Little Big Planet meets Mario Kart. A simple and popular way of describing ModNation Racers. A kart game that provides you with a number of vehicles, courses and drivers, but where you and millions of other players are expected to turn this into the most content packed kart game ever by sharing your creations online. And the tools we are given to create, are simple and intuitive enough so that anyone can succeed in creating great content.
It took me about five minutes to create a cool course with pyramids in the background and tons of great little details on my first try. And I'm usually not very good at this kind of thing. But in ModNation Racers I simply drive around an empty map to place the road, adjust from where the sun is shining to placing short cuts and bonus items along the track. When you feel happy with what you have created you can simply try it out for yourself with a simple press of a button. Another press of a button and you can go back into the tool and adjust anything that needs changing.
If I don't want to place every single thing manually, there is an automated tool, that does all of that for me, and does it well. Karts and drivers can also be customised endlessly and I managed to build a gleaming muscle car with a million dollar grin in the shape of a grille. You can construct almost anything you want, but I'm a bit disappointed that the drivers have almost no unique skills. There are more options to customise the performance of your car, but its still limited to a number of corner stones and you cannot adjust anything but the acceleration and handling. The customisation is largely focused on the exterior rather than performance.
I've already admitted that I'm not the most creative designer, so for me it's more fun to see what others have created. This part of ModNation Racers really impressed me, and the online functionally is very good, it is easy to share, rate the creations of others, and download more tracks than you can ever have time to race.
But racing is the true Achilles' heel, as it appears that United Front Games have spent most of their time designing tools for player created content, while the actual racing has taken a back seat. After spending 40 hours or so with the precise Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, the controls come across as wobbly and sluggish, while the tempo is significantly lower.
It seems as though United Front Games have wanted to create a new Mario Kart Wii, rather than taking a peak at what Sega did, but they forgot about the importance of the controls. The tracks are way to wide and easy to navigate so that any one can breeze through them, and the bonus items are just painful. United Front Games deserve some credit for taking their own path with the bonus items, but these are even less balanced than in Mario Kart Wii.
The basic principle is that you can carry one item at a time, but this item can be charged three different levels if you pick them up without using them. This results in devastating attacks that messes up the balance completely. You are meant to be able to block this by sacrificing the boost you get for drifting, but this is just in theory as it is way too messy and hard for it to be a viable option. And another problem is that the attacks are so constant that you can never really ease into a rhythm and get the upper hand on your opponents.
This leads to the luck factor having way too much impact in the outcome of races in ModNation Racers. I cannot count the number of times where I have been in a comfortable lead, just to fall down to last place after a massive bombardment down the final stretch. I know this comes with the territory and even in Mario Kart Wii it is often tactically sound not to lead a race, but this is much worse.
Apart from this ModNation Racers uses adheres to the rule set of the subgenre established by Nintendo with Super Mario Kart. Up to four players (or 12 online) pick a kart, drive as fast as they can, and you drift through corners to shave of fractions of seconds (and gain boost). But ModNation Racers never feels like the massive hit it could have been. The general sense of sloppiness in the controls, leads to the same friends who find that Mario Party is just like rolling a dice, objects to spending any significant amount of time on ModNation Racers.
There is nothing to complain about from a graphical standpoint. ModNation Racers is a real looker with rock solid framerate and a great sense of humour. I find myself laughing at the commercial for a new set of wheels from "Conservative Motors" than puts "the ordinary in extraordinary". The loading times are excessive, and the idea of a hub world is good in theory, but I prefer a simple menu system.
But kart games never grow dull and against human opponents it always leads to races with a lot of prestige involved. But in the end it is the tremendous amount of content and the awesome online support that saves ModNation Racers from being mediocre and it will certainly be played on my Playstation 3 long after I have reviewed it.