Game of the Week: MotorStorm RC

Rolling with it.

gotw

There are times when it feels like everything's changing and nothing is certain. This week is a particular case in point in the UK, with the launch of a remarkable new piece of gaming hardware - PlayStation Vita - clashing with a games retail market in a state of alarming disarray. At this critical juncture, it seems very significant that once you have your Vita, you need never walk into a shop to buy games for it again; its entire software line-up will always be available for direct download.

Tom has some thoughts about how this situation might play out, but in the here and now things are so bad that one of our favourite games of the start of the year, which would have been a strong contender for game of the week, has had its release delayed: Asura's Wrath. UK gamers will now have to choose between Capcom's barmy action melodrama and Mass Effect 3 or Street Fighter X Tekken on 9th March. We'll return to the game when it's out in our own backyard, but international readers with an open mind and taste for unhinged spectacle are strongly encouraged to give it a go.

If you walk into a branch of GAME - the retailer at the centre of all the trouble - you will also find yourself unable to buy Ubisoft's quintet of Vita launch games (three of these are no loss, but Rayman and Lumines are highly recommended). The same goes for The Last Story, a major Nintendo release and one of the more interesting games in a week crammed with them. One of a trio of RPG epics funded by Nintendo in the twilight of the Wii's life and brought to Europe after fan pressure (and a wonderful localisation job), Hironobu Sakaguchi's game doesn't have the substance of stablemate Xenoblade Chronicles, but it's still a luscious and enjoyable ride.

"The Last Story is born from the same desire to reinvent the genre that both Final Fantasy 13 and Xenoblade Chronicles sprung from, but in sacrificing complexity to serve narrative, it seems that Sakaguchi has arrived at the same place as his former employers. It's a familiar mix of wonder and frustration," wrote Martin in The Last Story review.

To be fair to GAME and a suddenly fecund industry, however, the absence of four of the week's best games from the shelves hardly leaves you with a shortage of choice in a week as hectic as the height of last November. If you're in a retrospective frame of mind you could pick up The Jak and Daxter Collection or the Ultimate Edition of Fallout: New Vegas. EA's reboot of Syndicate as a rather anonymous sci-fi shooter isn't so tempting, unless you fancy its enjoyable co-op mode, but fans of futuristic combat have something much more attractive to try in any case.

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Binary Domain: game of the non-Vita week.

Binary Domain has oodles more character than its initially bland appearance suggested. We should have known, really, since it was made by the Sega studio headed by Toshihiro Nagoshi: director of Super Monkey Ball, gold-class lounge lizard and all-around industry legend.

"Binary Domain's campaign rises above its niggles, and it's probably the best the [third-person shooter] genre has offered since Vanquish," wrote Rich Stanton in our review. "Binary Domain is a game a few degrees short of greatness, an intense and hectic romp that needs that final level of polish to compete with the very best. Sega is a company cursed by nostalgia, that prevalent and rather cruel notion that they'll never make the amazing games they once did. Binary Domain doesn't quite prove that wrong. But it gets damn close..."

The week is dominated, however, by the appearance of Vita and its astonishingly huge line-up of launch games: head over to our Essential PlayStation Vita round-up for the full lowdown. Like many console launches, the roster of games likely seems stronger now than it will in retrospect, the surprising variety and quality of the offering serving to obscure the fact that the system-selling game isn't there yet. (Although, pick one up and Vita does a pretty good job of selling itself.)

Still, in terms of quantity and choice, we've never seen the like. The ease of porting current console games over to Vita, with its copious power and full-featured controls, has paid particularly big dividends here. Where once we would have found embarrassing knock-offs, we now see very credible and appealing handheld versions of the likes of Rayman Origins, Virtua Tennis 4, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, FIFA and more. There are great original Vita games to be had, too, including the audiovisually stunning WipEout 2048 and a none-too-shabby new Uncharted adventure.

How big the market is for full-fat, full-price gaming on the go remains a concern, although that market is certainly going to lap Vita up. But in any case, it was among Vita's smaller and more uncertain list of PS Store-only releases that we found its standout game.

MotorStorm RC

Adapt to survive. That's what the games industry has to do in a world of 69p phone games, and a world where you can't be certain that you'll be able to put your new release in front of shoppers on one of the busiest weeks of the year for games retail. It's also what Evolution Studios is having to do following the troubled release of MotorStorm: Apocalypse last year.

The first 15 minutes of MotorStorm RC

And it's doing it in style with this excellent top-down arcade racer, whose diminutive scope and price tag don't detract from its serious racing credentials at all. It's social, it's mobile, it's lean, but it's not casual.

Its sophisticated handling model tests your skill. There's a notable lack of tacked-on touch control where it's not needed (a phenomenon which otherwise infests the Vita's launch games). And the social features are based on the vision of an online arcade presented by Bizarre's Geometry Wars 2 and Criterion's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, rather than FarmVille. What's more, RC is the most convincing current demonstration of an amazing feat only Vita can achieve - a proper home console game and a proper portable game for the same price, seamlessly integrated through the cloud.

The Vita launch has played havoc with our review schedule, so you'll have to wait until Monday morning for my review, but here's a preview of it: "MotorStorm RC isn't two games in one, it's one game in two - and it's an absurd bargain. With online multiplayer, it would be a miniature classic. As it is, it's recommended for PS3 owners, all but essential if you have a Vita - and for lovers of RC cars or top-down racing, it's a rare treat."

It's far from the biggest Vita game, and if you count Japanese releases it's certainly not the best (that would be Gravity Daze). It hardly guarantees Vita's success. But MotorStorm RC shows Sony having its hardcore portable cake and eating it, and we definitely want a slice.

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