Infogrames and Beyond Games are gambling with the release of Motor Mayhem this month--head-on with the other major PS2 car-combat game, Twisted Metal: Black. While this might initially be considered suicidal, Motor Mayhem is different enough that it will appeal to those gamers who have an interest in the car-combat genre or aren't excited about the new turn for the morbid that Twisted Metal has taken.
Motor Mayhem: VCL takes the path of a postapocalyptic future, where the sport of car combat has seen a rise in popularity and has become the new world's largest form of entertainment. In nearly all of the levels there are bleachers hanging above you, and the demolition of an opponent or execution of a particularly damaging combo will be met by roars of approval from the crowd.
Each character has a paper-thin storyline that unfolds as you progress through the game; this is presented to you in the form of headlines on a fanzine. Some characters, like Volcana, gain fame and recognition as they progress, while others, such as Rancor, will be accused of cheating and actually be booed by the crowd when winning. Void, a dark character in command of a large purple car, according to the fanzine, seems to cause panic in the audience with his psychic attacks, but unfortunately this is not reflected in the actual gameplay. The story serves as a distraction to keep you busy as the next level loads.
In terms of loading time, this is one of the best performing games in that respect thus far on the PS2. You'll scarcely find yourself waiting for more than a few seconds for a level to load, and loading during the transitions between menus is nonexistent. The load times especially impress, considering the sprawling environments and high-detail models that populate VCL.
The character models are highly detailed and creative; it's obvious a whole lot of attention was given to each. Each vehicle serves mostly as an extension of the driver, rather than vice versa. While playing the game, you will find yourself constantly aware of your driver, who is put on display right in front of you. All of them react when taking damage, jumping, turning, and so on; some are very interesting to watch. Rancor, a large lizardman who drives a custom three-wheel motorcycle, has a tail that drapes over the back end of the vehicle and can be mesmerizing with it's slow back-and-forth movement. Each character has his or her own animation routines and will react in his or her own unique way.
The creativity apparent in the characters is also present in the level design. The levels range from the first VCL arena (equipped with a destructible jumbotron) to the wreckage-peppered seafloor of the Bermuda Triangle to the glassy guts of a space station to the deck of an aircraft carrier. Keeping with the trend in car-combat games, each environment is highly destructible, from walls that reflect the damage dealt by weapons to stone pillars that crumble and give way to a collapsing roof, and more. On the aircraft carrier level, jets decorate the deck of the ship and are apparently strapped to the catapult and ready for launch. If the jets take enough damage, they launch, oftentimes into a wall, which will explode and open up a new section of the level.
The multiplayer game, while a little stingy on options, is still an entertaining aspect of the game. Consisting primarily of a vanilla versus mode, the game keeps the frame rate up around the 60fps range, and there is little slowdown. This mode also lets you drop in another two characters to keep things busy.
The weapons in the game range from standard fare, such as heat-seeking missiles and high-powered cannons, to more unique items such as the mininuke, which is a small nuclear missile that explodes in an impressive mushroom cloud. There are also weapons akin to those seen in first-person shooters, such as the gauss rifle (a railgun), and flak cannon, which is essentially a shoulder-mounted shotgun. Each character is equipped with a machine gun to start and has his or her own unique special attacks. There are roughly three special moves that are triggered with button combinations used in tandem with the L1 button. These specials draw power from your energy meter, which can be replenished with pickups or by waiting a certain amount of time. Each car also has a turbo move.
There are three aspects of the game that are a little weak. The default control configuration maps the directional and acceleration-reverse control to the left analog stick, instead of using the dual analog configuration as used in Smuggler's Run. This may cause problems for a while as you get used to the control. Oftentimes you'll find yourself in reverse when you wanted to turn left.
The physics of the game are also quite different from most car-combat games. While the game moves at a frantic pace, the gravity throughout the game feels especially floaty. You will find yourself caught on the edges of the upper levels sometimes and need to let go and let the car fall back to the lower level before you can regain control. Really, this isn't enough to ruin the game, but it may throw you off somewhat in the control department.
The sound is inconsistent as well. There are two licensed songs from Crystal Method and Methods of Mayhem, which play while navigating the menus, while all in-game music consists of a composed soundtrack that plays once in game. The problem isn't the music itself, but rather the sound quality. The sound effects and music can blur together after playing for a while, and there isn't any punch behind any of it. It sounds like it's of a quality found on an old cassette tape, not a CD or DVD.
All in all, Motor Mayhem VCL is a solid car-combat game and is sure to appeal to car-combat fans. It also serves as an alternative for those who may be turned off by Twisted Metal: Black's M-Rating. The game manages to avoid the trappings of becoming a mere clone and establishes itself as a unique entry into the genre.