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Five glaring issues that would otherwise make ModNation perfect

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Yes, that exploding car in the background will soon be an all too familiar experience. All photos courtesy of the ModNation website.

1. Power-ups

While ModNation only offers four power-ups to players – missile, lightning, shockwave and speed boost – each power-up has level threes of potency, which can be stacked by getting another power-up.

Although they can sometimes be helpful, here’s a play-by-play of the ModNation power-up experience.

You’re cruising along in first place, most likely holding a level two or level one power-up. Your boost meter, half-full although some will soon be lead to believe it’s actually half-empty, is ready at a moment’s notice for any unsuspecting racer happening to pass you. Instead, you hear the all too familiar “siren,” alerting you that an enemy power-up is headed your way.

Your finger is ready to smash circle to deploy the shield – now, one of two things happen. Instance one: you deploy the shield too soon, getting tasered, exploded or pushed off of the race track.

Instance two: you successfully let out your shield and with a grin on your face, ease off of the circle button – but it’s not over. Another wave of rockets, shockwaves or lightning screams across the track, knocking you out of that spot you tried so hard to keep.

After that, you’ll respawn usually three or four spots back, if you’re lucky, and the race will go on. But too many times, you’ll get hit with another wave of attacks right after you get put back on the track. Who thought you could be spawn-killed in a kart racing game?

Not only that but when you try to set off one of those dreaded level three power-ups, it seems like every computer controlled car on the track always has just enough boost to deflect the attack with a shield.

Power-ups are just one piece of the puzzle that leads to another problem with ModNation – the difficulty.

Note to self: arming the shield at the right time is crucial to victory

2. Difficulty

Anyone who has dealt with the over-powered items from number 1 knows that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The first few races aren’t difficult at all and the during-race tutorials attempts to get you familiar with the difference aspects of the game, such as drafting, drifting and power-ups.

But as players progress through the championship racers and eventually complete the first championship of five, the difficulty severely increases – mostly in part due to the challenges presented to the player but also because of the seemingly rubber band difficulty of the computer racers.

The AI becomes increasingly aggressive, continuously slamming you with power-ups and repetitively catching up to you no matter what. Leads are a thing of the past in the third championship and it only gets worse from there.

Although many players may agree that the single player AI can be frustrating, beating the campaign just takes some determination and perseverance – almost more than any normal kart racing game should.

The real challenge comes when players seek to further upgrade their karts, characters and tracks. Getting new parts can seems more like a chore than a rewarding experience and after you get that new truck body that you were waiting for, less determined players might wonder why they’d even bother further tweaking their customizables.

Players looking to “pick-up and play” this racer with their less gaming-savvy friends, significant other or children, might not feel at home in ModNation because of the often intense difficulty.

After you’ve managed to finish second for the fifth time in a row (but really, who’s counting?), the game’s load times and loading screens will begin to take a toll on your sanity, bringing us to the next item that plagues ModNation.

Getting from the racetrack to the next race can become tedious due to the many load screens and long wait times.

3. Load times and install

Mandatory installs are a usual occurrence on the Playstation 3. That’s why when gamers were told ModNation would have an install, they just shrugged their shoulders. After all, those that have had experience with LittleBigPlanet, a similar game “Play. Create. Share.” game that allows such a high level of gamer creativity only requires 600 MB.

But when you fire up ModNation, you’re greeted with a user agreement clause and a cute title screen. After that, a mammoth 3.2 GB install is ready to devour the space on your console – more than five times the size of the install to start playing as Sackboy.

Following your install and the time you had to have a nice sandwich, you’re greeted with a loading screen, one of the many that you’ll have to look at while playing ModNation.  Depending on the area that you’re trying to load, it may take a few seconds all the way up to a full minute or more.

The start of the game is the biggest wait time and it feels eerily like standing in an elevator and waiting for your number to light up. Going from the main area to the creation station or any other station isn’t even long enough to wonder why it’s taking so long but the same cannot be said for the loading screen times in between races.

After selecting hot lap, split screen or career mode (online is an entirely different process), players usually wait for 30 seconds to one minute for the race screen to pop-up. It may not seem so bad at first but soon the percentage counter gets tedious, almost like you’ve been frozen in time. Although helpful with beginner tips and hints, the loading screens themselves also get stale after a few hours.

The worst part is doing it more than you should have to. After completing a race or lap, the post-race screen appears and you can bask in your winning glory or frustrating finish. Your only option from here though is to restart the race or continue – forcing you to bond with, you guessed it, another loading screen before getting back to the race selection screen.

Without the option to continue to the next race from the post-race screen, players may start to feel like they’re staring at the screen more than they’re actually racing.

Starting players looking to get from the track to the creation station may have to wait longer than they would want to, and once they get there, they might be surprised at what they find.

Want to make what you see above? You'll have to compete in career mode or try your luck with tokens.

4. Unlockable items

If you thought you’d fire up ModNation and bust out a Helghast creation or recreate your favorite level in Mario Kart – well I’m sure you’re one of the many gamers that just got fooled by ModNation.  While there are several customization options from the beginning, those hoping to really flesh out their creativity only have one sure way to unlock more items: play through the tedious single-player mode and struggle through the ridiculous AI.

Completing the single player isn’t enough however, as players have to beat specific challenges that increase in difficulty as the game goes on. While placing in the top three spots will nab you some extra items, those looking to unlock everything will have to do several additional things ranging from taking out a certain opponent to doing specific takedowns at certain parts of the map.

Although players are able to snag the tokens littered throughout each track and spend them on random unlockables at the token machine near the creation station, those looking to get the bigger and better creation pieces have no choice but to complete the single player campaign and do the challenges.

Players with an internet connection (hopefully most of you, if not, read the next number in the list) can work around this problem by downloading new tracks, cars and characters by those that have unlocked all the items. Although Iron Man looks amazing, you can only look and not design him yourself until you trudge through the single player mode.

Unlocking items can be a rewarding experience but viewing other people’s creations and sharing your own is really where it’s at. But what if you couldn’t?

This area becomes practically non-existent when playing offline.

5. Online connection a must

All of the glaring issues above can almost be alleviated through user generated content and online play. In this day in age, it would be hard to imagine a large amount of gamers that do not have the ability to connect and play online. But for those gamers who have a slow connection to the Internet or those that don’t have one at all, say hello to your ModNation experience by reading the four items above.

A game like ModNation, which was built around user interactivity and content sharing, is almost no fun when you can’t enjoy the true nature of the game (after all, it is labeled Play. Create. Share.). It would almost be like playing an MMORPG without the “MMO” or making an ingenious level on LittleBigPlanet, only with you and your friends in close proximity to bask in your creative glory.

After all, the main lobby where all users begin after the title screen (after the first tutorial race, of course), is set in a circular layout and looks to be designed for sharing and socializing. When not connected to the Internet, this area becomes a Fallout wasteland, while the “Coming Soon” and “Top Download” areas are just as barren.

Internet connection often boosts replay value for games due to multiplayer content, user-generated content or downloadable content. But when a gamer only has what’s in front of him or her, well, that’s really all they have – even in a game based around online interaction.

Conclusion

First and foremost, it should be said that ModNation is not a horrible game by any means. It’s an intriguing take on something that many gamers probably thought couldn’t be revolutionized. But the five issues above really take away from a game that could have been so much more.

Hopefully a patch (announced and coming soon) will fix some of the things above and will really let gamers enjoy the exciting potential that this game has.

Zak Bratton is assistant online editor and is managing editor of CSU-Pueblo TODAY. You can contact him at zc.bratton@colostate-pueblo.edu

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