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ModNation Racers Beta Preview

While it's not being touted as such, many who are interested in ModNation Racers are calling it ‘Mario Kart mixed with LittleBigPlanet' - and there is some truth in that. But how well does ModNation combine these two huge titles, and is there reason to be excited?

 Modnation

As the BETA begins, you'll start in what is called the ModSpot. This is basically the central hub for the game, from where you can access all the other content the game provides. Similar to the hub of LittleBigPlanet, however this brings together a number of other players from around the world. You can interact with them how you please, searching their profiles for statistics or created content, chatting in the group chat in the left of the screen or simply ramming your kart into theirs. You're also likely to take part in an unspecified game of King of the Hill as people try to fling their kart atop the central pedestal and knock those that are already there. It's a fun way to while away the time as you wait for a friend to turn up online.

ModNation Racers

From the ModSpot there are a number of options; racing, creating or viewing that week's top content. Two pedestals show the top three created Mods (the cute little characters that you control and design) or karts of that week, as voted for by the players. There are screens to tell you who is currently joining you at the ModSpot, as well as events that are beginning (and are joinable). It's a streamlined way of providing everything the game has to offer in one single location - though you do often have to follow extra loading screens before arriving at your desired place.

ModNation Racers

Create, then, is probably the game's biggest selling point - allowing players to design not only the character they control, but the karts they drive and the tracks they race. Combined with the cute, yet unique, art style of the game - this is likely to be one of the places you spend much of your time with ModNation. While the BETA tools were limited, the promise of detail available in stickers, outfits and additional items makes crafting a very unique-to-the-individual character or kart. Of course, there is a randomise button for those who don't wish to create their own, as well as a selection of pre-created choices from creators, United Front Games. The BETA showed upwards of 300 eyes being available to the player in the full game, and while some of the other parts and pieces didn't seem to have quite so much choice we'd like to believe it is purely the fact that it is a BETA that limits how much there will be to use.

Creating a track is where we spent most of our time with ModNation, recalling the days of Mario Kart classics and replicating them as well as we could. You begin by selecting a landscape setting, currently only ‘Alpine' was available - though options seemed to suggest jungle and desert will also be available. There were only four options available on show, so whether or not there will be more we cannot speculate.

ModNation Racers

Track designing is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You start by ‘driving' the track out. Using accelerate, you push the machine forward to lay track, raising it and lowering it or adding turns as you see fit. You can reverse to delete a mistake or hold triangle to auto-complete. Literally in a matter of minutes you could have your very own karting course and, once complete, you're given the option to ‘auto populate' - meaning the game will add decoration in for you - for those not willing to waste time on petty things like that.

If, however, you do want to customise your track, then you'll find an endless supply of items to use. You use a circular brush to paint the landscape, from raising mountains and lowering the ground to form rivers or add in trees and buildings. The options here were, of course, limited - but to see what was capable just from the relatively small toolbox shows just how in-depth this process could be. You could add a spread of trees anywhere on the track, for instance, or individual trees alongside (or even on) the track. Then there are power-ups and boosters to be added and the full game shows promise of even fancier objects and machines available. In truth, anything you have seen in past karting games has made its way here for you to use.

ModNation Racers

Once you've crafted your Mod, kart and track you can upload them to the online community, where people can download and use or play with your items. It's very LittleBigPlanet in its presentation, with ‘Yay' or ‘Nay' allowing people to vote how good your item is. You can easily search for items, or filter through just your friends, to find any track, kart or Mod you like. And already the level of detail and effort put in to many of these are outstanding.

The racing then, which may seem like a side-note but is of course the main point of the game, should hope to live up to all the fun of creating. And it does. The BETA came with four United Front tracks, which were quite obviously a whole other level in terms of quality. It is important to note, that the tracks designed by these guys were developed using the very same tools available to the player - so a similar level of quality is a possibility.

ModNation Racers

Racing itself will come naturally to any self-respecting Mario Kart champ. To truly succeed in a race you'll need to utilise the drift function. Just like Mario Kart, you hop then turn to activate a handbrake turn, altering your direction as you do. However, there's no stick-waggling here to earn yourself a mini-boost, as was the case with Mario Kart. Instead, as you drift you add to your boost collection. As soon as you collect any amount of this you can activate a boost to zip past rivals, draining your total. This is also used to activate a temporary shield - useful for shaking of those nasty rockets. It's a unique idea to karting, which so often directly copy the Mario Kart original feature.

ModNation Racers

The weapons of the game are all new too, there's no green-shell/red-shell wannabe here - though naturally the rockets can be compared. It'll take a while and a little practice before you're certain of what each weapon does, but you'll soon know what to use when. An interesting feature to this is the different stages the weapons can come in. Collect a weapon and hold onto it, since picking up more power-ups adds to that weapon's abilities. There are three levels for each weapon; a single rocket can become a barrage of explosives that can quickly turn the tides of the race. A turbo is upgraded to last longer then, on its third upgrade, create a portal in front of you which zips you ahead of the pack (this is interesting since any racers behind you can also follow in the portals slipstream to benefit from turbo too). It's an enjoyable idea that gives you a wait-and-see option, rather than unloading the weapon as soon as you collect it.

ModNation Racers

It could probably be said that the more powerful weapons are a little too powerful, hindering and distracting a player a little too much - but since a shield is readily available to those with enough boost stored, the argument can be that they should've been better prepared. The races themselves are highly enjoyable affairs, whether in private matches with friends on in a larger group against unknowns. The tracks are well designed to allow a satisfying mixture of racing and manic combat, and enjoyable to pull out all the stops right at the last moment to finish in first.

All in all, ModNation Racers is as much Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet as it needs to be. With its unique additions it is clear United Front Games have come up with their own take on the once-classic karting genre and with an interesting and enjoyable art style, shipload of customisable options, simple-to-use track design and an easy to access online community , it's hard not to expect great things from this game. There are complaints, such as not being able to join a larger ranked game (the one everyone joins) with a friend - and a few issues to be ironed out - but by the end of the year it'll be interesting to see just how important ModNation Racers will be in the gaming scene.

Rasher | 6th February, 2010
Betty_Swallocks's picture
You don't say what platforms it will be available on. I hope it comes to PC. That could be a lot of fun at the lan.
TimmyShire's picture
PS3 exclusive I'm afraid, though they recently announced it'll be heading towards PSP too.

It would be a lot of fun for group play indeed!

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