Needs Moar Tom Green
In this sense, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is one of the easiest reviews I've ever written. It offers a staggering amount of content and the feature set it brings to the table provides you with a near limitless supply of karts, tracks and avatars to play with. Unfortunately, none of that matters because the actual racing gameplay at the heart of the title is about as poorly executed and lazily produced as any racing game I can recall. Sure, it sports an unbelievable box of tools with which you can create and share content but in the end, that basically equates to winning a lifetime supply of curdled milk.
As a single player racing experience, ModNation Racers has the features and content it needs. You get a lengthy tour of championship series to battle through and a wide variety of tracks to learn the ins and outs of. If you'd prefer, you also have single race and ad-hoc multiplayer options as well. However, the game quickly begins to fall apart as soon as you jump into a race. After sitting through an unforgivably long pre-race load screen, you're unceremoniously dropped into a visual hell of shoddy textures and bland environments. As the camera pans around the field of racers, capturing them in all their grainy, jagged edged glory, one might assume that such graphical concessions were made to allow for a smoother racing experience. This assumption is promptly shattered the moment the race lurches into motion, struggling to reach 30 frames per second, let alone sustain it.
If the racing mechanics themselves were excellent – and they aren't - this would spell doom, since playing a racing game with a terrible framerate is about as enjoyable as playing basketball with both arms tied behind your back. Even in an alternate dimension where such visuals were even remotely acceptable, the gameplay would still fail to entertain. ModNation Racers does absolutely nothing that hasn't been done a hundred times over by other kart-a-likes, and what's more, it doesn't do any of it particularly well. Steering comes off numb and lifeless, and the game would feel slow at twice the speed. The fully powered up weapon attacks are screen filling monstrosities that require you to burn precious turbo juice to avoid getting taken out. Even the level 1 variants are sufficiently obnoxious to knock your kart out of commission for what feels like an eternity compared to comparable scenarios in other racers. All in all, the game fails to distinguish itself in any positive way on the track.
Which by the way, I find truly unfortunate because Modnation Racers exhibits quite a bit off the track that gives it an identity of its own. Just like its bigger, better console cousin, it offers a generous helping of customization options, including the ability to build characters, karts and even entire tracks from the ground up. The interface is ripped straight from the home version and retains most of the same functionality. I say “most” because some of it has been moved from conventional controls to touch controls, and with mixed results. The Vita's touch screen generally impresses in other settings, but just like navigating the racetrack, navigating the various creation menus is often a sluggish affair. Despite this fact, there's a little fun to be had in creating, sharing, and obtaining content from others. But it just isn't enough. The point of creating new tracks is to race on them, and the racing is too dreadful to be enjoyed regardless of how good of a track you cook up to do it on.
The final nail in the coffin is the complete lack of online multiplayer, a stunning oversight given that it was virtually the heart and soul of the original game. This extends to the method for sharing your creations as well. Gone is the online hub world of the home version, where you could drive about and interact with whomever you pleased. All online exchanges of your creations is relegated to an admittedly functional, yet remarkably dry set of menus. The only consolation players looking for competition receive is the ability to download other driver's ghosts to race against. Hardly comforting, and yet, hardly surprising either when one considers just how much of a rush job this game must have been.
Consider that as me giving giving SCE San Diego the benefit of the doubt on this one. What with the substantial firepower the Vita brings to bear, and the good source they were drawing from, I can only assume that time constraints are what led to this troubled piece of software. This is the third racing game I've reviewed for the Vita's launch and while Asphalt Injection and Wipeout 2048 certainly aren't perfect by any means, they're both far better choices for scratching your racing itch. It's frustrating to see a game with as much potential as ModNation Racers: Road Trip fall on its face so badly. Had SCE San Diego stabilized the frame rate, spruced up the visuals, and nailed the racing, it could have wound up being an embarrassment of riches instead of just an embarrassment.