Although today’s highest-profile racing games focus on cars — Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, DiRT and MotorStorm — some of the most beloved and original racing games actually had a more blue-collar feel. For years, dirt bikes and ATVs ruled the racing roost, but as consoles began to direct gamers’ focus to shiny graphics, shiny cars — not muddy ones — naturally followed. Rally games kept some of a focus on dirt, but the once-king ATVs were largely fringe. When Sony shipped MotorStorm, ATVs crept back into mainstream gamers’ awareness, but Disney Interactive is trying its own hand this fall at mainstream ATV racing with Pure.
Although it’s not exactly clear where the name comes from, Pure is, well, “purely” an old-school ATV game. Regardless of which of the seven environments and 48 tracks you’re playing, the gameplay focuses on three simple things: driving faster than anyone else, getting the biggest air, and doing the sickest tricks while airborne.
While the goals themselves are simple, the actual mechanics have a bit more depth than expected. The result is a surprising ability for gamers to really adopt their own racing style, even though everyone has access to the same 70 tricks. Before going over any of each track’s dozen-plus jumps, players can “wind up” 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, and what players do from there is where the customization really comes into its own.
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, as we’ve all seen in stunt-racing games for years. However, once the ATV lands, the accumulated trick points are applied to a Trick Meter, which acts sort of 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 in the Trick Meter to gain access to even bigger mid-air tricks. The Trick Meter can go up four different tiers before it’s completely filled, with the third and fourth tiers (Y and RB+LB, respectively) leading to much crazier stunts than the first and second.
The bigger the stunt players land, the more points they achieve and thus the fuller their Trick Meter stays. However, with bigger stunts come bigger risks 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. It also opens Pure up to a bit more personal-preference racing, as speed demons will obviously want to do just enough jumps to keep their turbo going, while big-air junkies will go for style over speed.
Depending on the track or the route taken — each track has multiple branching paths — players need to find the strategy that best balances their personal style with the situation at hand. This comes especially into play when going against multiple human opponents, as Pure allows up to 16 players to participate in each Sprint, Freestyle and Race event both online and off. Humans introduce a certain level of uncertainty to each race, not to mention varying tactics, and they actually provide a bit more challenge than the AI, which in the early stages at least is pretty much a pushover.
That’s not to say you’ll always come in first; the races are consistently close, and one botched jump can take you from first to fourth. However, the AI seems perfectly happy to go about its business with little regard for the proximity of other racers or its position, opening up some opportunities to pass the AI competition at points when human players would likely play it a bit safer.
Pure supports player preferences off the track as well, with gamers able to customize their ATVs to suit their playing and visual style. From suspension to vehicle skins, Pure has about 100,000 vehicle variations, according to Disney Interactive, which is nice from a gameplay perspective but also an online/social one, as it’s quite possible that no two ATVs in an online race will look the same.
Not that you’ll be focused on anything other than your own bike, of course, which is actually sad, considering the detail that’s being put into Pure. Although the non-deformable environments have a bit of a “soft” appearance, they still look great on the whole, and the branching paths actually manage to stand out from the “main” track. The environments don’t seem to affect handling, however, as specific corners feel consistently sticky or slippery from lap one to three, a surprising omission considering the off-road competition from SEGA, Codemasters and Sony.
Still, Pure is shaping up to be a fun game, even though it doesn’t include the same gameplay nuances of other off-road titles. ATVs are often one vehicle in a collection of many (Motorstorm), and sometimes they’re forgotten altogether, so seeing them in Pure is a nice trip down a muddy memory lane. The arcadey handling and goals — big speed, big air, big stunts — are also nice for anyone looking to just pick up a game and get right into the action. With a PS3, Xbox 360 and PC release date of Sept. 16, it won’t be long before players everywhere will be able to see whether this latest ATV outing is for them.
— Jonas Allen