ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails Review
|Publisher:||Southpeak / Sony|
|Release Date:||February 10, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Paul Lowton (KendoMonkey)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
"Blazin' Trails" is the first PSP offshoot from the ATV Offroad Fury series of games. As you can no doubt imagine, the game is an off-road racer which sees you race with a smart Quad Bike.
As early on as the opening "introduction" screens, one gets the feeling that this game is going to take some time to play, and not necessarily because it's so much fun you can't put it down. Like (I imagine) a lot of people, my first instinct was to jump straight into single player mode and see just how badly I would fare first time around. However, something told me that I should be sensible about this and first of all tackle the in-game tutorials to learn how I should ride. Within minutes I was driving around a dirt-track like a doddering old-lady, managing to fly 30 feet over my handlebars when I hit something, and sliding maniacally into the track dividers. Be warned, this game is not at all easy to pick-up and play - it demands that you take the time out to learn how to play it. Of course, this can be as good as it is bad. A decent learning curve can help promote longevity in a game and can force you to play a game properly. Of course, a poorly set learning curve can have you gnawing your knuckles with frustration. Whether Blazin' Trails has that learning curve set correctly is something that will become increasingly clear in this review…a review I write whilst being able to see the bare-bone in my hands.
Within an hour or so I definitely was becoming a lot better at driving my ATV. I say "driving" because the tutorials don't really teach you how to "race", something that in my opinion is rather bizarre. It seemed to me that learning to do tricks is all good, but since I'm going to be charging around dirt-tracks against computer players who are going to be much better than me, I would need to know the skills necessary to actually get ahead of them. Nonetheless, the tutorials are well presented and give you a good insight to the scope of the full game, rather than just focusing on the racing aspect. They also give a great introduction to the visual style of the game and I was soon looking forward to kicking some A.I. ass.
The tracks are very nicely detailed and the graphics engine is impressive. These two features combined make Blazin' Trails very easy on the eye and adds an incentive to carry on playing, even when you find yourself wanting to fling your PSP away in frustration. Whilst the physics engine can seem a little over-eager on occasion, I actually found that it was well tuned and that Climax had clearly spent a good amount of time making sure that it worked in the game. In my opinion, the best place to see the graphics detail and physics controls, is in the tutorial levels where you are relatively free to roam and jump and crash as you wish. The size of some of the levels is probably slightly over-emphasised by the size of the PSP, but nonetheless one does feel sufficiently impressed by the whole driving experience.
I have to admit that I did suffer a little graphics "stutter" during gameplay but nothing that totally threw me off-kilter. The only other negative I would offer regarding the game, is the abysmal loading times. I have timed some games as taking over 45 seconds to load which, for me, is unforgivable on a console, and especially on a hand-held console.
Sonically I would say that Blazin' Trails is disappointing. The music is bland and doesn't inspire performances. The sound effects are a little tinny and don't make any huge impact on the game itself. As such they don't affect the game a jot so perhaps it's not important to focus on these negatives.
The single-player events, over a dozen in all, are fun to play, although a little too difficult for beginners. There are certain aspects of the game "in itself" which make it hard to play, however, for me it was more a case of the PSP controls not being quite suitable. I found myself increasingly wishing I could use my PS2 controller with the game, feeling that that would have had a profound effect on how well I was doing. Inside the game, your ATV can be controlled using either the analog stick or the directional buttons. Personally I found neither option quite worked well enough, and this coupled with the unforgiving (and cool) physics engine, leaves you quite often sat in the dirt wondering how you managed to fly so far when you were travelling so slowly.
The races themselves are fun to play, collisions are exciting and the potential for using skullduggery in your driving method is an important aspect to winning a race. The AI in the game is pretty solid and when you first begin playing it often seems like the computer controlled opponents are purposefully keeping themselves just out of sight so that you feel like you "nearly did it" as you cross the finish line. Sooner or later you will (hopefully) begin properly competing in the races even though winning one can be the difference in the final jump on any given course. Interestingly, just as opponents will not appear to gain too much ground on you when you are a beginner, you may find the opposite is true as you become more skilled and that you never gain more than a few hundred meters ahead of your competitors.
There are a good number of tracks available to race on, although realistically there are only so many combinations of obstacles and corners that actually become a feature of any racing game. Another addition to the gameplay elements of Blazin' Trails is a collectable "card game" which allows you to unlock various game elements such as new ATVs, new rides and accessories. Similarly, your performance on the track helps you unlock new items as well.
I didn't get the opportunity to check out the online portion of the game but the scope of games available (using up to 4 online players at a time) lead me to say that Climax have not skimped on this section of the game. Although there is enough in the single player events to keep you entertained, the online modes simply enhance the longevity of Blazin' Trails.
ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails was, to me, a game which grew to be massively more playable and more accessible as I spent more time with it. It was, at first, not so much impossible to play, but hard to get the feeling that I was in as much control as I needed to be. However, as I say, given time the game did become playable and enjoyable. I would recommend this game to anyone who is looking for a challenge outside of the usual pretty-shiny motorcar type games, but is also prepared to put in the time and patience required.
- Impressive graphics
- Combination of "racing skills" and "tricks skills" makes the game a lot more fun to play.
- Good longevity
- Smart AI
Not so good stuff
- Difficult to control your ATV
- Learning curve demands patience
- Ridiculous load times
- Boring sound
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