The MotorStorm series has already sent you careening along muddy cliffsides and barreling through lava-filled landscapes. Now with MotorStorm Arctic Edge, you can hop in a snow machine and race through drifts of slippery snow. Arctic Edge may be portable, but it otherwise encapsulates all the pros and cons of this series' fast-paced off-road racing. Each course is meticulously crafted, offering an ideal path to the finish line no matter which of its vehicles you prefer, and a swift sense of speed makes navigating your way around these complex tracks a blast. The usual franchise foibles are also in play, such as supersensitive physics that make things feel a bit too out of control. As of this writing, online connection issues are also a problem, so your multiplayer mayhem may be limited to local ad hoc races. Yet like its PlayStation 3 predecessors, MotorStorm Arctic Edge mostly overcomes its flaws by letting you take to the unique courses and get rowdy.
Racing in Arctic Edge, like in its console brethren, is all about flexibility. Each of the 12 courses includes multiple routes, each suited to a particular class of vehicle. The vehicles include some returning favorites, such as the ever-popular and eminently drivable buggy, the bouncy-but-responsive ATV, and the boxy yet surprisingly agile big rigs. There are some new additions as well: snow machines are good at drifting, if a bit squirrely; sturdy snowpluggers have replaced the series' standard mudpluggers; and snowcats (think high-powered, industrial snow plows) feel even heavier and more imposing than the big rigs. Each vehicle type has three models to choose from (two of which you must unlock), with subtle differences in speed, acceleration, toughness, and handling--and you can customize their appearance with liveries earned as you play. And as MotorStorm fans would expect, how you tackle each race depends on the vehicle you choose.
Arctic Edge's snowy courses are as fine as any you've seen in the series so far. Highlights include the precarious cliffs and underground caverns of Northern Face; the twisty turns of the attractive-looking Log Jam; and the overall versatility of the complex Eagle Falls, which isn't quick to reveal its secrets. Racing on many of these courses is a thrill. Vehicles feel fast, tight turns demand precision, and watching a rally car soar above your big rig as it attacks its chosen route is always a delight. A few tracks are more straightforward, such as the mountainous Ascension, but for the most part, they still excel--with the possible exception of The Chasm. This course features an annoyingly constricted choke point, which leads to some of the MotorStorm franchise's signature frustrations.
Choke points are always a hazard in the rough-and-tumble MotorStorm formula, and not just due to the variety of vehicles coexisting on a single course (it only makes sense that a snowcat/bike collision won't end well for the unlucky biker). As in the other games, the AI is never as concerned with winning as it is with making you lose. Rather than taking the best possible route, big rigs and snowpluggers will crowd your poor little ATV on its ramp-heavy route with the explicit intention of making you suffer, so if you intended to learn the best routes for your chosen vehicle by observing the AI drivers, you may want to rethink your strategy. Luckily, the AI won't trouble you for the first half of the Festival, the main single-player mode. In this mode, you level up and unlock new liveries, drivers, and vehicles while taking on the AI in various events. Until you get close to level five, you're likely to outrun the other drivers in most races because they tend to blow themselves up by over-boosting, among other silly habits. After that, you'll need to make sensible use of your boost capabilities and be extra cautious as you barrel through the canyons. Why cautious? Arctic Edge's extrasensitive physics lead to plenty of bouncy fun, but they also make you prone to crashing or careening about with the slightest bumps. These physics-based anomalies have been part and parcel of the MotorStorm experience, but the PSP's small screen makes it more difficult to spot the small ridges and bulges that might lead to unfortunate accidents.
In spite of these oddities, the driving is good fun, and the Festival doesn't limit you to standard races. Time Ticker races are a cool new addition to the series in which racers possess a point total that's ticking ever upward. Your total rises more quickly the better your position, which lends immediacy to the race, since you want to get in first--and stay there as long as possible. Even the usual checkpoint-based speed challenges seem more enjoyable in Arctic Edge, since each lap is completely different and may send you on a route that you may not be accustomed to driving in that particular vehicle. The larger array of vehicles, a host of unlockable goodies such as movies and drivers, and an in-game achievement system lend both variety and structure to the single-player experience, which are welcome improvements to the less interesting offline modes of the PS3 games.
In addition to the Festival's races, you can also challenge the AI in one-off races and Time Ticker events, as well as tackle courses backward, which will make you appreciate the care and precision that goes into creating them. If you want to test your skill and improve your times, you can set your pace by choosing a ghost to join you in Time Attack mode. Ghosts are visual representations of another vehicle's lap, and you can challenge yourself with your own prior attempts, try to beat the lap times of Arctic Edge's developers, and download other players' ghosts--assuming you can access Arctic Edge's online features. Currently, connecting to the game's online aspects is an exercise in frustration. Using four different Internet connections, the game locked and the system crashed in all but one attempt to play online, and other players are reporting the same occurrence. In time, these issues might be addressed, but for now, exercise caution: The advertised online play may not function properly for you. If you crave the challenge only other players can provide, six-player ad hoc mode is the safer bet. You may notice some collision detection quirks in local multiplayer, but they're unlikely to hamper your enjoyment of Arctic Edge's zippy races.
And boy do they feel zippy. The almost-in-control physics and impressive sense of speed are enhanced by a consistently smooth frame rate, even when the snow is heavy and the screen is crowded. This smoothness is an impressive feat, considering how attractive the game is. Some areas are on the plain side and the vehicles look chunky, but many courses are packed with meticulous details, such as hot air balloons floating in the distance, sharp-edged stalagmites, and splatters of mud and snow on the screen. Pretty lighting, an exemplary draw distance, and lovely weather effects make Arctic Edge a pleasure to look at. Its sound design isn't exceptional, perhaps because the licensed soundtrack, featuring artists like Queens of the Stone Age, The Chemical Brothers, and The Prodigy, doesn't hit the right spots in the way previous MotorStorm soundtracks have. On the flip side, the lively sound effects totally nail the wildness of the racing.
It's a testament to Arctic Edge's intricate tracks and energetic racing that its notable problems are so easy to overlook. Aside from its online issues, this is what you'd expect from a MotorStorm game in portable form, and the multifaceted courses and vehicle variety provide plenty of reasons to keep returning, even after you've completed the Festival. If you want to kick up some snow and dirt, this is a fun way to do it.