In the world of off-road video games, the rally-racing genre seems to hold 99 percent of the vote (and gamers’ attention). From Sega Rally Revo to DiRT and all games in between, rally racing is synonymous with next-gen mud. Before there were rally games, though, there existed off-road titles with just as many wheels, but on a much smaller scale: ATVs. PURE is the first, well, “purely” ATV game on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Other games have included ATVs in their off-road roster, but only PURE focuses on ATVs exclusively. Some may call this narrow or niche. After playing the game and walking away impressed, we call it strategically wonderful.
PURE does one thing — ATV racing — and does it very well. In some respects, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; the game’s developer, Black Rock Studios, is better known by its former name: Climax Studios. Yes, that Climax Studios. The team behind MotoGP, one of the most revered motorcycle games on the original Xbox. Much like MotoGP, PURE is deep not in its vehicle options, but in its customization and gameplay, a fact that won’t be lost on off-road racing fans. And, although the gameplay backfires on occasion, the end result of Black Rock Studios’ efforts is by far the best ATV game we’ve played — and not just in this console generation.
When you hear “off-road racing,” the mind conjures up images of flat, lifeless tracts of land being carved by catch-all vehicles whose drivers decide the finishing order, not the vehicles themselves. That couldn’t be further from the truth in PURE. The seven environments and 48 tracks in PURE are easily the best-looking racing environments we’ve seen in an off-road game, as they’re detailed, varied and filled with animated features like hot air balloons in the distance and rivers in the foreground. The levels retain this detail through each track’s multiple paths, and finding the fastest line in these gorgeously rendered alternate paths plays a big role in determining whether you finish first or fifth (or worse).
Yet while finishing out of the top three can be due in part to missing a key alternate route, the final position is almost universally determined by the player’s ATV and subsequent handling of it. When you start PURE’s World Tour mode (a familiar tournament-like mode that provides the meat of the gameplay), you’re prompted to create a custom ATV. In many games this is merely cosmetic. In PURE, it can mean the difference between victory and defeat. World Tour Mode is built on traditional Races, Freestyle (stunt) Races and Sprint Races (go from A to B in as technically perfect a route as possible). Because the objectives of each race type vary, it’s vital to create and use an ATV that’s best suited for the race at hand. For instance, if entering a Freestlye race, a speed/racing bike will put you at the head of the pack but leave you with few points. Conversely, a stunt ATV isn’t exactly the vehicle you want to use in a traditional Race, as you’ll rack up all sorts of points but cross the finish line in 16th place.
As a result, it’s crucial to create custom ATVs for each race type (speed, stunt and hybrid), then swap them out strategically before each race to ensure you’ve got the equipment best-suited for the race at hand. Fortunately, building and customizing ATVs doesn’t require money, so you can create up to five bikes however you want. Creating custom ATVs in this free-spending mindset doesn’t liberate you to create an uberATV, though; across the board, each new or upgraded piece of equipment is balanced to make sure players have consequences for their choice. For instance, if you add a piece that increases your speed, it may also reduce your handling or trick potential, thus requiring you to weigh the pros and cons of each upgrade.
That doesn’t mean race-minded ATVs are slouches when it comes to stunts, they’re just not as strong as freestyle-designed ones. All racers have access to the same 70 tricks, but their ability to nail them while getting sick air varies based on the ATV they’re using. Players begin each trick by preloading the jump by pulling down on the right thumbstick and slamming it forward at the top of the ramp. This gives players bigger air than by just pressing A alone. While airborne, players can press any of the face buttons plus a direction on the D-pad to pull off various tricks. With bigger air comes the ability to chain together multiple stunts, with the accumulated trick points applied to a Trick Meter that acts like the burnout meter in the Burnout games. Players can use the points in the Trick Meter for turbo, with the meter going down accordingly, or they can skip the boost and accumulate points to gain access to even bigger mid-air tricks. With bigger stunts comes greater risk of botching a jump, so it’s easy to find yourself in mid-race debating whether it’s more important at that give moment to drain the Trick Meter for turbo or go for the big points.
Until you learn the tracks, botched jumps are par for the course, both because the tracks themselves are intricately detailed/deceptive at times, and (unfortunately) because it can be difficult to tell where the track ends and the reset-the-ATV areas begin. This is one of only a few shortcomings in PURE, the largest one being that the AI can be absolutely brutal. If players choose the wrong ATV for a given race (a speedy vehicle for a stunt race, for instance), the AI will absolutely mop the course with you in later stages, which can be intimidating for casual racing fans. Also, while the races are almost always tight until the end, it sometimes feels like that closeness is “faked” through artificial catch-up mechanics — that only work in the AI’s favor, not yours.
Still, when you’re racing around the track hearing to the competition bear down on you through absolutely perfect use of in-game surround-sound, you forget all about those catch-up mechanics and remain focused on finishing first. Doing crazy stunts, holding a trick for “just one more half-second” and creating the perfect ATV for your playing style in each race type has seldom been done better than it is in PURE. If you’re looking for a raucous blend of arcade flair and deep customization, PURE will take your ATV-racing breath away.
Buy Pure for PlayStation 3 at Amazon.com.
Buy Pure for Xbox 360 at Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.5
- The graphics, audio and customization are excellent, and although the World Tour mode is unoriginal, it’s also unabashedly fun.
— Jonas Allen