2008 Off-Road Racer Comparison Guide: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift vs. Pure vs. Baja: Edge of Control

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The off-road racing genre has been well represented this year, with three games in particular standing out as strong competitors: Sony’s MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, Disney’s Pure and THQ’s Baja: Edge of Control. Sure, there are some other off-roaders floating around out there as well, like that crummy Ford game Mike reviewed and some other Baja game by Activision, but neither of those are in the same league as these three and thusly don’t deserve to be considered in this discussion.

I was able to squeeze in a full review of Pure earlier in the fall (read it here), but in light of the stack of reviewables the subsequent holiday crunch has left me with and other delays I’ve decided to go ahead and forgo individual reviews on MotorStorm and Baja and instead compare/contrast the three all at once in order to help you pick out the racer that’s right for you.

Gameplay

Gameplay is the biggest difference between the three — each excels at catering to a different audience — so let me start with that comparison first.

Pure is this year’s extreme sports take on off-road racing, and thusly it is more forgiving with its mechanics and more arcade-like in style – as I said in my review, it is basically SSX on ATVs. Racing in Pure is limited to vehicles of the four-wheeler persuasion – unlike the other two games which have far more vehicle variety — but in comparison does offer the deepest and most satisfying vehicle customization options, delivers the fastest sense of speed of the three, and is the lone competitor with a trick system – and what a spectacular, over-the-top trick system it is! Track designs are another plus, showcasing open terrain with multiple pathways and hidden shortcuts.

Completely on the other end of the spectrum, Baja: Edge of Control is the sim-style off-roader in this competition. The physics and driving mechanics are the most realistic, which also means the controls are much more demanding, as every bump on the track is a potential wreck in the making if you don’t learn how to consistently micro-manage your steering as your wheels shift over the loose dirt and bumpy terrain. Because of its stiffer difficulty and steeper learning curve, Baja unfortunately isn’t as accessible as the other two games. But don’t let that frighten you away. If you put the time in you will be rewarded with a deeply satisfying experience. After struggling through my first couple races I was about ready to write Baja off as a crummy follow up to MX vs. ATV: Untamed, but I stuck with it and am so glad that I did. Through perseverance, I’ve found winning races in Baja every bit as rewarding as any racing game I’ve played all year.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift falls somewhere in the middle of the other two. It clearly has the sensibilities of an arcade racer, but its play mechanics are still somewhat based in realism, and I really appreciate that. It plays faster than Baja, but isn’t quite as speedy as Pure. The physics are plenty realistic, but also mildly exaggerated to ensure pick-up-and-play accessibility. The track designs are Pacific Rift’s greatest asset, even more diverse and thoughtfully laid out than even Pure. What I really dig about the tracks is how well balanced they are in tandem with the game’s vehicles. Each vehicle in the game handles differently and has its own strengths and weaknesses, and these factors are taken into account on the tracks to ensure that the playing field is even. When riding a dirt bike or any other smaller vehicle, brush, mud and water will slow you down so you’re best chance to win is to find a high-ground route to the finish line. While at the wheel of a racing truck, big rig or the awesome new monster truck class, however, you can muscle through deep waters and muddy terrain with ease, but have limited ability to squeeze through the narrower routes or drift through tight turns.

Pacific Rift also has a visceral intensity about it that the other two games don’t quite have stemming from its more exciting crashes (though they are tamer than the original MotorStorm, oddly enough), more aggressive opponent AI, and mild combat element that allows you to punch/boost ram other riders.

Interestingly enough, as differently as all three games play, I found that they all had the same two drawbacks. The track deformation and vehicle damage modeling is pretty weak across the board. In Baja, vehicle handling and performance is at least impacted by crashes, and during the career mode you even get monetary bonuses for keeping sponsor decals on your ride intact, but that’s as deep as any of these games go with crash damage. The lack of noticeable track deformation is more disappointing for me though. After seeing how deformation technology could dynamically impact every lap in a race in Sega Rally Revo, I expect the same thing from other off-road racers from now on. All three of these games show signs of track wear and tear, but it’s a graphical effect and nothing more. That’s a major letdown!

Gameplay Winner: Three-way draw (too close to call)

Graphics/Audio

Of the three, Baja comes up short in the audiovisual department. The vehicles look great and sound great for the most part too, however the environments lack the massive scale and intricate detail of those in the other two games. Texture quality on the terrain is somewhat blurry and bland, and in comparison the backdrops seem kind of empty and lifeless.

Pure and Pacific Rift, on the other hand, are full of life. Pacific Storm’s new tropical setting is just gorgeous, and the backdrops of towering waterfalls, erupting volcanoes, dense rain forests and pristine ocean views are a sight to behold. Pure’s environments are similarly scaled and just as beautiful to take in, especially when you’re skying through the air pulling off a larger-than-life trick at vertigo-inducing heights. MotorStorm is maybe a bit more detailed in terms of texture quality, lighting, and the interactive vegetation and water, but picking out these differences is like splitting hairs.

My nod for best audio quality, however, has to go to Pure by a narrow margin. Both titles support custom soundtracks (Pure does on the 360 at least, not sure if it does on PC or PS3), but by default the Pure soundtrack is much more exciting and better suited to compliment the gameplay. Pacific Rift sounds great too, don’t get me wrong, but at times I found that the music tended to drown out the in-game sounds too much.

Graphics/Audio Winner: Tie between MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and Pure

Longevity

Up to now the competition has been pretty tight, but MotorStorm: Pacific Rift pulls ahead of the pack when it comes to replay value. It has the perfect balance of solo play modes, gameplay that’s deep and varied enough to keep from growing stale, and sublime multiplayer for both online and offline players (and yes, that does mean the game has split-screen play, a feature many folks complained about the first game not having).

Pure is a blast of a game, but has the shortest of the career modes and offers no local multiplayer component whatsoever. Baja rivals Pacific Storm in terms of career mode length, but doesn’t have the same level of track and event type diversity to keep the experience fresh from start to finish. Pure and Baja do both offer exciting online multiplayer though; a much-needed feature for Pure especially given how quickly you can blaze through the single-player content.

Longevity Winner: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

Final Conclusion

It gives me great pleasure to report that all three games discussed in this guide are worth buying, each one for different reasons and for different audiences. MotorStorm is exclusive to PS3, so obviously that limits its audience from the jump. Baja: Edge of Control is available on both PS3 and Xbox 360, and while I’ve only played it on 360 I’ve heard that the PS3 version isn’t as technically sound and is thusly the lesser of the two platform choices. As the simulation racer of the trio, Baja isn’t as widely accessible either, so that’s a major point to consider when deciding whether or not to get it or not. And then there is Pure, a thrilling, trick-based extreme sports racer that’s a bit light on content but heavy on entertainment value. Pure also happens to be the only game available to PC gamers, so there’s only one choice here for the PC crowd (thankfully it’s a good one!).

In a perfect world with economic times not nearly as rough as they are right now, I’d highly recommend rushing out and picking up all three of these fine racers. If you have the cash to spare and enjoy racing games, you’ll love these three titles, no doubt about it. Each one offers something unique and excels at its craft. But in the end, only one game manages to put together a racing experience that’s complete from top to bottom, and for that reason I have to give it the nod. That one game is MotorStorm: Pacific Rift.

Overall Winner: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!