User Generated Content (UGC) is quickly becoming a favourite feature amongst developers and their games. UGC allows users to create not only the uniquely styled characters you interact with in game but in some titles the levels too. As games go, the crowning title of UGC for the PlayStation 3 has to currently be Media Molecule’s quirky platform romp – LittleBigPlanet. In its relatively short lifespan its users have grasped its creative tools and managed to exceed its developer’s expectations and created an abundance of user generated levels for the game. ModNation Racers is one such title that hopes to do the same for the racing genre as LittleBigPlanet has done for the platform genre.
To sum it up, ModNation Racers is basically LittleBigPlanet on wheels. Something its sequel, coming later this year, also wants to be part of. Rather than being a jack of all genres, ModNation focuses exclusively on racing karts around some of the finest crafted kart tracks about. Whether you have created this yourself or not, the potential for racing fans is huge - just as long as the community chips in.
Before you see any menu screen you are popped in a kart, hurtling around a beginner track for your first racing experience in ModNation Racers. Throughout the race you are instructed on the various control and gameplay elements in the game, which helps you overcome the controls learning curve very quickly. Intro animation sequences over with, you find your character sitting in its kart in the paddock – this being the main menu. Around you drive some online players currently playing the game, as well as AI characters whilst you are offline or disconnected from the ModNation Racers Network. Selecting an option means you have to drive over to it and press the Square button, however, for quickness you can also press Select to bring up the quick menu to select a few of the same options, from starting a new on or offline race to customising your car or character.
Customising your character and ride is what makes up half of ModNation Racers's appeal. Your driver can be customised in a number of different ways, using different materials, colours and accessories. The combinations are extensive here, and there is no doubt, in time, there will be a number of very well crafted look-a-likes created in the game. You can choose to share your character as well as being rated by others, with the highest rated being shown off as a giant statue of itself in the lobby/paddock. Many hours can be lost in creating your very own customised character; however, those who would rather save their own time and download other people’s creations can do here too. I do feel it is worth putting some time and effort in to make your own though, especially as it ads to your own persona when playing against other racers online.
Just like the characters in ModNation Racers, your racing kart can be customised too. You can either begin by selecting from a random pre-set, or you can start from scratch. Sadly, what you do here does not help with the performance of our kart; it is purely for looks and sounds here. Customising your ride is as extensive as creating your character; with plenty of body styles to choose from, colour schemes, skins and decals, to a collection of accessories you can slap on to truly pimp your ride. Different engines can be placed into the back of your ride, with each one sounding a little different in the same way as choosing your drivers voice in the game. So whether you prefer the sound of a revving V8 or the sound of a heartbeat as you drive the option is there for you - you sicko!
Over on the other side of the Creation Station is the level creator. Here you can start off by customising an existing track or create your very own from scratch. The tools available to you here are very easy to use, and you can test-drive your creation at any time, either by yourself or by placing a full grid of AI players to really test it out. Every object found in the single player campaign can be used on your own track. Driving well enough in races helps to earn locked items that will allow you to create a more unique track, with that said though, there is more than enough from the start to play with, and your imagination is your only limitation here
A variety of modes are available to you in the racing area of the paddock, from online (casual and ranked), split-screen, quick play and single-player career modes. The campaign sees you tackle a number of circuits created by its developers. Each race event is introduced by quirky and sometimes comical cut scenes, thanks to its two anchor men, Biff Tradwell and Gary Reasons, who provide some info on the tracks you are about to race on along with sharing their personal hate for each other. On top of this you also have a little story to tell about your character, this plays out throughout each race.
The racing itself, against the AI opponents in single player is great. Mixed with the quirky karts, and even more quirky level design you instantly feel at home should you be a Mario Kart fan. Gameplay wise is pretty much on par with Nintendo’s finest too; you race around for three laps, collecting power-ups along the way to slow down or destroy your opposition. Speed boosts and hazards litter along the track ahead of you, forcing you to remember the best racing lines and shortcuts on each track you race on. I found earlier levels a bit of a breeze, coming in first place without breaking into too much of a sweat, but from around half way into the game the difficulty curve takes a very sharp incline. You see, for each race you are set a goal, such as finishing in 3rd or 1st place in order to carry on through to the next race. Once I got to the 3rd series of races I soon found it quite a challenge to get to first place. However this was when I realised my tactic was all wrong.
Even though there are boost pads on the ground to speed you along, and power-ups to pick up and fire against your opponents, you can also power-slide your away around corners in a very Mario Kart-like way. Doing so helps to build your boost bar, which can propel you forwards to gain position or it can used it to shield yourself from incoming attacks from racers behind you. It is this tactic that really helps you win the more challenging tracks in later levels. The tactic is to boost your meter as much as possible while it’s quiet, using shields when any incoming attack is nearby and using boost to lengthen your lead or to help climb your way through the opposition.
More than anything, ModNation Racers is very much an online experience. Racing against many racers online, on official or custom made tracks, is the appeal of this game. During the beta there were periods where you would race the most awfully created tracks, which put me off considerably, but as we have seen in LittleBigPlanet, with user ratings used properly, the cream will rise to the top and the better tracks levels will begin to shine through.
I am hoping ModNation Racers will become something of a fine wine. Sure it is enjoyable straight off the bat, but give it time, as it ages, and it will become a much better and richer experience, as more and more creators add their own tracks into the game via its powerful creation system. There has been many Mario Kart wannabes in the past and after playing most of them I feel ModNation Racers is one such title that hits the mark on many occasions, both technically and in its gameplay. ModNation Racers is a well-crafted racer that is certainly worth taking out for a spin.