I'll like the weapon system for this game. In other ones you can only hold one weapon and that usually just means I only use a weapon before I drive over another one and it becomes too easy to stay in first. I'm hoping for something similar to chocobo racing cause to me that had the best weapon system ever. It was basically a 3 tier materia system and it didn't give you better weapons if you were in last.

Dogswithguns
Dogswithguns

I dont think Im gonna like this.... I want something more realistic that.

Ares360
Ares360

Nice just tore Mario kart a new one!

Ryan5000M
Ryan5000M

me and my gf would get a kick out of this game

Dualmask
Dualmask

Intriguing. This could be even more fun than LBP.

Virtual_nathan
Virtual_nathan

Xbox 360 is running short in its exclusives , not long before ps3 takes over the game library :)

ilovejaydee
ilovejaydee

I just wish that I could try the beta, as promised from buying the GOTY version of LBP. Key still does not work.

playstation_dad
playstation_dad

@3zoz007 I think its sounds like blu ray disc to be honest

playstation_dad
playstation_dad

yeah ill be buying this and this is one game the misses will enjoy aswell so no arguments over the tv anymore!

ahpuck
ahpuck

looks like a lot of fun.

thrasher510
thrasher510

Play Create Share, best genre of games yet.

Zoomer30
Zoomer30

DLC is a given on games like this, no issue though.

Zoomer30
Zoomer30

Oh...what was that at the end?.....hmmmm? PS3 only ye-haw.

Zoomer30
Zoomer30

Two words: Mars Speedway.