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vg.deathmatch: MotorStorm: Apocalypse vs. Split/Second
by Andrew Testerman

As gamers, we love competition, action, and a titanic struggle to the death. What better tussle is there than watching two games go head-to-head in mortal combat? In the tradition of the Mario and Sonic days of yore comes vg.deathmatch, GGTL’s recurring clash of the digital titans.

After several delays, MotorStorm: Apocalypse has finally arrived in North America (though many GGTL regulars may have already played it, as it has been around since March/April on the European side of the pond), bringing more turbo-boosting, mud-driving, air-cooling racing to PS3 owners everywhere. MotorStorm: Apocalypse promises more than just regular, nominal enhancements to the driving engine; thanks to its Mad Max-esque track design, Evolution Studios promises constant, organic destruction within the environment that alters gameplay from lap to lap, changing course layouts and routes and forcing players to adapt.

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

This week’s vg.deathmatch is a fight between two arcade racers that many gamers find quite… explosive. Will MotorStorm take the crown with its post-apocalyptic brand of vehicular action, or will Split/Second pull one doozy of a Power Play and defeat its challenger in cold blood? This town ain’t big enough for the two of ‘em — find out who wins it all on today’s vg.deathmatch!

1: Story

MotorStorm: Apocalypse’s story revolves around a singular idea: what if the world ended, and everyone just wanted to party? The game follows three characters during a two-day racing “festival,” allowing players to view the same events from different perspectives. Why anyone would want to gather and race on a series of buildings and bridges basically held together with spit and masking tape would be a fascinating subject for any game to explore, which is why it’s so unfortunate that MotorStorm bypasses the question entirely. “Why not?” it seems to ask. The game is also bereft of any likeable characters, starting with Mash “The Rookie,” an annoying cross between Ash Ketchum and Steve Urkel, and finishing with Big Dog “The Veteran,” who is, in essence, Grayson Hunt from Bulletstorm, right down to a rather phoned-in performance by Steve Blum.

Split/Second, like many entertainment properties before it, revolves around an elaborately-designed and improbably-expensive television show (similar to its forerunners, it writes off the fabulous production costs by assuring us the show will be viewed by “billions”). Split/Second doesn’t beat gamers over the head with reminders that they’re playing a TV show, relegating most of those moments to occasional “Next Time on Split/Second!” cutscenes. The less-is-more approach is nice, and gamers who don’t care about the television program can simply tune out during the brief intermissions.

WINNER: Split/Second
MotorStorm: Apocalypse has a larger story, but its execution is bungled by unlikeable characters and uninteresting proceedings. Split/Second's use of its television show aesthetics is much more reserved, and more effective. Plus, what’s not to like about knowing that you’re playing The Running Man, but with cars?

2: Setting

MotorStorm: Apocalypse takes place in a fictionalized coastal city, though judging by the large orange bridge used as a location on several tracks, I’d say it was based on San Francisco. Unexplained or not, the city is a gorgeous, well-detailed environment, reminding me of last week’s depiction of New York in Crysis 2. Buildings are shabby and falling apart, and the cracked roads are only slightly more useful than dirt paths. Evolution Studios clearly put a great deal of thought into its destroyed haven for racers, and the well-realized environments add to the fun of racing.

Split/Second has players race through several expansive, expensive TV sets, ranging from an airport, to a naval yard, to a section of city that reminded me heavily of Burnout 3: Takedown. Most tracks look pretty good on a surface level, though they aren’t particularly memorable, apart from appearing rather shiny. As they are designed to be TV sets rather than lived-in locations, the game doesn’t invite players to imagine what it would be like to live in its environments, taking away some of the fun for me.

WINNER: MotorStorm: Apocalypse
I enjoy Split/Second’s approach to set design, but MotorStorm: Apocalypse simply does more interesting things with its levels. From torn streets to collapsed bridges, MotorStorm provides a spectacle for players hoping to do more than simply race around the Nürburgring Nordschleife again.

3: Cars

Like its predecessors, MotorStorm: Apocalypse hangs its reputation on its sheer number of vehicle types. Gamers can choose from a wide variety of different lorries, including ATVs, dune buggies, hatchbacks. Each vehicle type has a distinct handling style, and different vehicles require different strategies; dirt bikes can traverse terrain that monster trucks can’t, but trucks can throw their weight around to knock smaller cars off-course. There is no “best” car, just the car you love to race with the most.

Split/Second’s cars are split between three types: muscle cars, with a happy medium between power and speed; sports cars, with quick acceleration and a high top speed, but low strength; and trucks, which are pokey and have slow acceleration, but are more resistant to Power Plays. Each car is reasonably modeled after a real life counterpart, and auto enthusiasts will easily be able to tell which is the faux-Lamborghini or pseudo-Mustang.

WINNER: MotorStorm: Apocalypse
Split/Second has a greater quantity of cars to choose from, but MotorStorm forces players to race differently with each vehicle — no small task, considering how many different types there are in the game.

4: Destruction

MotorStorm: Apocalypse’s environments have a Balsa wood-integrity to them, and structures collapse left and right throughout the course of a match. The ground shakes, tornadoes tear through the course, leaving paths of devastation in their wake, and buildings fall and explode in an enormous cloud of dust. At times, it can almost be too much, as retrying a race for the fourth or fifth time because a building fell on you at the exact wrong moment can start to become a chore. Still, the destruction in MotorStorm: Apocalypse goes a long way towards helping the title live up to its name.

Split/Second’s Power Play system turns every race into a series of intermittent explosions. Cars blow up, fueling stations erupt in burst of fire, and exploding barrels fall on unsuspecting racers, and these are only the Level 1 Plays. The real treats come with Level 2 and 3 Power Plays, which are much more rare, but offer greater spectacle. Level 2 Plays can airdrop a dump truck into a strategic section of track, requiring players to think quickly in order to avoid being pancaked. Level 3 Power Plays change the layout of the course, causing an air traffic control tower to fall in the middle of the course, and redirect through the landing strip.

WINNER: MotorStorm: Apocalypse
Again, Split/Second has more instances of destruction, with something blowing up nearly every 10 seconds, but MotorStorm’s destructive bits feel larger, and help the tracks feel more like a product of the environment, rather than a game mechanic.

5: Biggest “Holy S@$#” Moment

My favourite moment in MotorStorm: Apocalypse comes near the beginning. Players are airdropped onto the top of a sky scraper, speeding to a huge, plummeting fall, when about three or four buildings suddenly decide to keel over, forming a track along their collapsed sides and allowing the race to continue. I wondered what would happen if the buildings had NOT chosen to collapse right then and there, but the moment was a smashing success.

Similarly, my favourite moment in Split/Second also occurs near the beginning, in the airport level. After using a Level 3 Power Play to open an alternate route, players drive down a runway a through a hanger in order to continue racing. A Level 2 Power Play on the Runway will cause a small shape to appear in the sky. It grows larger and larger until you realize the shape is, in fact, a large cargo plane coming in to land. Before you’re ready, the sound hangs back for just a second and the cargo plane crashes spectacularly, causing its fiery carcass to hurtle towards any racer in its way.

WINNER: Split/Second
The MotorStorm moment was undoubtedly bigger, but the Split/Second moment was so well-paced, it stuck with me even as I witness larger and more destructive Power Plays. Black Rock lovingly crafted each Power Play to have maximum impact (heh), and this craftsmanship turns a mere explosive spectacle into a jaw dropping, memorable experience that can easily lead to water cooler conversation.


MotorStorm: Apocalypse
Both racers are excellent, unique experiences that differ greatly from their arcade racing counterparts, but MotorStorm’s well-detailed environments, staggering variety of vehicles, and grand destructive scale gave it the ultimate edge over its rival. It goes without saying, though, that Xbox 360 owners will need to pick up Split/Second instead, as MotorStorm is a PS3-exclusive. Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in to Gamer’s Guide to Life next week for more vg.deathmatch.

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- Andrew Testerman

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