• This generation of consoles and hardware has played host to some of the best racing games I have ever had the honour of playing. Though gamers are well served when it comes to realistic racing sims, it still falls to a 17-year old game (Super Mario Kart on the SNES) to set the benchmark for kart racers.

    You see, as much fun as it is to tweak suspension camber settings, gear ratios and tire hardness, there is still a lot to be said for fun games that never intend to fully simulate every nuance of modern racing.

    ModNation Racers is a fun arcade racer but its major selling point is that it is trying to produce the same sort of gaming community that Sony’s other creation-friendly phenomena, LittleBigPlanet, has established. There are a lot of elements in common between the two games, and ModNation Racers developers United Front Games have already expressed admiration for MediaMolecule’s superb game.

    From start to finish, players are given a gigantic choice of customisation options in the game, for everything from your racer character (the Mods in question) to your pimped-up kart ride, to the very tracks you’ll race on. Splicing these creation tools with an immense online presence, ModNation Racers should turn into a hive of activity if gamers properly embrace it.

    ModNation Racers - Review 1

    The game starts by giving you a brief tutorial race to get you used to the controls. Karts are very light and twitchy and it will take a while to get used to the handling. It is not quite as approachable as the driving model in some proper racers, but for an arcade racer such as this there is no real need to simulate every moment of grip and slide. The framerates are smooth and solid, and the game gives a good sense of speed and you can’t really ask for more than that in a modern racer.

    The heart of ModNation Racers is in the creation tools and once you’ve been through your initial race with a generic Mod and Kart, you’ll be given access to the Mod Hub, a busy and bustling pit area where all the game’s options are accessed and unlocked.

    To start with, you’ll begin by creating your own Mod, the character that drives your racing machine. Lazy gamers can hit the Randomize button and usually come up with some pretty pleasing results, but there is far more fun to be had in creating your character from scratch.

    Creation tools are a joy to use. Building up your character layer by layer is easy, starting off with their skin then adding in facial features, clothing and accessories to suit your taste. You can come up with some pretty hilarious designs (my Mod is a plain white-racing-suited Stig look-alike) and there are full options to change various parts, adjust their sizes and colour them however you like.

    As with all the other Creation centres, you are given a limited set of components to start with. New ones are unlocked in races (by collecting tokens or winning particular race objectives), or you can spend some real money online to purchase a plethora of microtransactional goodies. Yep, be fully prepared to shell out for some of the tastier content just as you do with LittleBigPlanet, EyePet and other Sony titles.

    ModNation Racers - Review 2

    Once you are happy with your character, it’s time to apply the same creative skills to your ride. You’re provided with a stock chassis to build on, and your Kart is built up in a similar way to your Mod. Layer by layer you can pile on a bodyshell, strap on some fancy wheels, a cool engine design and even change your seat and steering wheel.

    Once the basic design is finished you can then apply paint, pattern finishes and stickers to your kart. Finally, you can further embellish your vehicle with a huge number of accessories. For some reason, I seemed to hit an object cap when I tried to pile too much crap onto my racer, but with a bit of chopping and changing around you can soon come up with a unique and freaky design from the initial components supplied (again with more to unlock during races or from the online store).

    Finally ModNation Racers gives you a gigantic track design package that works in such a superb way that you’ll probably lose hours to it. Rather than just having you bolt sections of track together like Scalextric or Trackmania ModNation Racers puts you in charge of an immense asphalt-laying machine that you actually drive to lay down your initial track layout. Height and width can be adjusted as you start to create your road surface, with the game providing a birds eye view of your track. It will even automatically fill in the circuit if you don’t quite finish the job.

    As soon as your layout is finished you can test it or even run a test race against AI opponents on it. Trackside decoration, details and other components can either be added in automatically or individually. Though there is a limit to the amount of stuff you can pile on, and the size of your layout, there is still plenty of scope to create millions of different designs each offering different challenges.

    ModNation Racers - Review 3

    From the game’s hub pitstop area, you can also access the all important races. Whether you choose online or offline (online options were disabled in my preview copy, or it could just be the servers haven’t been enabled yet) there’s a massive choice.

    The single player “Career” mode offers the best selection of race challenges. Races are about more than just nabbing a podium place or the quickest lap time. Each career mode race carries with it an extra set of objectives, and completing these will unlock even more mod options for your characters, racers and tracks.

    There are also race tokens to collect, and these can be spent in the offline “Mod Store” on even more goodies.

    The actual racing pales in comparison to the creative side of the game. It’s fun, it’s fast and it follows the familiar pattern of collecting powerups (which can be ramped up in power until they’re truly devastating when used against an opponent), and nudging your opponents out of the way.

    Each career challenge takes you a little further up the game’s difficulty curve. It is fairly challenging but never feels unfairly difficult.

    Without being too over-critical there are a few elements of the game that need tightening up. The initial install and load times were slow (ten minutes for the initial install, with up to two minutes between menus at times). The game’s hub world is also prone to stuttering frame rates and glitching, but this could merely be server or connection issues.

    Another source of slight irritation is that there doesn’t initially seem to be any way of improving your kart’s power, speed or drivability. Customising your rides is all well and good but if your cardboard kart can outstrip your European supercar, it feels a bit odd that changes are all cosmetic.

    Mod Nation Racers - Review 4

    Minor irritations aside though, the way to approach ModNation Racers is to fully understand the potential of the game. If you embrace the game’s vibrant community features, and use the content sharing system (Mods, Karts and Tracks can all be shared with other users) then there’s no reason why you couldn’t spend a lot of time with this game.

    If you’re not the creative type then you might still get a kick out of the racing side of things, but the game is really geared up for those of you that like to fully customise things to your own taste. In that, United Front have provided an extensive set of tools and gadgets to keep you burning the midnight oil.

    Though Super Mario Kart might still wear the Karting crown, ModNation Racers feels like a fresh and vibrant approach to reinjecting some interest into the arcade racing genre.

    Score: 8/10

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