ModNation Racers PlayStation 3 review

Mario Kart meets a bit of user-created content in Sony's latest PlayStation 3 hope, ModNation Racers...

There have been many attempts to take Mario’s crown as king of the kart racer, and with its current focus on user-created content, Sony is next in line to tackle Nintendo with ModNation Racers.

All of the staples you expect to see in a kart racer are here: the cutsey characters, wide range of tracks, in-race powerups, multiplayer modes and split screen races. On top of this, though, Sony has layered something quite special. Taking the form of Little Big Planet on wheels, ModNation Racers is all about you, the player, and the game gives you full reign over the creation of characters, cars and even tracks.

Yes, in this game you can customise your own cute little petrol head, create your own high octane karts and plan and design your own tracks, all of which can be uploaded and shared with others online.

Ad – content continues below

When you fire up ModNation Racers you’ll be greeted by one of the game’s many charming cut-scenes. These well produced ‘toons introduce you to the game basics and convey the world’s story, and after a first tutorial race, you’re quickly shown around the game’s main hub, the ModSpot.

Here you have access to the races, both online and off, including a single-player career story mode, and the creation studio. You can also see the current favourite community-created racers and karts, and can interact with other online racers, arranging games and so on.

The first place most players will gravitate to will no doubt be the creation tools. It’s here where ModNation Racers is at its very best. The range of tools the game gives you is impressive. Character creation lets you play around with almost every aspect of your ‘Mod’, or racer. You can change clothes, facial features, hats, glasses, skin tone and texture and apply masses of stickers. All items are customisable in colour, and you can create some great custom characters.

Kart creation is equally impressive, and although you’re a little more limited, having to pick from select chassis and parts, you can still run rampant with paint and stickers to build a cool ride to show off to your mates.

It’s the track creator that truly steals the show, though, and whether you’re a newcomer to community content, or a track planning master, there’s something here for you. At its most basic, the track creator lets you map out a track by driving a bulldozer around to form the road, and then a single click of a button will populate the rest of the level, popping in trees, spectators, bridges and more.

Ad – content continues below

If you want more control, however, you can make full use the wide range of tools that let you tweak everything, from individual item placement to the angle of the sun. Everything can be altered and planned out, and whilst initially a little daunting, once you get used to the tools on offer, you’ll be able to pump out some great tracks.

To start you off, it’s a good idea to play around with the game’s range of pre-built tracks (featured in the story mode) and move on from there

When it comes to the actual racing, ModNation isn’t quite as well rounded as its creation tools. The actual core racing mechanics are good, with some novel features, but just aren’t as tight or fluid as Mario Kart. The handling is a little loose when compared with others, and takes a bit of time to acclimate to, but once mastered you’ll be pulling off long drifts and jumps in no time.

As you drive well and perform stunts like drifting, you earn boost. This can be used in one of two ways. The most obvious is to gain a nitro-style speed buff. The other is a defensive shield to protect you from enemy attacks. This is a well-used mechanic and adds a tactical element to the admittedly rather basic racing.

Ad – content continues below

Power-ups are intriguing too, and although there’s far less variety here than in the likes of Mario, each power-up utilises a stacking upgrade system. For example, if you pick up a single missile, you’ll fire just that. Pick up another missile power-up, however, and this will upgrade your missile to a dual seeking missile launch. Similarly, the lighting blast can stall a single car, but power it up to level three and you’ll unleash a storm that attacks all cars on the track.

It’s a nice feature that adds a little more tactical play, and is a welcome addition. Sadly, that’s about as different as the actual racing gets. The tracks on offer, and the themes included are all a little trite and dull, with none daring to approach some of the truly excellent creations seen in the likes of Mario Kart Wii, and although there’s a ton of scope in the creation tool, you’re still limited to fairly standard track layouts.

Additions like mid-air spins and boost panels that can push you in different directions are great, but don’t really add all that much to the game.

Online options are great, though, and make it easy to set up races against others, and the story mode does actually have a story, making it a little more than a simple string of races, and it features over 20 events.

ModNation is at its strongest online against others, though. Playing alone against the CPU is enjoyable enough, but you’ll often find the AI to be a little annoying, especially as it always seems to save attacks for the very last moments, stealing victory from you in the dying seconds of a race. This adds to the challenge, yes, but it can become tiresome as you race a perfect race, only to be scuppered by a lighting bolt from out of nowhere.

Ad – content continues below

However, these problems pale in comparison to the games major, glaring problem: load times. For a kart racer these are truly horrendous, and it really shouldn’t take so long to load a race or return to the main hub. This will surely be patched eventually, but at launch, it’s a real problem.

Overall, ModNation Racers is a surprisingly high quality release that has plenty to offer players infected with LBP‘s creation bug. It looks great, plays well and has masses of longevity thanks to the truly great creativity tools.

Is it a challenge to Mario Kart? No, not really, but it’s certainly one of the best alternatives, and if you don’t have a Wii, you should certainly check it out.

ModNation Racers is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


4 out of 5