Motorstorm: Apocalypse, the game that wasn't there

This is my fourth attempt to write something about Motorstorm: Apocalypse. I find it difficult to express anything about this particular game. I enjoyed it while playing it. I cannot remember any of the emotional impact afterwards. It was exciting. It was unmemorable. It made me think. It made me forget. It inspired an idea. It sapped inspiration.

And yet the dichotomy I cannot express is: It was wonderful. It was horrible. I can’t even say the game was ultimately meh, because it wasn’t. Motorstorm: Apocalypse falls into some weird zone where it’s more than competent, but is able to delete itself from your mental hard drive once you’ve finished it. It does the exact opposite of what any art, even bad art is supposed to do, leave you with an experience. Motorstorm left me with nothing.

The game is about a racing event taking place in a ruined, mostly evacuated city that is about to be destroyed by the Big One. Each difficulty level has its own storyline following a different character. The story is told with shoddy animated sequences. Of course the story is only told in snippets with further information of what is going on left in the other storylines. To get the full scope you have to play all difficulty levels. It even does some neat things with the reusing the tracks like in one race that takes place on rooftops has part of one of the roofs missing as if smashed by a giant claw. In the next difficulty level you play that race earlier on in the day and see another skyscraper fall, while you’re driving, on that very section of roof. Of course the story matters little in a racing game and the excitement of driving and car fighting is more important. It is more than enough incentive to keep playing, but that’s where the game falls apart in the end. It was exciting, it was tense and I wanted to push through to beat all of the races and claim victory. Yet, the next day none of it mattered, because I couldn’t remember anything about Motorstorm. I could remember facts about it, but none of the emotional resonance a work is suppose to leave its audience. In essence, I couldn’t recall the fun I had.

During play yes, not so much afterwards.

The game is a supreme disappointment in that regard, but even then I think that ‘disappointment’ is the wrong word to use. Games that are disappointing or don’t fully live up to their full potential still leave an impression on the player. I’m baffled at the realization that the game left me without anything to say. Ultimately it’s like an average day at the office. You don’t remember anything about it as soon as you get home.

Actually, now that I write that analogy I think I can parse the issue of the game into words. Something memorable, out of the ordinary has to happen at a particular day at work for it to be memorable. Most days pass by not taking up space in the memory cortex part of the brain because they are like all the others and after a while can’t be told apart. Why remember the same thing twice? This isn’t just true for days at the office, but for any experience, so why not a video game experience.

We look for differences in things. We notice the unique or out of the ordinary or out of place. Our eyes glaze over repetition and sameness. So when something, even if it’s technically well done or enjoyable copies and hits all the well worn notes it gets forgotten.

Motorstorm: Apocalypse did add some new things to the racing game repertoire like the destructible environments. Or at least they were new when the game went into production. It added an interesting story campaign, or at least and interesting way to tell the story campaign, by which I mean they had a neat idea how to tell the story campaign, if it hadn’t been done before in 1994…in a different medium…that popularized the concept.

Still after this mediocre, average, run-of-the-mill game I still think it was a good thing to experience. Notice I didn’t say good experience, just a good thing to experience. The difference is in what I do. I am a critic of video games. What I do is evaluate video games. I play them, dissect them, analyze them, get under their skin and then tell anyone who will listen what I find in there and what I think about it. I can do this from many angles with many different purposes. So if my enjoyment of the medium comes from a work giving me something to say or think about, what is the good that comes from a work that leave me with nothing?

In a word, perspective. So often we talk about good or bad in the binary. Debates rage every year around this time of year about what certain evaluations mean. (I’m putting it a lot nicer than most of the people involved do.) Here’s the thing. If a game is competent, than it is just that competent. That is no great feat. If I have positive feeling about a game only while playing it and then it leaves no bad taste in my mouth, then it is average.

Motorstorm: Apocalypse is meh, average, middle of the road, nothing awful and nothing great. The effect this game had on me was non-existent. If that’s what you want out of a game to kill an afternoon, I’m not going to stop you. But for me playing this, experiencing the average is a relief for it gives me a signpost in my mind. It gave me an experience I can evaluate other game experiences off of and understand why they are great or at lease memorable. Nothing is in a vacuum.

Life is so short and our time to enjoy media even less so that I don’t have time to waste with bad works in a medium. Whether it is movies, TV, comics, novels or video games, I focus on works that are great, have the potential to be great or otherwise give me something. But every now and then I think one should indulge in terrible, mediocre or just okay media if for nothing else to appreciate the great stuff even more. No one likes a cynic. I’m just glad I didn’t have to pay for that lesson.