When I first got my PS3 I had an ageing rear projection television which just didn’t do the console or its games justice. Having said that, I was still blown away by the opening scenes in the original MotorStorm. They were better than anything I’d ever seen in console gaming.

Many months later, and dozens of other great looking games under my belt I upgraded to a nice new LCD screen. Upon its arrival home, and once everything was plugged in, the very first thing I put on was MotorStorm – it looked incredible.

So it was with much excitement that I slid Evolution Studios’ sequel MotorStorm: Pacific Rift into the slot and waited for the opening credits. Wow. Just…Wow.

I remember at that very moment, my son saying “Hey they’ve used actual video footage for this”, as the aerial camera panned around the island setting. But no, this was pure CGI and perhaps the finest I have seen on any platform (I can almost hear the PC-loving Editor snickering as I write this). If anything it made me realise just how far we have come in such a short time. I remember dropping bold statements like “OMG that’s photorealistic!” back in the PSX days.

Pacific Rift’s in-game visuals themselves, as is always the case, don’t quite live up to the intro, but they are on a par with the original MotorStorm. In fact the whole game feels very familiar, which is by no means a bad thing.
Instead of the previous desert setting, Pacific Rift, as the title would suggest is based on an island and a racing festival that shows off more tracks, more vehicles and more game modes than the original. The courses are divided into four distinct themes: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. This overcomes the problem MotorStorm had with lack of variety in its tracks. The elemental themes to these tracks give them a very different feel to one another. Evolution Studios have done a great job of providing variety but the quality in some, in particular the Fire tracks leaves a bit to be desired.

Progression in Pacific Rift is via the ticket system once again, which means by achieving certain points in races you will unlock further tracks and events. If you attain specific achievements during a race though, such as not wiping out or beating a certain time, bonus events are unlocked. This gives the game longevity and provides a reason to pick it up at a later date.

One thing I like about MotorStorm is how you know that if you don’t nail certain corners, jumps or segments of track, then you’re simply not going to win. It reminds me of the original Need For Speed and listening for that tell-tale squeal of the tyres which told you that you’d lost traction on the corner and your opponent would soon be passing. It’s the same feeling in Pacific Rift. So many times I would restart a race due to taking a bad racing line as no amount of good driving was going to win the race. The driving model is unforgiving and the different vehicles, ranging from trail-bikes to big rigs carry genuine weight and react very differently in the varying conditions.

Just like the original, each track has a number of routes that can be taken, including hidden ones. The secret with driving the different vehicles is to pick the appropriate route to suit. Monster Trucks and Big Rigs plough through mud and water with ease, while the ATVs and buggies can take the high-road and traverse narrower pathways. Everybody will have their favourite, mine are the ATVs and Mudpluggers, but the full range isn’t available on every track which forces you to diversify a little.

While the single player Festival Mode will take a fair while to wade through, there are a number of excellent modes to try if you’re in need of a diversion. Firstly is Time Attack, which has downloadable ghosts, online leaderboards and even developer times to beat. Also, and with only a little degradation in visuals, there is a single-system multiplayer for up to four racers. This works brilliantly considering the scale of the environments.

The original MotorStorm’s online multiplayer was panned by many reviewers for being a last minute addition to the game. Personally, apart from a bit of lag, I didn’t mind it. But Evolution have made a polished job of the online racing in Pacific Rift. There are ranked and unranked races depending on your level of competitiveness and the human vs human racing will extend the life of the game well beyond the single player campaign.

While MotorStorm ranks as the best exclusive PS3 racing franchise (granted, there’s not a great deal of competition in the “exclusive” PS3 racing genre), it’s by no means perfect. Pacific Rift does suffer from some dodgy textures and varying frame-rates. The speed of the game would suggest an arcade racer, especially with the boost usage, but the driving models of the vehicles lean it towards a more serious kind of racer. Sometimes the two clash and can cause frustration when your vehicle doesn’t respond as quickly as the track requires it to.

The soundtrack is also similar to the original and the grinding rock riffs compliment the racing action nicely.

Ultimately, before shelling out for MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, I would recommend renting both it and Disney’s Pure to see which one clicks with you the most. Or better still, download the demo of each. Pacific Rift is more of the same that we originally saw in MotorStorm but bigger, better and with a more solid online experience. Even with some jitters here and there, it’s still one of the better looking PS3 games to date.