ModNation Racers Review

Developed by United Front Games, ModNation Racers has arrived for the PlayStation 3.  Does it live up to the hype? Read our review and learn all about the game, and see if it deserves the checkered flag!

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Developer: United Front Games
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Genre: Racing
Score: 9.0/10

ModNation Racers welcomes you to the new and improved kart-style racing, where imagination and creativity have virtually no limits. Players can take the role of a designer and create customized racers, kart-racers, and race tracks, plus you can publish them online to share with the world.  In ModNation, players are able to race online in up to 12 player races or play locally with 4 players in split-screen mode. Plus, you can take part in the ModNation Circuit and play through the career mode, where you’ll meet many colorful characters.

When you enter the game, you’ll be taken to ModSpot, the central hub from which everything can be accessed. You can drive around this lobby-like area, visiting any section you wish, including Race Station, Creation Station, and the Sharing Hub. You’ll also find areas to view the top mods by other players, and even see what’s coming up for DLC.  Other players will also be driving around ModSpot, and you can race around for meaningless fun, crash into one another, or just hang out with them. When parked near other players, you can access a quick menu to send them messages, view their player card, or send them a friend invite. Generally speaking, ModSpot has lots of cool things within it, so take the time to explore everything.

In terms of racing, most of you will spend the bulk of your time racing online. Online races include XP and Casual race modes, plus you can join or host split-screen online races too. Casual races allow a variety of customization options such as the number of laps, the speed class, or the type of race. Players are able to select a pure race where vehicular combat is disabled, or you can go all-out and attempt to destroy one another on the track. For speed classes, you can race as rookie, pro, or elite. Track selection has no limits here either; you can play your own creations, downloaded tracks, or tracks you’ve unlocked from the career.

Vehicular combat will keep you on edge during the races, and you’ll be dodging attacks from missiles, electric shocks, and more. Weapons are random, and can be obtained from item balloons located around the tracks, and you can stack them up to a level 3 power. For example, players can pick up an unguided missile, and without using it, pick up another item balloon which turns your stored attack into a swarm of homing missiles. Get one more item and it becomes multiple swarms which attack multiple racers in front of you. Be careful though, should you get attacked yourself, you’ll lose your weapon that you could be saving.  You have a shared meter for your boost and shield, and you build it up by performing drifts, getting airtime, and more. Unfortunately, using a fully charged meter is a short-lived experience it can be tough to time your shield usage to save yourself. Also, take note that by double-tapping X, you’ll perform a bunny hop, which may help you avoid attacks, or obstacles on the course.

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XP races are part of a level-based system in ModNation Racers. Players can race in up to 12 player races, in both a single race and an XP Series, which features a 5 race set. XP is earned during the race through a handful of methods, including general skills such as drafting and drifting, or through combat, where the more people you attack, the more XP you’ll earn. Also, you can earn ‘Create XP’ making new creations and sharing them with the community. There are 30 levels before you become a ModNation Superstar, so you’re going to need to spend quite a bit of time earning that title. Aside from trophies and a being able to compare your level against your friends, the XP doesn’t serve a purpose.

In all online lobbies, players have open voice chat, and the ability to use the on-screen keyboard for text chat with one another. Don’t like the map coming up? Players can veto the map by simply pressing L1. You can access other players’ game cards and view their profiles quickly from the lobby as well. If you have a problem with something, whether it’s a person or a custom creation, you can file a “Good Grief” report and it will be looked into.

Although you want to play online, career mode should not be overlooked either. By playing through the career, you will unlock tracks to use online, or in split-screen play, plus you’ll unlock many items for customization and creation. Each race has 3 objectives, which if completed, unlock new items for customization. Often, you’ll have to place 1st, and take out a rival, and find all shortcuts on a track. The objectives vary, and we’re not going to reveal everything, so play it and find out. Between races, you’re treated to wonderfully polished scenes involving the colorful and humorous characters of the ModNation universe. You’ll see fictional advertising for products and services in ModNation, and you’ll hear the sarcasm and wit of the ModNation hosts, Biff and Gary – they’re really quite an interesting duo.

For the creative minds, let’s talk about the Creation Station. ModNation Racers takes its name from the amazing creation and customization system upon which everything in the game is built. Regardless of skill level, anyone can create new racers, karts, or tracks in the game.  Racers can be customized from head to toe using masses of preset options for skin patterns, clothing, accessories, facial details, and more. With karts, you can choose from a handful of body types, and edit the styles, paint jobs, stickers, ornaments, and more. You’ll see the possibilities when you view other peoples’ creations, for example, you can race as Rich Uncle Pennybags in the Monopoly car, or even B.A. Baracus in the A-Team van. Imagination has no limits, so why should ModNation?

Many players will spend hours on end with the track creator, where you can pick from set locations such as ocean sides or deserts. You can create new tracks and populate them however you wish. You control the elements, such as the cloud cover, time of day, water level, and wind. You can also control the terrain. Terrain modifications include craters, volcano’s, mountains, and more – you have the power to create it all. Using over 20 brushes and a whole slew of styles, you can create mountains, trenches, and more. After you’ve created the terrain you wish to use, you lay the track and steer in any direction you’d like. If you get lost trying to find your starting point, you can have the editor quickly complete the track for you.

Populating tracks could take some time, or you can choose to auto-populate, and watch as your track fills quickly with structures, boost pads, vegetation, and so much more. If you have the time, you can populate it yourself, choosing each and every item you want to feature, and place it wherever you’d like. You can choose from hundreds of items such as boats, houses, skyscrapers, or even a stone castle. Add in boost pads, launchers, jumps, and so much more.  After you’re done, take a few seconds, create a snapshot to show it off, and upload it to share with the world. Also, with custom mods you’ve downloaded from other people, you can remix them with the editor, and re-upload variations of their maps.

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In terms of fluidity, everything runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. In 4 player split-screen racing you may experience a drop in frame rate at times but nothing unbearable. The controller layout is comfortable and during the races the controls feel almost perfect – it’s not too tight and it’s not overly loose. Drifting feels very controlled, allowing quality drifts on some tracks and if you drift long enough, you can enjoy a trail of flames behind your tires. You still have steering control while boosting as well, so you can try to quickly boost past your opponents even on a tight corner.

ModNation Racers offers a fantastic level of detail, and while some of the textures may be considered non-existent, you don’t even pay attention to it. The tracks feel as though they come to life, and appear as full-fledged environments as you race through them. Most tracks are very impressive to look at, with gorgeous mountains, dark tunnels, lavish jungles and populated cities. Custom characters and tracks look well-polished, as though they were built into the game by the developers themselves. Cutscenes are quite sleek featuring smooth animations and impressive reflections.

The sound team did a fabulous job on helping to bring ModNation Racers to life. The hosts in the career mode, Biff and Gary, are very enthusiastic about their job and you’ll hear loads of humor and extreme sarcasm from them. Other characters in the career are very entertaining thanks to the superb voice acting. Sound effects in the game play a huge part when dealing with the attacks, as you can hear incoming shock attacks and missiles traveling through the air. Unfortunately, depending on the distance of your opponent, the timing to use your shield will always differ and can be hard to judge properly. Aside from that, basic phrases and taunts by the characters are heard while racing. Everything blends together nicely, and it’s a well-rounded experience.

In the end, ModNation Racers may seem like just another kart racer, but the level of creativity involved puts this racer ahead of the pack. Thanks to the abundance of tracks both built-in are quite varied and very fun to play. The game does feature lengthy loading times when loading into a map, ranging from 15 to 45 seconds, but the developer is allegedly working to improve this already. It features a solid soundtrack, with clear-cut inspirations from titles such as F-Zero GX, and detailed graphics with very interactive environments make it a worthy addition to the PlayStation 3 library.

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