Sony released the first game in the ATV series shortly after the PS2 launch. Since then, the series’ focus on racing off the pavement has gone relatively unchallenged by other publishers, and as a result the franchise has built a solid fan base. And, as expected, the latest entry, ATV Offroad Fury 4, lives up to its predecessors by another providing a fun and enjoyable gaming experience.
Now in its fourth iteration, ATV offers for the first time a story mode to add some depth to the single-player experience. The story is fairly simple and obvious: the former star rider who fell from grace and is trying to make a comeback. It puts a little structure to the different races and is a nice addition to the series, but not to be considered a huge selling point. The Baja races are found in the story mode, however, and have to be unlocked for other modes of play from there.
ATV Offroad Fury 4 allows players to race in a variety of vehicles, not just the ATVs named in the game’s title. The four-wheel ATVs and MX bikes allow for big jumps and pulling off mid-air tricks, while the buggies and trucks stay in better contact with the track and are a bit easier to control. Each vehicle can be customized with different colors and decals, as well as the types of upgrades one would expect in a racing game (tires, suspension, engine, brakes, etc.). A nice feature, though, is that the upgrades players buy can be transferred to other vehicles in the same class. That way, when buying a new buggy, for example, any upgrades purchased for other buggies can be put on the new one. This is a logical new feature for the racing genre, and we can only hope that future games with a “garage” option implement a similar feature.
The vehicles in ATV Offroad Fury 4 handle fairly well; however, the MX bikes are a bit sensitive to the controls, probably due to them being the lightest. They are the easiest ones to veer off track and wipeout in, but they are also the ones that get the most air for big tricks. All the rides, though, like to slide through corners, and it doesn’t take long to learn how to power slide quickly and effectively.
Gameplay modes include training, single events, online and story mode. Training is a series of specific missions that teach you how to play the game and earn some spending credits, while the events, online and story mode make up the majority of the gameplay.
There are several races to compete in, most of which allow the use of any vehicle class. For example, the arena-style is very short and compact, with courses comprised of tight turns, jumps and rough terrain that challenges the player to learn when to hit the gas and when to step on the brakes. Other races are on wider, outdoor courses that can feature dirt, mud, pavement and elevation changes. These courses allow for racing at higher speeds. The Baja-style races are point-to-point and really open up the environment by having multiple paths, and the trick challenge freestyle mode lets players really practice hot-dogging it as they race around the course.
The courses, in fact, are the real fun of this game. In traditional road racing games, like NASCAR and Midnight Club, players can learn the fastest lines around the course and be done. When racing on uneven dirt, though, it’s not about finding the best line. Instead, it’s about hitting the bumps and jumps right to get through the course as quick as possible. Missing a jump can slow the rider down as opponents literally fly overhead. The track editor opens up endless possibilities to create the track any way you want.
The different track terrains are rendered with a good amount of detail and come across as impressive in this age of next-gen hardware and software. There are plenty of tire ruts in the dirt, but they are not dynamically created during the race. On the outdoor courses, there are nice contrasts between lighted and shaded areas, and the detail on the vehicles is decent during the race whatever your locale. The camera view is far enough away to see more of the course instead of being right on the back bumper, so during the races, it’s not uncommon to see the dirt and mud as it accumulates on the vehicles and the rider. You can also see the damage that the buggies and trucks can take, but these aesthetic shifts do not impact a vehicle’s performance in the least.
The sound really stands out when racing on a motocross course that goes back and forth on itself. Engine noises will come out of different speakers depending on where the bikes are on the course. So, you can be leading by a wide margin when you suddenly here an engine in the front speakers from a bike that is physically in front, but on a different portion of the track. Most of the sound consists of high pitch whines of engines accelerating and tires sliding across the dirt. Eight bikes on the track don’t overwhelm the room in sound, but it sounds good for what it is.
The AI seems to match up to the speed and attributes of whatever vehicle the player uses, no matter what upgrades are purchased. It makes the whole need for upgrading seem useless in the single player game. A quick fix for number five should be some Gran Turismo class restrictions on certain races.
“Quick fix” is the best way to describe the online experience as well, as there’s really not a whole lot of depth to it. Instead, the game’s online mode is really just a chance to face the challenge of human competition. That used to be good enough, but gaming is entering an age with increased emphasis on online play, and to standout, sometimes you have to give more than just a basic race experience. And unfortunately, ATV Offroad Fury 4 offers only that basic experience.
Still, ATV Offroad Fury 4 is another fun dirt-racing entry in a traditionally steady series. The AI provides a good challenge, and the online play, even in its brevity of options, opens up the competition. It’s definitely an enjoyable game for race game fans.
- Overall: 8.5
- It doesn’t break the mold, but then again, no game in this genre really has to if it wants to be enjoyable.
— Dan Bradley