A few of us got into the ModNation Racers beta, an upcoming arcade racer with similar features of the Play.Create.Share introduced by LittleBigPlanet. We hope to give you our impressions of the beta, so you can see how the game is shaping up and get a bit more in-depth information on how the game plays out. If you wish to join the beta yourself you can follow the link at the end of the article for chances to get a key.
After the intro sequence that sets up the background of the ModNation Races and a walkthrough of the hub, which acts as your menu to all MNR activities as well as info boards with the latest scores from the online games. First thing I instantly noticed was a the frame rate dropped a fair bit while just riving around the hub. Not a good first sign but one you hope they will quickly iron out.
As I’m the creative type I jumped in right away making my own guy at the “Creation Station”. Its edit options are very similar to LBPs Popit Menu. Analog to move about and trigger buttons to move between the categories. You can do basic editing with the d-pad controlling scale and rotation, analog sticks for placement. Or tap the left bumper and open the advanced menu for fine tuning. All fairly simple, or advanced, as you like it.
The beta comes with a rather limited selection of items to customise your guy with, but theres ample variety with just the small set. Oh you will end up spending ages here tweaking your guy/gal, though if you don’t care for looks you can knock out a new guy in a few seconds. My only complaint upto now is the amount of stickers, they need a organising into more subsections.
A bit later I had my cart up and running using the same toolset. You have the option of changing the engine and ride height, however I’m unsure if that changes the performance of the car or is just aesthetics. If its performance I’m sure the hamster wheel engine won’t get much use :P
In the mod area some inactive vending machines represent the ‘Shop’ I assume these are in-game items purchased with points. But it could be signs of DLC.
A publshing station allows you to share your creations (it is Play.Create.Share after all) with a simple interface. You leave a description, for example “Tasteful gold and magenta car for the Sunday driver” then choose from a pre-selected list of keywords. Look out for the ‘Goldsmobile’ if your in the beta for my creation.
Now to the racing.
Oops it crashed. Well there you go folks, it is a beta after all.
Right now to the racing.
Well after finally signing in online (a separate process from the PSN apparently) and poof had several other racers swirling around with me in the main hub. I drove over to the race section of the hub and joined an XP race. A chat started as we waited for the race to start. Where it quickly became apparent we didn’t know how to start a race. You have the option to push start to switch between ‘Away’ and ‘Ready’ however there was no indicator of what mode you were in, or your fellow racers. After chat devolved to a squabble we all left the lobby.
It crashed on the loading out screen again :/
Well while I wait for it to load again I’ll point out a creepy aspect of ModNation. The background chatter. its your standard racetrack banter, but it plays so on the edge of hearing it took me a while to realise it was the game making the megaphone noises, not some nutjob down the street. I quickly turned it off, it was disturbing.
I gave up on the ever so slow loading screen for a race and went into making a track. I’d wanted to get a feel of racing on them first, but the game isn’t giving me a choice.
(warning, I got really into track creation and forgot about photos till the end. Sowwy I’ll make another and add a gallery at a later date)
Track creation is surprisingly fluid. As you’ve all seen in the video by now(which I posted to appease you on the lack of pictures) you drive along building the track as you go. You don’t need it perfect at this point, you get alot of tweaking tools later on. Once you have the rough shape you get to really knuckle down and sculpt your track, you can raise and lower whole segments, shift them left or right to make sharp turns. But you can then manipulate the individual corners, making high banks round a bend or a treacherous drop. After several edits and test runs later I had an acceptable track.
Now I could begin decorating it. As with the stickers and such for your character you only have limited items cos of the beta but I soon had mountains, hills, and a small alpine village created. With the tools of sculpting land and changing the weather you soon feel all god-like. With my artistic flair along the land I had an attractive track to drive along. I played about with the other track textures but I much preferred the default asphalt.
The track I had created was a simple figure 8, but was surprisingly challenging to race and I’m amazed at what I made on my first run with the small supply of tools the beta gives us.
I uploaded it under “Alpine Dusk” apparently its too dark but I may tweak that later. Wonder if you can update tracks that are published.
Overall I had fun with the create tools but the online features are really flaky and even after many tries I couldn’t get into a proper race. I shall try and when I can I shall update this with my impressions of the actual racing. But for now this will have to do.
This article has been sat in the draft box for a while, but I managed to get Modnation up and running over Xmas, so here’s some additions:
The online has been much improved, it connects within a few seconds of loading the game and there’s a status screen so you can see if people in your lobby are ready or not. It’s also stopped crashing on the loading screens, but the frame rate issue is still there.
Why do these games always get Mario created first?
So with this I had a shot with some racing. The races are very much in the same vein as Mario Kart, you’ve got a fairly standard set; rockets, power boosts, a lighting bolt that slows down racers, the blue shell equivalent etc. Though to be honest it is a rather limited set of power-ups, and theres no instructions that its square to use. Be nice to see more in the final game. One quirky addition is a boost bar, which pretty much acts like nitros in NFS games. As you get hits on other racers, draft (racing in a drivers wake), get airtime you build up your boost bar, which a tap of L1 will get you fired away around the track. It actually builds up fairly slow, I never got it past halfway full even without using it, and only lasts a few seconds at that, but it can be the decider in a sprint to the final flag. A big annoyance is the brake is appalling. It puts you to a dead stop, no power slides round a corner, you go from flat out to a snail crawl with a tap of the button. For arcade racing that is not a good thing, I expect to be power sliding round a corner, not stopping.
(Mason’s note: Although it’s strange that you can’t power slide with the breaks if you press the X button you’ll do a Mario Kart style hop, followed by drifting in whatever direction you were turning.)
So overall I have to say this is shaping up to be a worthy game of the Play.Create.Share brand/genre and for anyone looking for an arcade racer this should be great. The track creator is my favourite tool, it was so amazing the level of detail you could get in, yet it still retains its simplicity, unlike LBP which became a mess for more complex edits. If you can get in the beta I strongly suggest it, try it out yourself, but if not I hope this has been a good preview for what it is like. (seriously if this is too long, or boring comment please, I’ve never done this before)