Not so bad, you might think; after all, you do have a shield to protect yourself. However, getting the timing right is extremely hard, especially as a full boost gauge will only provide a second or two of shield. The sonic wave detonates in front of the player too, travelling before him and emanating waves of blue noise, making dodging it almost impossible in the heat of a race. Even if you do manage to dodge a third-tier weapon, all too often it's followed up by another assault, and with your shield spent there's nothing you can do.
But that's the genre, to some extent. This is a game of unpredictability and sudden reversals of fortune, not an accurate racing sim. Nonetheless, there are so many opportunities to take a battering in ModNation, from the weapons, the traps, the drops or the incredibly aggressive AI, that before long the single player becomes frustrating in the extreme, removing nearly all semblance of skill and judgement from the driving and replacing it with chance. Far too often I was picked off on the last corner of a race, dropping from first to sixth or seventh because of a weapon fired almost directly behind me, giving absolutely no warning.
It's a familiar feeling to any Mario Kart veteran: that inescapable certainty that the AI is cheating, generating weapons as and when it needs them or pootling past you on the final straight when you're at full stretch with boosters wailing. I've no idea whether it's the case, or if the opponents are following the same rules to far greater effect, but the overall impression in many of the later, tougher races is that you're operating at a distinct disadvantage.
Remove that AI from the equation and the feeling of equanimity is restored. Played online or amongst friends in the four-player split-screen, ModNation allows its own charm to shine through. There's still a high degree of chaos to balance the field, but at least you can be sure that every opponent is open to the same sort of abuse. Furthermore, weapons can be banned completely, although the barrel launchers, blockers and thwomp-like devastators remain.
Load times are a bit of a bind, although that's lessened somewhat by the almost instant restarts that are available after failed races. Because there's only ever one unfinished track available at a time in single-player, however, and given the levels of teeth-grinding which some of the more unfair outcomes can produce, you might find that quitting out to soothe your rage with some gentle creativity punctuates a fair few of your racing experiences.
United Front deserves to be praised for much that they've done here - putting so much creativity and community in the hands of the player is something which only LittleBigPlanet has pulled off on console before. It's just a shame that that success had to be tempered by a somewhat overenthusiastic approach to the unpredictability inherent in the genre. That said, those with a calmer and more artistic temperament than I, with a little more patience, can probably add another mark to the score - especially online.
7 / 10