For the PAL crowd, this one has certainly been a long time coming. ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails was one of the first titles released for the PSP when it launched in North America last March, though with the game missing the initial PAL launch, it's taken nearly a year for it to appear in Europe and Australia. Since then the PSP has seen its fair share of racing titles, but ATV Offroad Fury is the first time that racing has actually gone off-road. So has the wait been worth it, or would we rather stay on-road for the time being?
ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails isn't an entirely new game but actually a port of ATV Offroad Fury 3. While this may seem like a disappointment, ATV Offroad Fury 3 is actually an impressive game, and surprisingly just about everything from that title has made it into Blazin' Trails. There hasn't had to be too many cutbacks for the game to make it on the PSP and the waypoint editor has made it into the game, as has the ability to race against a ghost. Climax has also added a collectible card system to the game, as well as even more mini-games.
There are plenty of single player options in the game. Those who are new to the ATV games can choose to play a Training mode, which teaches basic and advanced driving techniques. It's also possible to play through a single event, where you can race in any event type over any of the unlocked tracks. The main single player mode is the Championship mode though, and this is where you play through numerous championships in either normal or hard difficulty. As you win in each championship, cards are unlocked. The cards can be used to unlock new gear and it's also possible to trade cards with friends wirelessly.
One of the most impressive aspects of ATV Offroad Fury is the multiplayer. It is possible to play either wirelessly or online< and it's the online play that really impresses, making ATV one of the most satisfying online titles for the PSP yet. Once you're connected you can host any of the multiplayer game modes and even determine which players you race against. You can even bet some of the cards that you've unlocked in single player if you want to add a bit more competition to the race. The game also keeps a scoreboard, and handily enough you can see where you rank in comparison to the rest of the world. To top things off, it's even possible to download ghost data of some of the top-ranking riders. All in all, the online features beautifully demonstrate exactly what the PSP is capable of, and we're hoping this game will set a precedent for future online PSP titles. If you prefer to actually see the people you race against, then up to four players can race via the wireless mode. Setting the game up is easy and you can play through a lot of different modes.
The game does have some problems though that detract from the experience. The single player mode is unbelievably difficult, and even those who select the 'normal' difficulty level are in for a challenge. The reason that the game is so difficult is because the controls aren't as tight as they could have been. In fact, the controls are quite possibly the biggest problem that the game has, being extremely sensitive to the point where most people will wind up using the directional pad to control their ATV, rather than the analog nub. There's also a wide range of moves that you can pull off, but actually doing any more than about five of them is a fiddly process and these moves become even more difficult to execute in the later stages.
And rather than race against a field of six players (as in the original), there are actually now only four racers in the field, which feels a little scaled back. Despite this reduction however, there are still frame-rate problems when the action intensifies. This slows the pace of the game down and really puts you off whilst you are racing. The game also features rubberband AI, so even if you do manage to take a good lead, it isn't long until the computer has caught up to you, meaning one accident can cost you the entire race.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The tracks themselves are large, but there isn't too much detail in them. There are a few extra niceties (helicopters, crowds that kind of thing), but sometimes the draw distance is a bit problematic. So although the game is hardly a graphical showcase for the PSP, it certainly gets the job done and doesn't look terrible.
The soundtrack in the game is a little better, and features a large variety of music that ranges from Auf Der Maur to Slipknot. However, the in-game sound effects are relatively average, although it's understandably difficult to make a buzzing ATV sound impressive on a handheld. While the difficulty is a little off-putting, anyone who actually sticks with the game will be entertained with it for hours. There are mini-games to be unlocked as well as new gear, and the multiplayer is one of the most appealing features of the game - clearly, a lot of attention to detail has been paid to ensure that those who have the patience will be rewarded.
Unfortunately though, this isn't as impressive as we'd hoped. Ultimately, the game suffers from some poor controls, rubberband AI and frame-rate issues. When you're in the middle of an intense race all of those problems largely sink to the back of your mind, and the game does have a great soundtrack, as well as a clean and easy-to-work multiplayer interface. But the real problem facing ATV Offroad Fury is the fact that MX vs ATV: Unleashed On The Edge is released next month. Once that appears, Blazin' Trails could well be eating dust.