Previews

Hands on with ModNation Racers on PSP

Custom made for handheld?

Hands on with ModNation Racers on PSP

It’s often said the youngest sibling is generally the one who develops quickest, keen to match the exploits of their bigger brethren, regardless of any significant gap in size, strength, or general motor skills. Often, sheer grit and determination compensates - in part, at least - for a lack of ability.

As the most limited of the current PlayStation family, the PSP has on occasion displayed a similar approach to life, the latest example of which is ModNation Racers.

Initially announced as a PS3-only release, ModNation Racers is a kart racing affair centred on the concept of user generated content and multiplayer action. That means you create your character, your kart – even your own tracks – and go up against fellow creative digital karters across the globe.

And anything PS3 can do, PSP will have a go at. So ModNation Racers on PSP is essentially identical to its bigger brother version. Content creation is therefore key and you can, if you wish, head straight into that side of things.

The Design Studios option opens up the Mod (character), Kart and Track subsections and what happens next is mostly self-explanatory to anyone who’s ever fumbled - however briefly - with any type of customisation in other games.

Creation nation

If you find your creativity lacking, you’re able to randomise your avatar’s appearance or select a ‘Pre-made‘ model - as you can with your kart, in fact - but otherwise you can go through just about every aspect of customisation you could wish for.

Want to have one eye bigger than the other? Sure, just make it happen. How about no hair, funky sunglasses, squeaky voice, and green skin with little more than briefs to cover it? It’s all there for you.

The only limitation comes in the form of the number of options available, which is directly linked to the number of items you’ve unlocked through your racing exploits.

It’s a similar story with the Kart Studio, where you can fumble around with decals, performance parts, accessories and body kits - again, as long as you’ve unlocked them.

A more unusual inclusion, perhaps, is the Track Studio. Yes, it’s a track editor but it’s not the sort of thing you often find in a handheld title, particularly when it’s this comprehensive.

Once you’ve selected your theme (Alpine, Desert, Seaside, Jungle), you’re then straight into creating the track, deforming and painting terrain, setting the sky options (sunset, morning, clouds – that sort of thing) and placing props.

And when it comes to props, ModNation Racers doesn’t hold back. Even before you’ve unlocked more content you already have 200-plus items to play around with. Grandstands, oil barrels, tannoys, billboards, power lines, signs, gates, lights, buildings, rocks, trees, sheep… it’s a considerable list.

You also get access to ramps and in-game hazards such as ‘stomps’, with full dynamic control over their operation (height of ramp, frequency of stomps, etc), and you can of course test drive your work-in-progress at the press of a button.

Essentially, spend enough time and you can create a ModNation Racers track worthy of inclusion alongside the offerings you’ll find in the main game.

On the track

Which, conveniently, is where we’re headed next. Select ‘Race Central’ from the main menu and you’re faced with Single Player Race, Community Race or Career. The single race opens up three variants: Action, Pure or Last Kart Standing.

It won’t shock you to learn that weapon pick-ups and on-track hazards permeate the first option, with Pure focusing on racing without the Mario Kart-type additives and Last Kart Standing functioning on an eliminator principle (where the last placed kart is taken out of the proceedings when the on-screen counter reaches zero). In all three you face up to five AI opponents.

Aside from the Community race (which we’re not able to test as those options are disabled on the preview code), Career is where you’ll spend the most time. It’s a surprisingly well-presented affair, with cut-scenes detailing your arrival on, and progression through, the ModNation Racing Championship.

The first few events act as a tutorial, taking you through the use of power-ups, management of your boost meter (which is refilled through on-track shenanigans such as performing stunts while in the air), reliance on offensive manoeuvres (side swipe, stomp takedown) for dealing with adversaries, and even introducing you to the content generation elements of the game.

Handle with abandon

With so much going on at every race (things can feel a little overwhelming at first) it’s reassuring to find the handling isn’t demanding.

In fact, you might struggle to feel connected to the track initially, but as familiarity levels increase so does your acceptance of the wisdom behind the simple vehicle dynamics. ModNation Racers isn’t a driving simulator, but instead has its wheels pointed towards racing of the dive-in-drive-out, fun-filled and action-packed kind.

How successfully it travels that road will depend entirely on the community, because while the game is likely to hold some interest in single-player through its achievement goal-based system, it’s the multiplayer aspect that’s obviously key to unlocking ModNation Racers’s full potential.

At this stage that scenario is impossible to assess, but there’s much hope to be taken from the game’s solidity in every other area – whether it’s the intensity of the on-track encounters, the impressive level of customisation options, the inventive and suitably challenging circuits, or the necessarily accessible handling, ModNation Racers seems to have the required elements in place.

Now all it needs is the loving support of an active community.