Version tested: PSP
MotorStorm: Arctic Edge is not a pretty game - and not just because, like its big console cousins, it's concerned with rough-and-tumble racing through perilous terrain in angry, roaring machines.
No, MotorStorm's PSP debut simply isn't very good looking. Vehicles are boxy, their deformation patterns strangely triangular, details a tad smudgy. This is partly due to the game being developed simultaneously for the PS2, but mostly it's because developer Bigbig - a subsidiary of MotorStorm creator Evolution - has made a very wise design decision.
Wipeout's handheld outings could get away with both glossy good looks and ferocious gameplay because their slick, focused racing takes place on narrow, linear tracks. MotorStorm's blend of multi-vehicle mayhem, played out across sprawling open-air courses, criss-crossed by dozens of different routes all with their own surface dynamics, is a beast of a different stripe. That's a lot of dynamic variables to juggle on diminished processing power. Something had to give.
It takes balls to abandon shiny high poly-count visuals in this shamelessly surface-led generation, and Bigbig deserves a pat on the back for not short-changing fans for the sake of an easy sell. The pay-off is a game absolutely stuffed with content, unmistakably MotorStorm in every aspect, albeit understandably compromised by its new home.
One hundred events await you in the Festival career mode, drawn from twelve courses set in the Alaskan wasteland. It's a curiously anonymous selection though, no doubt impacted by the limited graphical assets available. Only Log Jam's slushy lumber yard and Vertigo's self-explanatory, high-altitude daredevilry make much of an impression to begin with. Other tracks do start to reveal their unique charms after repeated play - witness Snowgod Canyon's leap through a demonic scrap metal maw - but too many of the others never shake off the patchwork feeling that you're seeing a lot of interchangeable banked turns, sludgy valleys and winding tunnels.
Eight vehicle classes are available to battle it out with, each offering three models, with snow ploughs and snowmobiles replacing racing trucks and mudpluggers for a more appropriately frosty line-up. All have a distinctive feel, even if the nuances that were possible on the PS3 don't materialise here. The smaller, more agile vehicles perform best on the PSP's stubby stick, while the lumbering Big Rigs are held back by the hand-to-eye disconnect between their mass and momentum and the tiny amount of travel available on the controller. It can feel like you're pushing a concrete slab down a mountain and trying to guide it with a toothpick. Rally cars, meanwhile, have the opposite problem – their natural tendency to oversteer makes subtle course adjustments elusive at first.
These initial grumbles are easily overcome however, and the game compensates - even overcompensates - with some forgiving AI opponents. The series has never been known for its intelligent racers, preferring the buzz of the herd to keep you on your toes, but while they'll take the appropriate path for their vehicle type, they rarely follow the best racing line around these routes. It's far too easy to slip past them on the numerous wide corners and, apart from the occasional tussle on the starting grid, they'll blithely let you past rather than move aggressively to block you. Sometimes it feels like the physics has rolled a dice against you – a criticism that lingered over the first two games – and so you're usually at more risk from the environment than the other racers.