ModNation Racers

[ModNation Week] Burned Out

ModNation Racers is a fantastic game... on the PS3. On the PSP, Sony's San Diego Studio simply can't capture the magic of the game's bigger brother, and though it hits all the important bullet points, that's simply not enough.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 14, 2010
You'll noticed we've covered the ever-lovin' hell out of ModNation Racers for the PS3 yet haven't really given the PSP version the same attention. There's a very good reason for that: the game simply isn't anywhere near as good. It almost feels like Sony knew they needed a big PSP release since things were a little bare on the kid-friendly side of things and just barreled through a port making sure to tick off all the big points in the game.


Yep, there's the full Career Mode from the PS3 version of the game, with tracks that are mostly similar, the storyline's there (with cutscenes) and of course all the creation elements are there, pared down here and there but remarkably complete in terms of the depth of customization and options available for those that choose to create on the go. There's online play, there's a basic level of interaction with the other players (though nothing as direct as any form of chatting), some XP to be earned and so on. But the ModSpot's not really here, and the community side of things is noticeably absent.

This is no doubt due to the massive gulf in hardware between a system released in 2004 that was closer to the PS one than the PS2, and a HD-pumping, online-connected beast that's only just now coming into its own to show off just how powerful it really is. I want to be careful to give credit where it's due; SCEA San Diego absolutely makes good on the Race, Create, Share mantra that United Front adopted when building the PS3 version. The game offers a fantastic amount of freedom in its creation tools and at least hits the bullet point of offering lag-free races with more than a half-dozen other racers.

That leads directly into the biggest and most glaring issue with the PSP port of ModNation Racers, though -- and in a somewhat ironic twist it's not that it shares the load time issues of its console cousin. No, the problem is that the game simply doesn't have all the magic of the PS3 version. It's almost as if the whole thing was cloned and put onto the PSP without really losing much in the way of all the important features to make it seem initially like it was the console game shrunk to the small screen, but the soul of the game was lost in the process.

The cutscenes and the humor are still here, and the game doesn't look especially bad in terms of how well it handles taking something that runs at orders of magnitude higher in resolution and detail, but I have a sneaking suspicion as to why everything just feels... off: the framerate sucks, and the controls simply aren't as solid as they are on the PS3. On top of that, there were some slightly perplexing changes made, like power-up levels being randomly chosen when you pick one up from a weapon pod rather than upgrading with each pod grabbed.

That's all rather inconsequential, though, compared to the fact that the game was just too technically ambitious for the PSP, and when coupled with completely different physics, power-slides that feel far too rigid to afford any of the strategy and experimentation of the PS3 version, everything feels lifeless and at times gets absolutely frustrating.

The physics are a big deal, as there's no weight to anything, and the drift dynamics suffer too as a result. However, nothing makes the controls feel more disconnected than the game's framerate, which struggles to even hit 30 most of the time and ends up feeling rather laggy and disconnected as a result. The game looks solid enough, but a port of a PS3 game is simply not a good idea for the current PSP, and beyond any straight-up comparisons, the heart of the game simply isn't here.

That's the most offending part of things. I've little doubt there was a lot of hard work put into things, and initially I'll admit to being blown away with the level of completeness to all those important bullet points. The creation is here, and it is sharable, but the thing that it's all based around, the racing, simply isn't any fun for any length of time, to say nothing of all the work that went into the risk vs. reward mechanics of the PSP version's older brother.

I hate to say it, but even if you don’t own a PS3 yet, this isn't the version of the game you should be playing. This isn't a slightly pared down experience that pales next to the HD cousin, it's a weirdly misfired attempt to bottle all the key points without remembering to preserve the soul or the complexity of what you'd get on the PlayStation 3. It's a solid effort, but it's missing the most important aspect of all: the fun factor.
The Verdict
6.5

I wanted to like ModNation Racers, but it's simply missing... something. Yes, the controls hurt things, but I can't escape the feeling that the PSP port simply doesn't have the soul of its PS3 counterpart.

7.0Graphics:

The PSP has been shown to be capable of absolutely stunning graphics... when those games are made specifically with the PSP in mind. A PS2 port is a bad idea and a PS3 port is an even worse one.

8.0Sound:

All the sound effects are here, as is the voice work and music, and they sound quite good, but without the freedom to mix in your own music, you're left to the few tracks the game has, and those can start to grate after a few hours.

5.0Control:

Easily the weakest link in the whole formula. Even excusing the fact that the game feels oddly hollow, the the drifting feels painfully rigid and there's no sense of weight.

6.5Gameplay:

If the sharing is there (in very basic form), the creation is absolutely present (arguably the most well-preserved part of the game) but the key element, racing, falters, we're left with only 2/3 of a game without its motor.