Not every review of a Vita game can be game gold, unfortunately, and this is one such example. ModNation Racers: Road Trip is in fact a fun game, but there are some potentially game-killing pitfalls.
Be aware that this review will be ripe with comparisons to the gem that is WipEout 2048, also for the Vita, but that’s what happens when you release two racing games as launch titles for a brand new system, Sony. Sure, they’re two completely different games, but my goodness, ModNation Racers is just Driving Miss Daisy compared to 2048. Simply put, it’s too slow. There’s no cool factor. Road Trip might attract your casual gamer girlfriend, but it’s just not what that Vita was made for. It’s not an incredible, seamless, beautiful experience. It’s good. But it’s just not quite good enough.
Road Trip has going for it the same thing the PlayStation 3 version did: the concept. It’s got the same cuteness from the console version.. okay, let’s cut the crap. Road Trip is pretty much the original PlayStation 3 version of ModNation Racers. And that’s not a bad thing by any stretch. I mean, sure there were things I disliked about that game, too, but it had tons going for it. Just the sheer volume of things to collect and build with in this game will give LittleBigPlanet a run for its money. Well, not really, but considering this is just one genre of a game compared to LittleBigPlanet 2’s build anything you want philosophy, it’s pretty damn close.
The fact that you can download all the tracks you can for the PlayStation 3 version of the game is also incredibly cool. It means you can make tracks on the PS3 and share with Vita users, or vice versa: make them on the go and share them with PS3 users to enjoy, too. This kind of interconnectivity is something that Nintendo seemed to strive for with its GameCube – Game Boy Advance functionality but never got quite right. Sony, however, certainly has got this feature pegged down. This is the way to do it, folks.
The audio in Road Trip is as expected: awesome. Yes, that is one thing the Vita has yet to let me down on, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. It’s clear that developers are becoming much more aware of how important great sound effects are in games, and Road Trip is no exception.
Unfortunately, it’s going to take you a heck of a long time to experience all this. You guessed it – the load times are back. And then you pass the menu screen and you have to load things up again. It just doesn’t make sense based on how much is going on (or isn’t, for that matter), that it takes longer to render and buffer a game that isn’t nearly as graphically or phonically intensive as WipEout 2048. Between virtually every menu and anything you want to do in the game lies some form of loading. I might have been able to forgive the developers for working with a new system and getting these kinks out, but I can’t for two reasons. First, this game is a first-party title, which means the developers have likely had access to the hardware for more than enough time to make things work, and second, this is a re-release of a console title in new packaging. If it needed another six months to perfect, it should have taken another six months. That way, it wouldn’t be competing with WipEout 2048, either.
It actually seems like more than just the load times are holding the game back. The game seems to suffer from slowdowns and framerate collapses at pretty crucial points. Building tracks by drawing on the touchscreen is an incredibly intuitive concept – phenomenal, even – but it falls flat when you have to draw painfully slowly to make it work. It’s very clunky and requires a fair bit of patience. And it’s heartbreaking, because the concept of drawing your own track really is absolutely incredible, but when the developers are given so much power in the Vita hardware and they don’t use it, I’m not sure whose fault it is that the game isn’t stellar in every aspect.
Another phenomenal concept is using the rear touchscreen in conjunction with the front touchscreen to push and pull, in a way. When you’re generating and editing terrain, “pushing” the front touchscreen will cause the land to become concave, and water will appear if you go deep enough. But with the rear touchscreen, you’ll be “pulling” up the land and can create small hills, peaks, or mountain ranges. Again, the concept is beautiful, and it works for the most part, but it’s just too slow.
Given all that I’ve said, there is actually a lot to love in ModNation Racers: Road Trip. There is a ton of user generated content for this game, and it’s only become more and more perfected over the past few years. It’s fun and has some cute, albeit forgettable, characters, and more than a few interesting power-ups and defensive weapons to help you win the race.
My verdict on the ideas that the developers have put in Road Trip are an eleven out of ten. Without a doubt, these concepts are killer. But without the execution, it’s a tough call for me. I can’t give the game too much credit since, simply put, they didn’t pull it off. But by the same token, there is so much content out there and a better-than-most racing experience here that I can’t complain about load times forever. Play the demo on the PlayStation Store before you buy it and let your own brain decide. In this case, that’s really the only way to tell if ModNation Racers: Road Trip is for you.