The ATV Offroad Fury series has become known for solid, fun off-road racing games. Each game, however, has not changed much. With the fourth game in the series--the upcoming ATV Offroad Fury 4--the developers have made some crucial additions, as we discovered after spending some hands-on time with the game.
Now, don't get us wrong: ATV 4 won't be taking place in outer space or involve conversations with talking monkey-turtles; the game is still all about racing around a series of muddy, dirty, dusty tracks. But, in an effort to change things up a bit, the Climax development team has added a few new ingredients to the mix--most notably a story mode and a point-to-point racing mode. We've written about point-to-point races in the past but were glad to return to the mode when we recently played the game. There's just something refreshing about tackling the long, ever-changing courses in the point-to-point races, especially when you consider the multiple paths that have been designed on these courses.
Because you can race these courses in either the light- or heavy-class vehicles, the courses let you choose your path based on your ride. Red paths are for light vehicles (the MX bikes and ATVs), while the green paths are for the dune buggies and trucks that make up the heavy class. These different paths bisect and run parallel to one another, and each path is designed to take advantage of the strengths of each class; light-class paths make use of the smaller vehicles' agility, while the other paths are designed for the speedier rides in the heavy class.
The other big addition to ATV Offroad Fury 4 is the story mode, which tells the story of your created racer who, at the beginning of the tale, has suffered a crisis of confidence and has left the off-road racing scene altogether. Now living on a beach somewhere, with only the waves and a crusty old dude in a Hawaiian shirt he's keeping company with, our hero begins to consider life behind the wheel again at the prodding of the affable codger. Before long, you reunite with the crew that the main character previously abandoned. Not content to simply let you back in the fold, the old team has one condition before allowing your return: You're going to have to start from the beginning.
Thus begins your journey in ATV4's story mode. You start off at rock bottom--the amateur leagues. In order to progress up in the ranks (and continue the storyline), you have to win two events in both the light and heavy class. Events in story mode are split between heavy and light class, so that circuit racing is only available for heavy-class vehicles, while freestyle events can only be entered with an ATV or MX bike. Once you've completed an event, it's eliminated, and you have to enter a different race type to continue.
Winning race events in ATV4 will earn you sponsors, who will subsidize your racing career and allow you to buy new parts for your ride. In fact, the garage portion of ATV4 has undergone a nice upgrade. Lots of new parts are available for the engine, suspension, gearbox, body, and tires. Once you've fit tuned parts to your ride, you can go back to your garage and set up your ride to your specifications. Shocks, gearbox, gear ratios, and brakes are all parts in ATV4 that you can tune, and spending a bit of time to learn how they affect your vehicle can have a dramatic effect on the race outcome. Beyond the performance tuning, ATV4 will also let you customize the appearance of your ride with new paint jobs and a ton of logos to choose from.
Other options in ATV4's single-player mode are quick single races, the traditional championship mode found in older ATV Offroad Fury games, and a training mode that will familiarize you with the slippery and speedy arcade physics of the game's driving engine. The game also includes a track editor; you can create either a heavy or a light track from scratch, placing a variety of tiles on a large grid to come up with your very own off-road track. Finally, the game also supports split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players.
From a graphics standpoint, this is the best-looking Offroad Fury game so far. The game is running at a nice clip, with no frame rate problems to speak of, but the background graphics and the vehicles themselves are really the stars of the show here. Once again, the tracks show a lot of imagination in their designs, with huge swooping turns and lots of elevation changes, and the cars themselves kick up lots of dirt as they speed along. By the end of a five-lap race (or a long point-to-point race for that matter), both vehicle and rider are caked with mud and grime, which is just as it should be for an off-road racer.
While ATV Offroad Fury 4 doesn't seem to be mixing the proven high-speed formula up too much, this is probably the most full-featured game yet seen in the series. With a varied mix of bikes, ATVs, trucks, and buggies, the game appeals to the dirt-monkey in each of us. We'll have a full review of ATV Offroad Fury 4 once it hits store shelves at the end of the month.