United Front Games recently rolled out the first major patch for its PS3 kart racer, ModNation Racers, and after a little over a week of personal play testing the update has proven to be a rousing success. Well, except for an initial bug which prevented players from loading into XP Races and XP Series, but a subsequent clean-up patch ironed out that kink in short order.
ModNation Racers Title Update 1.02 (and 1.03) addresses a number of issues, and you can read all about them here. But for many players the most important fix will be the newly optimized load times. Before the patch, the loading screens between offline career races and online multiplayer races routinely ate up around a minute of time. I’m generally not very picky about load times, but in a kart racer where you are zipping through race after race after race, any noticeable downtime between each race does drag down the experience.
There have been reports of the patch actually increasing load times for some users in rare instances (I’m not sure I really believe these claims, but they are out there), but in my time with the game the loading times have been drastically reduced. The initial boot-up load time remains lengthy, but once you get into the game itself everything runs a lot faster. For me, the loading screens between races – online and offline – now last between 15-25 seconds. On average, that’s over 50% faster than before, and that boost makes a world of difference.
Online performance was also addressed in the patch. The actual in-game racing performance has been rock solid since the game launched (I’ve never been disconnected during a race or experienced any lag, before or after the patch), but early on the game was hampered by inconsistent ModSpot connectivity.
Back when I reviewed the game, I would get booted offline while puttering around the ModSpot hub and searching for new user content literally every single time I played – oftentimes multiple disconnects would occur within a single play session. Since the patch, I haven’t experienced a single disconnect. So whatever magical spell UFG cast on the servers, it clearly worked!
Another small addendum to the online play is the improved matchmaking, which, once you find a room of XP racers to compete against, keeps you grouped up in the same lobby after every race instead of taking you back to the ModSpot and forcing you to search for a new match. This greatly improves the flow of online racing, especially during long sessions.
One patch addition I still haven’t quite figured out, though, is the new “Casual” difficulty setting for the single-player career mode. Despite many frustrations and numerous bouts of rage-induced hair pulling, I appreciated the challenge of the default difficulty, but for many players the AI racers became far too cheap as the career progressed. The Casual setting was supposed to lighten the load, but so far I’ve had trouble noticing a clear difference.
When behind in races, it seems like it is now slightly easier to make a comeback. But other than that the AI racers still seem pretty aggressive, and it certainly hasn’t made any of the race challenges and grudge matches any easier from what I can tell. But again, I didn’t find the difficulty off-putting to begin with, so perhaps there are subtle changes that I’m not seeing but may prove helpful to players who did have a hard time before.
But all in all, the patch worked out amazingly well, and if some of the addressed issues turned you away from playing the game before, you absolutely must give it another shot.