ModNation Racers is a kart-racing game developed by United Front Games. Unlike most racers though, not only does it have a large emphasis on racing, it also has a large user-created offering.
The game's story mode focuses on a young racer called Tag who is taken under his grandfather's wing and attempts to win the ModNation Racing Championship. This provides a real chance for the developers to have a pretty entertaining story but it ends up amounting to nothing. The game is full of stereotypical characters (the supportive mother, ex-racer grandfather, foreign rival racer) that I've seen way too many times in stories of this type. Ultimately, the only redeeming factor of the story is the two race commentators that have their own cutscenes before certain racers. The way that they insult and put each other is very entertaining to watch but when some life comic relief is considered to be better than your entire main storyline, you know something isn't right.
The main focus of MNR's gameplay is the racing itself. There isn't anything groundbreaking here that will change the genre but what is here is very solid. Also, the fact that gameplay additions are introduced gradually throughout the campaign means that it is relatively easy to get to grips with the game's mechanics. Unfortunately, a big problem with the racing is the limited number of power-ups there are. They total number of these is four (three weapons and a speed boost) and while they can be upgraded, this amounts to them simply becoming more powerful. Another worrying aspect of the game is the enemy A.I. Although they are pretty easy to handle early on, in later races, they can get extremely bothersome in later races, requiring very precise use of your shield. This spike in difficulty seems to be at odds with the game's target market of young children and I'm sure it will lead to many people giving up on the campaign.
The creation mechanics are pretty easy to use with the randomise function allowing you to quickly create mods and karts. If you want to spend a large amount of time with it though, there is a massive wealth of tools and objects to create your own masterpieces. The creation mechanics themselves are also very accessible and are broken down into steps by the in-game tutorials. The only thing that might give you trouble is the sticker function as it can get pretty complicated with the various layers you need to keep track of.
ModNation Racers graphics are functional but nowhere near as impressive as you'd expect from a PS3 exclusive. The effects and explosions are decent enough and the character and kart models are pretty detailed but the track environments are not held up to the same standard. Not only are they tracks themselves visually repetitive, but alot of the textures and blurred when viewed at a close distance. This might not be that noticeable during most races but if you do crash into a wall and slow down it is painfully obvious.
As for the audio, it doesn't fare so well either. The voice acting (with the exception of the commentators) is very hit and miss. However, the dialogue from your crew chief during races is a nice addition and provides some light humour. The in-game soundtrack is a huge disappointment though. It consist of only a handful of sons and you will probably get so sick of them that you'll end up muting the TV. Their is an option to play music from your HDD but it acts as a necessity rather than as an alternative to the in-game music.
At first glance, MNR's multiplayer is a real treat. All of your skills from the singleplayer translates to the online modes and playing against real people gets rid of the problems with the A.I. Unfortunately, after you play a few races, you realise how limited it is. There are only two modes , action race and pure race, the later of which is not played very often by the community. Given how many possible modes there could have been (arena mode anyone?) this is a huge disappointment. One good point about the races though is that it gives you a chance to see other player's mods and lets you download them in the break between races. Outside the races, you can search for other people's creation manually or take part in hot lap but overall, the online aspect doesn't live up to expectations.
The story mode (if you decide to slug through it all) will probably only last you 7-8 hours. After that, there is some collectibles and side objectives you can go after to unlock more creation parts which should easily double your playtime. As I already touched upon, the multiplayer is decent but it probably won't keep you captivated for more than a week or so. The only people who will invest large amounts of time in this game, are the ones who master the creation mechanics and keep supplying the community with new content.
Overall, ModNation Racers is a solid racing title. It's basic gameplay is impressive but the lack of online modes, limited variation in the gameplay and the difficulty spikes prevent it from becoming a classic: