ModNation Racers

Everything in moderation.

Well, I managed to resist it. In all the hours I spent toying around with ModNation Racers' fantastic suite of creative tools I restrained myself from making a single character which even vaguely resembled a set of genitalia. Nor did I craft any of the Mario Kart characters. I didn't even infringe the copyrights of Batman, Wacky Racers or the Dukes of Hazzard.

Not that it's impossible to do so - the depth and flexibility of the editors on offer here is more than capable of translating almost any popular character, car or track into the game's shiny, colourful engine - but to use these abilities to imitate just seemed like a bit of a waste.

Instead I, a man of limited artistic ingenuity, rattled off any number of unique and striking little creations, starting simply and progressing to more subtle, layered designs. These, although lacking the professionalism of the offerings downloadable from the United Front development team, managed to make the atrophied creative centre of my brain quite chuffed with itself.

Alright. I gave one driver a little set of boobs. More nipples, really. Hardly noticeable. Look, I got carried away - and felt really quite guilty afterwards.

The point is that the track, car and driver editors of ModNation are incredibly accomplished, in-depth and intuitive to use, with handy tutorials for advanced techniques. Stickers, accessories and parts are unlocked by completing races or sub-objectives, or by gambling collectible tokens on an in-game slot machine, unleashing an almost inexhaustible array of creative possibilities. If you've ever looked at one of those tiny, pricey, vinyl Qee toys and thought you could do better, then ModNation is the perfect opportunity.

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Short-cuts and alternative routes pepper almost every track.

Sadly, much like those arresting little vinyl bears, whilst cars and drivers look good on a shelf, their practical applications are fairly limited. All karts have exactly the same driving model, apart from two sliders allowing the preference of drift versus handling and acceleration over speed. It's more of a simplified tuning system than anything else, and so tucked away in menus that I didn't realise it was there until I'd been playing for hours.

Drivers make no difference to racing skills whatsoever, and move way too quickly to distinguish on the track, meaning that their appearance is only really appreciable on the podiums of the modding centre or during the beautiful and generally amusing cutscenes. Still, art for art's sake and all that, and that's certainly not a negative aspect in itself.

Tracks, of course, are a different story, and the ease with which they can be shared or downloaded is a testament to the PS3's improving online structure. Track creation itself is a breeze, dropping players into a track-laying machine which is simply driven around a blank arena, depositing tarmac behind it. These bare bones circuits can then either be auto-populated with the various on- and off-track accoutrements, or managed down to the very last detail, including sun position, weather, surroundings and short-cuts. The finer points take some getting the hang of, but the ability to create, test drive and host a race on your very own track within minutes is a very praiseworthy achievement, especially given the restrictions of working with a pad.

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