MotorStorm! It's the bad boy of off-road racing games, and now with monster trucks! And a creative director called Paul Hollywood! Who slags off competitors during David Reeves's PlayStation Day speech! "This is not Redneck Racing, Baja or rally," he told the audience, which sounds like fighting talk to us, and we should know - we start fights all the time. "It wasn't putting them down," Hollywood tells Eurogamer afterwards, as we shove people off a cliff Coyote Revenge-style to get in front of him. "We exist in a genre all of our own... I have a lot of time for those other racing games - obviously I've played them and I've learned from them - but I just want to say we like to think of ourselves as unique."
So how about that monster truck? It's "an aggressive vehicle", says Hollywood, "which can totally obliterate some of the other vehicle classes" - everything except the Big Rigs. We get to try the truck out on a racetrack called Beachcomber, and it's speedy off the grid, even with MotorStorm's traditional eight-second delay before you can use its boost mechanic, and bike and buggy riders give it a wide berth as it launches through the start/finish gate down towards the beach. The problem is in turning. Even with relatively firm ground under-wheel, the monster truck skids towards cliff-sides and wooded areas, and is prone to toppling over when provoked by rocks. Like the other MotorStorm classes, then, it takes a bit of effort to master.
Evolution hasn't forgotten about the others, either, and each has been updated in a few ways. There are new attack manouevres, allowing you to shove people out of the way when they're alongside you, Road Rash-style, and those on bikes and ATVs will be able to move around a little in the saddle, ducking under branches and vines, or even under vehicles flying in their direction, while a bunny-hop move allows bikers to jump over debris, avoiding previously unavoidable spills.
Pacific Rift's location, The Island, is meant to be more oppressive than Monument Valley. "Monument Valley was a fantastic backdrop for the first game, but it was very passive," says Hollywood. "Now you've got vegetation, water, lava, high-altitude tracks, there's so much more in there." Making a meal out of vegetation isn't the tastiest idea ever, but in addition to knots of trees there'll be bushes, shrubs, vines and long grass presenting a tangible threat to smaller racers. Trucks and rigs will shrug it aside to some extent, but unless they follow one of the larger vehicles closely, the nimbler racers will have to take a detour or put their fragile frames at greater risk.
With a limited range of tracks to use at launch, MotorStorm 1 was reliant upon the diversity of its vehicle classes to sustain its single-player Festival mode, sometimes using bikes only, or mudpluggers only, or a mixture of two or three classes, and eventually opting for the full field. With Pacific Rift's 16 tracks, there should be healthy expansion there. "We have a totally unique unlock structure in MotorStorm Pacific Rift," Hollywood adds, "which is based around the Festival experience, so you go into the different zones and you'll be doing races and unlocking different vehicle classes, characters - we've got some really special characters in there - and game modes, liveries for your vehicles."
One big addition in terms of modes is split-screen. We were able to play a game with a two-way vertical split and surprisingly high levels of detail. "Our main concern is the frame-rate, so it's the same and you still get that same tactile experience racing in multiplayer or in single-player," Hollywood says when we ask what's been sacrificed to get it working. "We will turn a few things off, but it will have no effect on the actual emotive sort of experience you'll get from playing." But isn't split-screen a bit 1998? "If you've got two people in the room, why not play together?" says Hollywood. "Yeah it's great competing against brutal AI, but there's nothing better than competing against a brutal mate." The end result will support four people, too.
As good as the core racing was - learning when to boost and when to let it cool off - the key to getting value out of the original MotorStorm tracks was making sure you could race them in various ways, and Evolution's keen to achieve that again with each of the new game's 16. This is quickly evident in basic ways - having jumped into the sunset off an improvised airstrip next to a rusty old aircraft hangar, Beachcomber gets to business with a hairy passage along a scalloped shoreline past piles of rocks and threatening palms, but a vehicle with more grip to make the turn can go inland instead, shortcutting. Except, those taking the longer route can also benefit from the cooling effect water has on their boost - with the meter, which will cause you to explode if you hang on too long, going icy blue as you pass through shallows.
Elsewhere during a split-screen battle, we get to jump epically onto a mile-long mountain-top ridge sweeping to the right and sloping towards an abyss - recalling Coyote Revenge's visual highlight, and then slapping it around with a few million more visible polygons - with split paths high and low as racers of every type steer to the left to try and avoid sliding away. Multiple routes continue to crisscross, as a jump takes elevated racers over the heads of those grinding through the ditches below, but Hollywood prefers to let all this speak for itself and focus on the new layers of variation, like unpredictable events. "For instance," he says, "today we're showing a track called Beachcomber, and on the beach there's an unexploded sea-mine, and as you drive past it we occasionally fire a vehicle into the sea-mine, which then detonates, and if you're too close to it you get taken out by the shockwave." The destructible tower from the CG trailer can be knocked over, too, disrupting racers.
All this may come at a cost, however, with the 20-vehicle figure quoted in the PlayStation Day presentation more of an estimate than a guarantee. "If we can get 20 vehicles on the tracks, we'll get 20 vehicles on the tracks," says Hollywood. "But we're doing that much physics, we're doing that much rendering, and the tracks are so detailed and alive that the number of vehicles isn't really that important." He's also promising "ultra-aggressive AI", albeit with a sensible learning curve.
Speaking of performance, back in the days before the PS3 launch MotorStorm was one of the games attacked for the disparity between early demo footage and CG video shown at E3, but Evolution feels it overcame that stigma, and technically MotorStorm Pacific Rift is considered a big advance, managing things like mud-slicks and foliage with more density and authenticity. Certain things, like the way water interacts with vehicles (or, at this point, doesn't), are unfinished, but Hollywood is careful to address this, promising water with "forces, flows and buoyancy". And while the PlayStation Day monster truck level struggles to keep up with itself, tumbling into single-digit frame-rates, the final game will also run at 30 frames-per-second in 720p when it comes out, Hollywood assures us.
When it does come out, we also wonder if it will get the same amount of aftermarket support. After all, as Hollywood happily admits, MotorStorm's abundant downloadable content was "finishing the game off". Sadly he's less happy to talk specifics for Pacific Rift, but "extra game modes" are mentioned. What about licensed vehicles, because MotorStorm had some interesting 'tributes'? "There's a worth to having maybe licensed vehicles," he says. "I'm not saying we'll be doing that, but if you want to buy a vehicle that you recognise...that may be something that we investigate in the future." Either way, "the downloadable stuff for MotorStorm Pacific Rift will hopefully hit the nail on the head for what people want."
With 16 tracks in the box and all the modes and extras from MotorStorm 1, plus new bits, though, DLC will be less of an imperative than it was in the months following the Japanese MotorStorm launch and preceding the European one. Instead we'll get to sample a whole game at once, and on the evidence of the PlayStation Day build, it will be one that pays assiduous attention to fan feedback. Look out for more on Pacific Rift in the months leading up to its autumn launch.
MotorStorm Pacific Rift is due out in the autumn on PS3.