While there's nothing like a good arcade racing game to waste away a few hours on, one of the limitations of the genre traditionally has been the unimaginative, repetitive track designs. Spending lap after lap driving along on stunted little circuits can be a real grind, no matter how fast you're going. With the upcoming release of ATV Offroad Fury 4, the development team at Climax is looking to shake that traditional formula up on some of the longest tracks ever seen in the series. We got a chance to play an updated version of ATV 4 at a recent Sony press event, and we continue to be impressed with this game's direction.
The addition of point-to-point races in ATV 4 is a welcome change to the normal circuit racing that has long been a part of the series. For one thing, the tracks are considerably longer than your typical three-lap race on a motorcross circuit; for another, the landscape and terrain of the tracks (which are streamed off the PlayStation 2 disc) features an impressive amount of variety. You'll be scooting up and down steep, bumpy hills, avoiding huge rocks as you twist your way through narrow, dusty corridors, and, naturally, you'll have plenty of opportunities to catch air on the multiple jumps strewn about the course. Furthermore, because the point-to-point races take place across multiple continents (in conjunction with ATV's globe-hopping storyline), the look of the environments changes dramatically from locale to locale.
The variety doesn't stop there. ATV Offroad Fury 4 isn't just about the four-wheeled dirt-stompers featured in the game's title. You'll also be piloting MX bikes, buggies, and trucks along these rollicking courses (as well as the other race types featured in the game). When it comes to point-to-point races, which vehicle you're driving will have an impact on the path you take to the finish line. As you speed along, you'll notice alternate paths on the course highlighted by either red or green signs. Red signs indicate paths that are ideal for bikes and ATVs--they're narrower and have more opportunities for jumps; green signs indicate the wider, speedier paths perfect for the more powerful buggies and trucks.
While you aren't required to follow any prescribed path, using the recommended route for your vehicle type will give you a better chance for earning that checkered flag. What's really cool is how often these different paths cross one another. During our time with the game, we saw multiple instances of barreling trucks and buggies passing right in front of us on their route as we scurried along on our MX bike in the race. A handy onscreen map shows the different paths and how they intersect, so you are always aware of when the next big turns were coming. That said, there will still be those times where you get off the path; the game allows for some leeway here, though you can't stray too far off course without being reset.
Your opponents in the race will drive at different aggressiveness levels, depending on how much contact you make with them. An icon above an artificial intelligence-controlled driver will give you an indication of how aggressive they will drive--spend too much time trading paint and you might be on the receiving end of a truck bumper looking to knock you off your perch.
As mentioned earlier, point-to-point races will play a big part of ATV 4's story mode, which will find your created rider part of a globe-hopping team of dirt fiends looking to win the mode's championship. You'll be able to switch rides as you like by unlocking new vehicles, either as rewards for winning races, or by purchasing new rides with race winnings. You'll also be able to adjust parts on your vehicle in the garage.
While the point-to-point races and story mode are the biggest addition to this year's game, there will be plenty more to check out in ATV 4. Other race types featured in the game will be rallycross, supercross, nationals, freestyle, and online play for up to eight racers (up from four in the last game). Online play will also feature tournaments, another new addition to the series. Playing online won't just be about racing in ATV 4, however, as the game will share an online community with the PSP players in ATV Offroad Fury Pro. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that you'll be able to race against folks playing the PSP game, but you will be able to share message boards and e-mail friends across the two platforms. One of the coolest online aspects will be the game's track editor, which will let you upload tracks of your own creation or download the creations of others to your PS2 and race them for yourself. The game will also share some connectivity with the PSP game, allowing you to unlock new components and vehicles in the game that would otherwise be unavailable.
Based on what we saw of the game, we like where ATV Offroad Fury 4 is heading. The addition of point-to-point races looks to liven up the traditional circuit-based formula that has served the game well in the past, and the new online additions will almost certainly add some longevity to the final product. We look forward to getting additional time with the game in the near future, so keep your eye out for more on the game soon.