TOKYO--Right from the start the game is easy to get into. The controls are simple--right trigger is the gas, left trigger is the brake, and X gives you a nitro boost. The rest is just an adrenaline rush of dust, jumps, and wildly bouncing suspension, with the action seen from behind and slightly above the vehicle you're racing.
The level we played was situated atop a rocky outcrop, and although the track was pretty wide, with plenty of scope to choose your own favourite racing line, if you ran out of road you'd fall a long way. There were actually several ways to wipe out--falling off the side was just one. Flipping your vehicle is another, and that can be pretty easy as the terrain gets fairly wild, but your opponents get pretty aggressive, too. It's also possible to overheat your engine and explode that way. Each time you use some boost, your temperature gauge rises. Leave the nitro alone for a while and it'll decrease, but the longer you hold it down, the more effective it is. Let the gauge go all the way to the top, though, and you're in trouble.
Thankfully, if you do wipe out it's not too bad, as you're set back on the track fairly quickly, and while you will lose time to your rivals, you should be able to make that up again within a lap or so. If you crash more than once or twice, though, you'll definitely struggle to win, so it's a race of attrition as much as pure speed.
There are three types of vehicles to choose from, and there were 12 racers involved in the demo level. You can drive dune buggies, 4x4s, or dirt bikes. Each type of vehicle has its own handling characteristics, and these can be both good and bad. For example, the dune buggies are low to the ground and can corner fairly nicely, but they don't seem to take the bumps as well as a 4x4. Bikes are generally quicker, but they're lighter, so they jump higher and tend to slide further, which can be dangerous at times. The 4x4s, on the other hand, take the terrain well and are harder to flip, but don't seem as fast over the ground. The overall effect is that no vehicle type seems to have a big advantage, and you can choose the style that you most enjoy.
Certainly for the four-wheeled vehicles, suspension plays a big part, and you'll find that the direction you take a jump at can have serious repercussions for the next corner. In a way, the racing line becomes three-dimensional, and the bouncing around you'll do as you hit bumps is pretty realistic. It feels like some hard work has gone into the physics engine for this game, and the result is a lot of fun.
As well as having destructible vehicles, some of the scenery can also be taken out. At one point we managed to drive a bike pretty hard into a fence, and of course we wiped out. But the wooden panel also slowly collapsed after the impact, making it possible from then on to take a slightly different line into the corner. This opens up the potential for smashing your opponents into sections of scenery, and then reaping the subsequent benefits, but how far that goes wasn't possible to test.
At one point in the lap there was a choice of routes, and while they didn't diverge massively, the variety was interesting. On the one hand you could take the high road, which demanded a tighter angle but looked safer, while the normal route meant jumping across a chasm. Most of the time it wasn't a problem, but lose momentum or get blocked at a crucial time and you're in some trouble.
Visually, the game is fairly impressive, as you'd expect from a next-generation title. It doesn't have the clean lines of Project Gotham Racing 3, but the motion blurring, dustiness, and shaky camera effects certainly give the game a good sensation of speed, especially when you hit the boost button. The screen always seems pretty busy, and the scenery is fairly detailed, but the frame rate was consistently high with no discernable slowdown.
Because of the noisy conditions of the show it wasn't really possible to hear if there was any music in the game, and while we could hear some of the louder sound effects, that was only for crashes and explosions. We'll fill in more details on Motorstorm nearer its release date; in the meantime, check out our previous coverage of the game.