Kart racing games often get thought of as offshoot projects from successful franchises with popular characters. Even the venerable Mario Kart owes a great deal of its success, or at least its acceptance, to a roster of drivers that includes its namesake, Luigi, Bowser, Yoshi, et al.
ModNation Racers (PS3) doesn't enjoy the luxury of such starpower and built-in fans to draw people in. But it does have its stars, an endless number of them, created by everyone who plays the game and that's only the tip of the customization in the game. Developer United Front Games hopes that turning people loose with the ability to make their own content for pretty much every aspect of the game will make this such an expansive karting experience that it stands on its own.
Giving players the ability to make their own content is one thing; making it fun--and most importantly not frustrating--is another. The two-tier approach they've come up with offers a good response to that. It presented plenty of options when I wanted them and a simpler set that allowed me to quickly bang out parts when I didn't. Diving into the character creator I put a lot of attention into getting my racer's expression just so but then was able to whip through the rest. The result gave me a personalized character I felt pretty good about that took less than thirty minutes.
Track creation poses a little more daunting challenge. ModNation Racers takes it in stride by similarly scaling up to offer both more assists and more precision tools. The process breaks down into three parts (that can be tackled in any order or all at the same time): sculpting the terrain, laying the pavement, and adding in all the details around the track. While some will surely get caught up in replicating real world geography I blasted through raising some hills and hollowing out a lake.
The flexibility in the system really came through when I went to make the track. With a truck to drive around that paves as you go it couldn't be easier. Figure eights, switchbacks, and corkscrews--whatever- all I had to do was steer where I wanted the road to go. The editor also continuously updates the line it would take to complete the track. Once it looked close to what I wanted I just pressed a button and it closed the loop.
A little trick called auto populate then filled out my new track with everything from power ups to foliage. It randomly picks a few elements to get started and then pulls in like items to create theme areas around the track. In about 45 minutes I had a winding race track in the mountains with a covered bridge s-turn that hung out over the switchback that plunged into a tunnel below with a shortcut option that detoured to a jump that shot all the way across the map over both the tunnel and the bridge.
All the creation tools in the world won't matter much if the actual racing isn't good. From the five tracks I got to race ModNation Racers looks in good shape on that front. Even as kart racers go the races were frantic and my position was never certain until I crossed the finish line. The weapons alone played a big part in that. They have three stages that can be filled from pick-ups. At full strength they unleash mayhem, like a worm hole that took me to the front of the pack when I drove through.
United Front Games made it clear to me that they take this karting thing seriously. With the public beta right around the corner you can get a chance to see for yourself shortly.