There was a hint of punk spirit to LittleBigPlanet. Not in an aesthetic sense, of course, though Media Molecule was kind enough to include a safety pin and some suitably frightening hairstyles in its cornucopia of decorative items. Rather, the implications of LittleBigPlanet’s do-it-yourself philosophy echoed punk music’s ferocious desire to save rock ’n’ roll by proving that anybody with a guitar could make music – a bracing mix of democracy and anarchy designed to convince the world that creativity wasn’t about skill, but passion.
The gambit failed. The depth and complexity of LittleBigPlanet’s creation tools was the mirror opposite of The Ramones’ liberating tri-chord drone. The promotional videos showing beautiful levels being assembled at hyper-speed conveniently masked the investment of time and effort required to achieve those results. Any hint that LittleBigPlanet would turn every gamer into a level designer, thereby sounding the death knell for the platform genre, was tantamount to a lie. In theory, anyone could do it. In practice, the majority simply waited for the labours of the few.
ModNation Racers is the second release under Sony’s ‘Play, Create, Share’ banner, and United Front Games has developed a set of tools that fulfils the third part of that mantra far more convincingly than Media Molecule. The journey from turning the console on, to racing a car we built, using a character we designed, around a track we created, took little more than an hour. And these weren’t works in progress, as any level made in LittleBigPlanet would be after such a meagre period. As far as we were concerned, they were finished and ready to be unleashed upon the world.
It’s worth mentioning that it’s entirely possible to spend hours or even days refining your creations, but United Front has taken care to supply as many shortcuts as possible. There are hundreds of eyes, noses, mouths, haircuts, clothes and skins with which to design a character, but a single button-press will conjure a random composite to use as a template. Similarly, your vehicle can be agonised over or brought into existence in the blink of an eye, and it’s testament to the wit and invention in the game’s art direction that these haphazard concoctions were rarely less than appealing.
However, the vehicle and driver were never going to be the greatest obstacles to taking ownership of the experience. Anyone could dress Sackboy – it was building a space for it to jump around that that complicated matters, But ModNation Racers’ track editor is a remarkable fusion of intuitive control, bounteous options, and the ability to just give up and let the game take over at any given moment. The ease with which a robust and detailed circuit could be pulled from the ether is truly remarkable, even though it is, on some level, made possible by cheating.