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Motorstorm Apocalypse: The most insane racer ever?

Hands-on: Evolution brings the house down...

If you're not familiar with the Motorstorm ethos, it's pretty straight-forward: racers with very little awareness of their own safety jump behind the wheels of trucks, rally cars and buggys - or grip the bars of dirtbikes - to speed down all-terrain tracks in boost-heavy competition. If that doesn't sound like your sort of thing, man up.

So far in the series, we've raced through mountains, over sand dunes and across ice. Motorstorm has followed a thrilling but familiar formula - and now the biggest problem facing developer Evolution Studios when it comes to the third PS3 instalment, Motorstorm Apocalypse, is how to further shake up an already seat-of-your-pants experience.

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With two full console releases under its belt, as well as a PSP handheld outing, Motorstom has covered pretty much every race-unfriendly terrain you can tackle. Indeed, the only possible environment left to conquer is urban. But smooth tarmac and well signposted bends? That ain't Motorstom, right? That stuff's for pansies.

But by endeavouring to make on-road racing distinctly, erm, off-road in Apocalypse, Evolution has created one of the most insane racing experiences we've ever jumped into. It provides loads of untouched urban playground - and then destroys it right in front of your eyes.

The premise is just as lean and action-centric as the game itself. A typical high-rise, East Coast American city is the epicentre of a massive earthquake. While sane city-dwellers have scampered from the spreading shadows of the crumbling sky-scrapers, the Motorstorm loonies have taken the opportunity to bump their less-than-regulated racing up a notch. 'Extreme sports' doesn't quite cover it. In fact, it's not even close.

SKY HIGH
The campaign itself sees you take on the role of one of three drivers based on difficulty, and pushed you through an earthquake, with your city progressively falling to pieces. The most demented of this a race along the tops of skyscrapers as they crumble to the ground. The sheer audacity of it as an idea is enough to make you smile even before the race has begun.

One of the most impressive things Evolution has managed to do with Apocalypse is create a balance between chaos and playability. Forget the fact that this is a race; when you're driving on top of a building in an earthquake your only option is to keep your foot firmly on the floor. It feels like a race for survival just as much as it does one to the finish.

The playability comes from the way the "track" changes and falls. Despite the constant destruction - debris flying everywhere, walls collapsing, floors giving way, the usual - there's a flow to the design.

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On the skyline track, for example, you'll be jumping from rooftop to rooftop one minute - only to go crashing through the floor the next, ending up screeching around the building's interior.

As we fly through an inside window, another structure gives way to provide a temporary and very improvised platform. While Motorstorm Apocalypse certainly gives the impression of impossible odds and very much provides a "this turn could be my last" tension throughout, it always gives you an exit option as well. The question is: are you quick enough?

When it comes to beingnimble, the superbike is probably your best weapon of choice. Being able to turn more or less on the head of a pin is a useful asset. As your rider leans right into a corner, his knee almost taken off by the jagged concrete floor, you'll skid round bends which you at first seem destined to overshoot.

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