In the five years since MotorStorm's memorable unveiling at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the series has gone on to become Sony's flagship arcade racing series on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable. So it was perhaps no surprise that MotorStorm Apocalypse, the third game on the PS3, was announced just in time for this year's E3. The game will be a massive detour for the series, as it takes place in an urban environment--one that has been ravaged by a cataclysmic earthquake. We met with developer Evolution Studios in London to find out more, as well as to tackle the new scorched-earth environment for ourselves.
Game director Matt Southern started his demonstration by mentioning how excited he was to be talking about the game after two years of working in private. Our ears pricked up at this point, as it has only been just over 18 months since Pacific Rift was released on the PlayStation 3. "Yeah, we were working on Apocalypse before Pacific Rift finished," explained lead designer Paul Rustchynsky when we spoke to him about it later. Given the overlap and the fact that Apocalypse isn't scheduled for release until 2011 at the earliest, its development cycle could eventually end up totaling three years.
The biggest news, though, is that MotorStorm Apocalypse will be set in an urban environment, which is a massive change from the remote locations of previous games. While the location isn't named, it's an abandoned city on the West Coast of the US--a mix of LA-style skyscrapers and San Francisco's subway system. The location is a complete mess, though, thanks to a catastrophic earthquake that continues to ravage the once bustling metropolis. This, of course, is something that makes the city even more attractive for the thrill-seeking MotorStorm racers. They rock up as they always do in their mammoth boats and declare it the new home for the next MotorStorm festival.
It's at this point that you're introduced to three different racers, each of whom will experience a different 48 hours in the city. The rookie is new to the MotorStorm scene, having stowed away on the ship, and will provide newcomers a gentle introduction to the game. Next up is the survivor, who forms the middle difficulty level and will be an appropriate start for those who are used to the series. Finally, there's the veteran, called Big Dog, who will offer the biggest challenge of any MotorStorm yet, according to Evolution Studios. All three characters will have their own prologue and epilogue, where they arrive on the island and attempt to escape it, while each storyline will overlap with the others as you progress.
When the MotorStorm crew arrives in the city, though, they find that they're not the only ones inhabiting the wreckage. Private military contractors and "the crazies"--city dwellers who refuse to leave--are bitterly fighting it out. You're caught in the middle of it all, with the military using high-tech weaponry to attack you from both the ground and the air, while the crazies are rather more low-tech, using wrecking balls and Molotov cocktails to try to displace you. They will also fight each other, and your vehicle will be peppered with gunfire if you're caught in the middle.
Finally, there's the game's ultimate enemy: the earthquake itself, which will tear down buildings, buckle bridges, and open up new areas as you're racing. While we didn't see all of the following during our play session, Evolution Studios says that you'll race on rooftops, through subways and sewers, and even down skyscrapers as they collapse around you. The world will also be persistent, so any damage that's inflicted in one race will remain in place for subsequent events. This means that the city slowly gets wiped out throughout the two-day event, until you're eventually forced to evacuate as it falls around you.
As you'd expect, the game engine is based on the same base technology as Pacific Rift, but with some notable improvements to handle the destructible environment. Night racing and dynamic headlight effects are also included for the first time in the series. There will be much more vehicle customisation than before too, with vinyls, stickers, and paint jobs that can be bought from funds that you earn as you play. You can also buy performance upgrades for boost, handling, and combat, as well as body parts, shells, and completely new vehicles.
On the online side, "multiplayer is as complete as we could make it," claims Matt Southern. There will still be 16-player online races, but this time four split-screen players will be able to join an online race together. There will also be a multiplayer game mode creator, which will allow you to tweak every aspect of game rules and conditions. A new wager system will also allow you to bet on the results of races to win even more money. These bets will be accumulator-style wagers, so you can win more money the more predictions in a row that you get right.
The demo we played was of the same pre-alpha code which will be available at E3, although the LA showing may end up having slightly more in it, according to Paul Rustchynsky. We were able to play with one vehicle--a grippy sports car, with which we navigated a relatively short downtown course. Within the first minute, an oil tanker had careered out onto the track, buildings had toppled and crashed into each other ahead of us, and a truck had exploded over our head as crazies fled from the scene. You can focus on the dramatics by pressing the triangle button, while the ability to run over pedestrians made us think of the classic PC racer Carmageddon. The boost button works in exactly the same way as in previous MotorStorm games, but on this particular track there wasn't much water to cool you down. Our favourite touch was the helicopter that held the starting gate at the beginning of the race and then flew over the action to perform the same task at the finish line.
MotorStorm Apocalypse will be playable at this year's E3 and will be released on the PlayStation 3 in 2011. Check out GameSpot's complete coverage of E3 starting June 13.