What could possibly be enjoyable about a racing game which sees you gloriously thrash the field for 97 per cent of a race, only to be ploughed straight into a tyre barrier six agonizing yards from the finishing line? And not even by a malicious human competitor, but through the seemingly entirely random behaviour of a computer-controlled one? Life is spectacularly unfair at times.
Well, if it was just about any other game, the answer would be sweet bugger all. But this isn't just any other game. This is MotorStorm, Sony's hi-def, high-octane posterchild for PS3 gaming, and thankfully it's a game of extremes - the excitement is intense, the frustration at times, is unbearable.
Yet that nervous tension is merely the by-product of a game which will push you right to the edge. Believe us when we say you'll slowly grow to love the rapid onset of pad-smashing fury. You'll take it as a sign of how deeply and completely MotorStorm manages to burrow under your skin.
THE BURNING VAN
You've seen those slightly weird late-night telly shows of 'alternative' festivals set in vast US deserts, right? MotorStorm's premise is a bit like one of those. It's a huge desert racing festival, complete with Glastonbury-style arenas in the distance, multicoloured flags flapping along the sides of canyons and helicopters hovering trackside - presumably to ferry crushed competitors' bodies to hospital. It's made up of a series of events which you need racing passes to enter. By completing a set of races you gain the next pass, and so on. It's simple, there's nothing you've not seen already, yet it suits the stripped back racing on
offer down to a tee.
So you've got dusty, wide open spaces, ramps, even bigger ramps, a demon boost and a field of big rigs, motorbikes, rally cars and buggies. That sounds like a recipe for balls-out joyriding, Burnout-style, but to approach MotorStorm with 'drive like a tit' mode engaged is to miss the point. Sure, the levels of carnage are among the finest and most brilliantly sickening ever seen, but the object is to win races. So while the crunches and explosions look great, you'll want to stay well clear of them or else your hard-fought-for pole position will disappear in a tailspin.
The good news is that although you'll be hurling enough obscenities at the screen to make Gordon Ramsay sound like Terry Wogan, MotorStorm never feels unfair. Had your lead wiped out because you collided with a bloody great boulder? That's not the game's fault - you should have been watching where you were going.
And don't be thinking this is one of those games where you bounce around the back of the field while every other driver is a model of ruthless efficiency, because it's not. It's pleasing - sometimes hilariously so - to see a cluster of four or five close-knit vehicles pile into a wall and explode, or a pair of duelling cars bounce clean off the side of a mountain.
Your rivals aren't daft - far from it. Bikers, for instance, will take swipes at you as you pass, while big rigs will simply try to grind you into the dust, but the sight of them making the same mistakes as you do makes the playing field seem loads more level.
The courses in MotorStorm are a real strong point. Well designed, they're challenging, but they also let you have fun. There aren't too many on offer - just eight - but every one of them is a sprawling playground for you to muck around in. And we mean muck - in the dustier arenas, the continuous churning of the dirt tracks leaves deep ridges and slimy trails to negotiate, and each course will combine a variety of surface types to really keep you on your toes. The brilliant vehicle physics react to whatever passes under your tyres very believably - thick mud sees your ride handle more like a speed boat than a car or bike, whereas driving on unforgiving rock will have springier vehicles bouncing around like Keeley Hazell's lady-humps on a waterbed. The Rockhopper course in particular is an excellent all-rounder, with its gravity-defying jumps, vertigo-inducing drops and multiple routes.