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After a mesmerising first experience of PS3 racing, my head may have been spinning from the death defying terrain, variety of vehicles and magical dirt deformation, but I was sure this was something I wanted to do again (and again and again). Motorstorm thankfully went on to out-last the year and is the next of my sleeper hits of 2007.
The first cut is the deepest or so Rod Stewart would have us believe. Whilst this has long proven to be true of girlfriends, alcohol and fist-fights, we now need to add a raft of audio visual experiences to the list. Not least of which is that first play magic of a new wave of consoles. This is the moment of culmination when the white coated lab-dreams of priestly developers in Sony's high tower finally sits beneath our TV. Although easily poo-poo'd by those more rock n' roll than us, this is a moment as full and memorable as any first kiss, drink or blow (umm - punch).
The problem for the console holders is that as the gamer becomes more experienced and worldly-wise, that spin tingling first play is harder to deliver. The problem for the gamer is the fear that the exhilaration of those older consoles is a thing of the past. Happily then for me, Motorstorm landed a true bona-fide heart in mouth first play for my dear old PS3. Easily ranking alongside my first blush with the rubbery 48k Spectrum, the immersive Super Mario World on the SNES or the tingly fun of Wii-Sport, Motorstorm easily added itself to the ranks of my primordial happiness army.
Often confronted by cliff-side landscapes more suited to bungie jumping than driving, you struggle heart in mouth to keep your ride on terra firma.
Pop in the disk and you are greeted with an impressive video of dessert canyons and open landscapes being torn up by a rag-tag band of vehicles. The gravely narrator informs us that this bunch have one thing in mind - to challenge the landscape and each other to the very edge of their ability. Now, narrative in games is usually a sorry ploy to be let into the big kid's playground. But here it is a tale I could connect with: hands-on environmental engagement to the extreme. The images and theatre of this band of nomadic partying petrol-heads tell a fascinating tale of re-engagement with these untamed wildernesses; off-road vehicle style. Surely something even Greenpeace could get behind? Well maybe not, but certainly much fun to be had.
Start the first race and you find yourself dropped into a grid of seven different types of vehicles: bikes, quads, buggies, off-roaders, jeeps, trucks and big-rigs. Suddenly, older off-road games' limited breadth are revealed for what they were, poker games with half the cards missing. Having surveyed our combatants the start lights count down and the pack heads up to the first jump. Jostling for position, this miss-matched bunch seem more akin to Galactica-esque remnants of a future civilisation than an organised cohort of racers.
On over the jump, thumbling a landing as best you can, it becomes clear how Motorstorm can cope with such a variety of steeds. Its tracks are not simple oval routes; rather they provide an ever branching set of navigation choices. The pack separates and weaves its way towards different routes as their frame, weight and grip determine. Cars are quickest but must head for the longer flatter course, whereas the slower bikes can cut through rough ground and heavy trucks can lumber their way through muddier sections unhindered.
This sense of variety is driven home by the extreme nature of the places that Motorstorm presents as race environments. Often confronted by cliff-side landscapes more suited to bungie jumping than driving, you struggle heart in mouth to keep your ride on terra firma (and inevitably plunging to a firey fate more than once). Later races reveal Motorstorm's perverse audacity to force you to race these tracks in the most unsuitable vehicles. Putting you in a rally car on the edge of crumbling cliff is an inspired way to twist your arm to partake in its particular brand of metallic debauchery. So compelling that very little persuasion is required. 'No way that's insane! - Oh go on then if you insist.'
The final ingredient of this off road racing pot-roast doesn't become apparent until you hit the course for your second or third lap. The very substance you are racing on is changing, being chewed up by, and muddified (mud-modified) by each and every tire. The first time round you may get away with taking your twitchy buggy through the wet lowlands, but its not long before they are awash with mud. You soon come unstuck (actually quite the reverse - stuck) and are forced to take to higher ground. This environmental deformation is the kind of outside play I can get behind. Community gardening has never been so much fun! Although we may not have grown very much we are certainly getting our hands dirty in our landscape - surely a step in the right direction for any budding Alan Titchmarsh.
Thankfully, I didn't need to join the foreign legion to come to terms with the GBP 300 I had just shelled out for this shiny (soon to be dusty) monster. Motorstorm's range of vehicles, the expansive deforming tracks (not to mention the great visuals and audio) all combined to help me forget about crass matters of money. I was instantly convinced that my early adoption had been worth it, this was a new generation and my first cut was certainly deep enough to numb any financial pain.
But this was back at the start of the year, and plenty of other games have arrived since then. Accordingly, the majority of other outlets quickly moved on from Motorstorm to the promise of excitement promised later in the year. For me, not only did many of these fail to see the light of day in 2007, those that did simply couldn't compete with the simple pleasures of Motorstorm. What's more, XXX have stood behind their game with a series of patches and updates that make the online racing easier and more functional. Many features requested by their communities and functions papered over by forums are now included directly in the game - a sure sign that they are both in touch with and responsive to their grass routes community. Most recently they have also stumped up with new tracks and vehicles. Some would criticise that much of this should have been included in the game from the start. But their decision to focus on quality rather than quantity has resulted in a game that is not only clear about what it wants to achieve, but that goes on to deliver just that: a next generation racing experience.
In a year where many other developers promised to deliver more, and where many franchises were finally ported over, Motorstorm quietly went on delivering one of the best experiences on the system. By the end of the year, with many promises unfulfilled it was left to Motorstorm to carry the can for the racing genre on the system - something it did with commensurate ease and maturity.
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