[ModNation Week] Circuit City

We close out our ModNation Racers binge by delving into the most important aspects of all: how well does Race, Create, Share come together, and above all else, is it actually fun?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 14, 2010
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11 pages. Over 7000 words. 33,500+ characters. More than 100 paragraphs and upwards of 500 lines of text. I've talked about ModNation Racers so much there's almost nothing left to say. Each of the three main components of the game have been splayed out like so much kart racing porn, with nearly every single menu item and gameplay element tackled. At this point, I probably should just point to those reviews and call it a day.

Except, there's still one big question that we never try to tackle until we've digest the final product, and indeed we have: is the game fun? In a word, yes. In two words, hell yes. In a few more, it's no less than a revolutionary combination of pitch-perfect controls laid over a set of risk vs. reward mechanics and enhanced with the single most robust creation tools you'll ever see in a racer. There is no getting around it; ModNation Racers is a fantastic product. And yes, it's one with a rather glaring flaw that must be tackled first before any praise can be heaped upon the rest of the package: the load times are terrible.

I do understand the why of it all; there's an awful lot of... stuff being culled before every race. All your various bits and pieces that you've slapped onto your kart, and the bits and pieces of all those racers your scooting alongside, not to mention the ModSpot where you end up between modes and where you'll meet other gamers online, and of course there's all the creations tools. The problem, though, is even with a mandatory install, the game simply has to draw all that data from somewhere, and we're talking frequent trips to the data store to do so -- in the process the game grinds to a halt for upwards of 45 seconds every time you want to jump into a race or whip up a new track, mod or kart.

It's that former part, the racing, that's the biggest problem. Since you're obviously going to want to plow through the surprisingly lengthy (and challenging) Career Mode to unlock some basic and even more advanced pieces with which to build your custom bits and pieces (not to mention see the tale of Tag and friends as they go through various twists on and off the track), you're looking at the very least a good 28 loading screens, and since you'll likely bail out of a few of them or come back to collect the bonus tokens or additional challenges, it's not unfair or even exaggerating to say that you're going to be staring at a slowly rotating icon for a half hour before your career is over, probably longer. Add in all the trips to the Creation Station and any online races and it's a serious problem.

Not one so egregious that it completely undoes all the good that United Front Games has built, mind you, but it's a sort of slow, sapping down side to a game that's otherwise a breezy, charming take on a genre that has long since stagnated after it was the licensed and mascot-driven game du jour for countless developers a few years back. In many regards, this was the realm only of Nintendo's absolutely unstoppable Mario Kart series, but that too has stayed fairly safe over the years, with only the mixed reaction to Double Dash causing a bump in what is otherwise a consistently huge selling series.

I want to get this out of the way now, though, so you can all race to the comments section so we'll all burn in the fires of your scathing arguments: ModNation Racers is the best kart racing game consoles have ever seen. It's better than Mario Kart (any of 'em), it's better than my previous favorite, Crash Team Racing and if another developer ever dares try to make a game without even a tenth of MNR's depth and strategy, it'll be pointless almost from the get-go.

Much of the appeal comes down to the balancing act that has been employed. I'm not talking about weapons -- though the fact that the game refuses to default to cheap and obvious rubber-banding or leader-targeting power-ups to add competition is a huge deal to me -- but rather the constant tug-of-war between possibilities.
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