MotorStorm: Pacific Rift Hands-On ImpressionsS

Evolution Studios' tropically themed follow-up to MotorStorm was playable at today's SCEA Pre-E3 Judge's Day, a pre-alpha build that gave us just a taste what the sequel holds in store. Just two levels were on hand in the demo version of MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, Beach Comber (for single player) and Rain God Spires (for split-screen multiplayer). The former was comprised of an inland area, thick with vegetation, and a sandy beach, the sun setting brightly in the distance. The latter was a rockier track, one that looked to have been inspired by Rain God Mesa from the original MotorStorm.

Evolution may have changed up the setting, but they haven't mucked much with the MotorStorm mechanics, as players of the first will feel right at home. The vehicle line up is almost exactly the same, but handling on the rides felt just a bit looser, making it harder to avoid obstacles than we remember. Unfamiliarity with the new Pacific Rift tracks more than likely accounted for our many, many crashes. It certainly wasn't a skill issue.

The newest, most notable changes come in the form of engine cooling by driving through pools of water—watch out though, motorcycles simply can't handle deep water—the new monster truck vehicle class and splitscreen multiplayer.

We only tested out the splitscreen mode briefly and only with two players. After our hands-on time with that particular mode, we don't expect to revisit it often when the game is finally released. With such expansive tracks and the option of taking multiple routes, slicing one's horizontal view in half doesn't make for the ideal MotorStorm experience.

Taking the monster truck for a spin, however, is certainly something we look forward to revisiting. The vehicle class's pros, cons and quirks weren't immediately apparent in our handful of monster truck races, but its promise—quad crushing and better-than-a-big rig handling—is exciting. As expected, the thing can overturn rather easily, meaning you'll probably do more braking than with other classes.

As we mentioned before, the game was still early; only 40% complete, reportedly. That was certainly apparent, as the frame rate wasn't close to consistent and much of the environmental effects seemed to be missing. We didn't seem to notice much in the way of land deformation, nor did explosions and the kicking up of mud impress. What did, though, were the ragdoll physics. Launching a motorcyclist across the finish line from an exploding bike was far more rewarding than in the original. Visually, though, the game looks rather flat at this point.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift certainly has promise. We're definitely concerned about the current lack of "oomph" in the build we played and that the tropical setting may make for more cramped, less nail-biting thrill rides. Given that Evolution says it still has a long way to go—and that we still had fun—we're definitely giving them the benefit of the doubt.