Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift (2008)

It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!

Motorstorm pacific RiftLast generation’s push into the world of high definition one was a marked on, but it wasn’t well into the generation that games started to look like the jumps most of us were expecting from what new hardware had brought before.  There were differences for the better, sure, but they weren’t the sorts of things you’d write home about, or drag your uninterested relatives into the room to see-to-believe on Christmas day.   We’d heard about how powerful the Playstation 3 was throughout the first year of its life – developer Naughty Dog even went as far as to say that it was only using 30 per cent of the console’s cell-processing power with Uncharted.  I started to believe that the first time I played the Evolution Studios’ sequel to their launch game, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, because wow did it look pretty.

Simply put, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift looked like real life .  The trees sported realistic foliage that brushed aside as you moved at high speeds through rain forests.  The ultra bright sunlight reflecting off of the snow blinded you as you climb the highest peaks.  Water moved realistically, splashing up onto your car, as you burst through streams to cool off your overheating engine after a long boost past your opponents.  And speaking of boosts, I swear I could feel the wind in my face and hear low-hanging objects brush pass my ears, travelling at light speed through volcanoes and up mountainous peaks.  At least that’s how I remember it in my mind’s eye.  Of course it doesn’t look like real life, but for a six year old game it still looks artistically and technically amazing.

But who really cares how it looks when the game was as fun as Motorstorm: Pacific Rift? Y’know, apart from everyone.

I am being a little bit facetious really, because the game is still striking today, owing in most part to the game’s titular pacific theme. One of Motorstorm: Pacific Rift‘s strengths was that it took the ‘variety is the spice of life’ approach that Nintendo has always taken to designing its worlds throughout the various Super Mario series – fire levels, ice levels – and transposed it onto a racing game.  Which was a godsend in a lot of ways, because while the first game was a great off-road racer in its own right, its brown and same-y track design made it seem a little uninspiring. But it also gave the series a great sense of ‘personality’ that most racing games don’t have.  The racing was fan-bloody-tastic, and the cars were an absolute riot to drive, but the real stars of the show were the game’s lovingly crafted environments and pitch perfect tracks.

You’d think balancing races between motorbikes and monster trucks would be impossible, but Motorstorm achieved it, cleverly plotting out multiple paths through any one track.  Taking the high road was almost always best for the lighter, faster vehicles, avoiding the deep and boggy mud or water, while the reverse was true for the more serious off-road vehicles.  It was a clever way around the design challenges that the games’ central concept of having such a breadth of vehicle types presented, and one that made for thrilling racing online and off, with  the amazing art direction making clever work of disguising these often discreet paths through the courses, making it feel much more open than it actually was.  Did i mention how great the environments are? Because cruising through erupting volcanoes and jumping over flowing lava really truly never gets old whether on a bike or in a mudplugger.

Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is in some ways the perfect sequel.  Yes it improves vastly on the first game, but more importantly, you can’t help but feel that Evolution Studios really listened to, and addressed most of, the criticisms of the first game and considered if not implemented them when making this one.  It was a matter of perfect execution across all facets of the game that made the game work, but it was the way they all seamlessly worked together that made it near perfect. It was a bigger, better game, and one that benefited from its distance from the launch of the Playstation 3, and the expectations both in terms of timing and graphics, that came with it.  If anything that alone gives me hope for how any eventual DriveClub sequel will turn out.

Have any memories of JUST HOW GOOD Pacific Rift looked?  Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out past games in the 31 racing game greats countdown below!

#31: Stunt Car Racer   #30: Badlands   #29: RVF Honda  #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge  #27: Nitro  #26: Super Grand Prix  #25 Super Cars II  #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally  #22 Wipeout 2097  #21 Micro Machines V3  #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes  #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0  #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge  #15 Project Gotham Racing 2  #14 F-Zero GX  #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown  #11 Ridge Racer  #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2  #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift  #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles  #6 Dirt 2  #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  #4 Shift 2: Unleashed  #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed  #2 Forza Horizon  #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition

Pacific Rift Screen