ModNation Racers

Play, Share, Create was a philosophy dreamt up by Sony, when initially promoting _LittleBigPlanet_, to identify games that had the tools and the network infrastructure to accommodate unprecedented amounts of user-created content. In _LittleBigPlanet’s_ case, it was levels; it was possible to create, share and download thousands of user-created levels ranging from side-scrolling rollercoasters to identical replicas from _Super Mario Brothers_, in addition to a host of other, copy-right infringing affairs. _LBP_ sold well but it wasn’t the system seller Sony was hoping for; maybe people weren’t too keen on paying £40 to effectively make their own game? _ModNation Racers_ is the second title to be built around this philosophy and, although the tools don’t offer the depth found in _LBP_, it offers a bit more variation in what can be created, shared and finally played.

_ModNation Racers_ is at heart a simple kart racer, one that draws numerous parallels from _Mario Kart_ and isn’t ashamed to admit it. While the aim is to simply be first over the finish line, there is a considerable amount of depth that surpasses that found in most games of this type. There are a number of pickups, ranging from homing missiles to teleports, which are all implemented well. While these definitely give the user an edge over the competition, none are particularly unique; you’ve probably seen something very similar in any of the _Mario Kart_ titles.

By drifting, jumping and spinning you are awarded points that contribute to a combined boost and shield meter. The use of a combined meter gives _ModNation Racers_ a risk-award balance that requires a considerable amount of strategy; while it’s possible to burn up all of the meter and boost ahead of the pack, you’ll instantly be vulnerable to the barrage of missiles and lightning bolts your competitors will undoubtedly hurl at you as none of the meter will remain to shield against such attacks. This combination of weapons and strategy actually makes _ModNation Racers_ a particularly challenging experience online, against real opponents, as well as in the game’s career mode.

And a substantial career it is. Spanning over a number of tracks that consistently increase in difficulty and complexity, the career is held together by some surprisingly well written and entertaining cutscenes. These follow the story of the stereotypical underdog Tag as he makes his way through the ModNation Championship. While the story itself is completely unnecessary, the majority of Tag’s progression is commented on by two MNC pundits who absolutely despise each other. The banter between these two characters is extremely funny, even if the writing is aimed at young children as opposed to a 20 year old male, and well worth listening to.

The tools found within _ModNation Racers_, that allow anyone to create their own in-game content, are what make this kart racer truly unique. It’s possible to create drivers for your kart, which are referred to as “Mods”, the karts themselves and entire tracks that can be as crazy as you like, as long as they form a complete circuit. The way in which you go about creating this content appears rather simplistic as first, allowing you to have a finished a kart or Mod within a few minutes, however by implementing some advance editing tools it’s possible to create practically anything you want. While at this level it’s necessary to invest a considerable amount of time into each of your creations, it is possible to make some truly amazing characters and vehicles. After only being available for a few weeks there are already perfect Mario, Iron Man and Sephiroth Mods in addition to some incredible kart versions of The A Team Van and Ecto–1. The tools for building tracks are also extremely intuitive; through driving some sort of road-laying machine it’s possible to effortlessly construct rather complex tracks, as the game edits terrain and builds bridges over existing track all on the fly, and it’s easy to populate them with pickups and jumps.

With all this content being created by thousands of players all around the world, it’s important that there’s a solid network infrastructure running in the background to allow this content to be shared. _ModNation Racers_ excels in this department as well; it’s easy to share, search, download and rate the masses of Mods, karts and tracks already available online. The system works well and while the kart racing may be the bread and butter of _ModNation Racers_, there’s a huge amount of entertainment to be had from just downloading all the ridiculous Mods and karts you can find. The level of copy-right infringement is also entertainingly high, especially since the top Mods, which usually comprise of Mario and Luigi, are displayed as 100 foot statues in the game’s lobby system. It’s only a matter of time before the savage beast that is Nintendo demands that this content is removed and ruins everyone’s fun.

On a negative note, the game has dire loading times which are completely unacceptable considering the 3GB mandatory install. Considering that the nature of a kart racer is to quickly jump into a race and have some fun, this technical drawback really impacts the amount of entertainment to be had from _ModNation Racers_, at times even making it a chore. This issue could be solved through an update but as it stands I recommend keeping a book close to hand for use between races.

With four way splitscreen, a well put together levelling system for online races, stylised graphics and addictive gameplay, _ModNation Racers_ is an excellent addition to the PS3’s generally more “hardcore” dominated library. The PS3 may not offer many casual experiences yet but with _LittleBigPlanet_ and _ModNation Racers_ leading the charge, it’s on its way to becoming a far more family orientated console. And getting my girlfriend more interested in gaming is nothing but a good thing.

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