E3 06: ATV Offroad Fury 4 Preshow Hands-On

We head from point A to point B as fast as we possibly can in Sony's upcoming off-road racer.

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Few things go better together than off-road racing and video games, and SCEA and developer Climax have been honing this time-tested formula for some time now in the form of their ATV Offroad Fury series of games for the PlayStation 2. With three entries in the series for the console, the development team has created a solid set of single-player race modes, as well as an ever-improving suite of online features. At a recent pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo Sony event, we got an exclusive hands-on look at the next game in the series, ATV Offroad Fury 4, and it's obvious that the trend is continuing with the fourth game in the series.

Trophy trucks and dune buggies are new additions to the ATV Offroad Fury vehicle lineup.
Trophy trucks and dune buggies are new additions to the ATV Offroad Fury vehicle lineup.

Expanding the scope of the off-road genre a bit, Offroad Fury 4 adds dune buggies, MX bikes, and trophy trucks to the standard lineup of four-wheel ATVs found in the game. In our hands-on experience with the game, it was very obvious that the Climax developers have focused on making sure that each vehicle type handles authentically, without losing the arcade approachability that defines this pick-up-and-play game style. Trucks and buggies feel weightier in turns and less agile around tight corners; at the same time, they are capable of higher speeds on straightaways and less susceptible to lap-destroying spills if they are sideswiped by an opponent. The pros and cons of the buggies and trucks, as well as the nimble ATVs and MX bikes, are a balancing act that plays an essential role in Offroad Fury 4's gameplay.

The easiest way to see the split in driving styles is by taking on one of the new race modes in Offroad Fury: point-to-point races. As the name suggests, point-to-point races are rally-style excursions from one end of an off-road course to the other, competing against many other riders and drivers in the process. We only had the opportunity to check out one of the point-to-point circuits in our hands-on time with the game, but we were pleased with its length, as well as the multiple branching paths you can take when tackling the course.

In fact, these branching paths tie directly into the differences between the lighter bikes and ATVs, and the heavier trucks and buggies. Branching paths marked with a green sign, for example, are ideally suited for the heavier vehicles; those branch points denoted in red are a better fit for the lighter ATVs and motorcycles. Green paths, for example, are generally on smoother ground and let the trucks and buggies take advantage of their higher top speeds. Red paths, on the other hand, are tighter and full of bumps, perfect for the agile ATVs and MX bikes to make up some time on their more-powerful competitors.

Naturally, you can attempt red paths in your truck to take advantage of the shortcut, but the narrow track width and multiple jumps will mean you might have a tough time of things. Similarly, you can blast your ATV through a wide-open green path, but you'll still probably lose time because of your lower overall horsepower. Just as in other race types, there are points to earn in the point-to-point races--MX and ATVs will earn points by performing tricks on the bike, while the larger trucks and buggies earn points for gaining air off of jumps. Because of that, it's a benefit to stick to your particular path to maximize your points. In practice, the point-to-point races are one of the most exciting additions to the Offroad Fury series, as they add plenty of new challenge, as well as multiple paths to success.

Of course, point-to-point races aren't the only single-player race types in Offroad Fury 4. The game also includes rallycross (essentially circuit racing in trucks or buggies), nationals, freestyle, head-to-head racing, and more. In all, Climax is promising 74 new tracks in the game, which run the gamut from rallycross and circuit tracks to mountainous hill climbs, as well as the aforementioned point-to-point courses.

Story mode is another new addition to Offroad Fury 4. Told through a series of FMV movies, the game's story mode traces your career as an experienced rider who goes from being completely out of the racing game all the way back to champion status. When you first fire up story mode, you'll begin as an amateur and will be required to earn your license for both heavy (trucks and buggies) and light (bikes and ATVs) rides. The progression of the career mode features many different race types found in other modes in the game, such as point-to-point and circuit races. By beating races in story mode, you'll be unlocking new upgrades for your ride, such as new engines and tires.

Online racing, introduced in Offroad Fury 3, will benefit from some upgrades as well. In addition to support for eight online racers, up from six the last time around, the PlayStation 2 version of the game will support a shared online community with players of the upcoming ATV Offroad Fury Pro for the PlayStation Portable. Furthermore, in addition to e-mail, voice and text chat, and message board functionality, the game will feature a tournament mode and let you upload tracks you've created with the game's built-in track editor or download the created tracks of others onto your PS2. Talk about replay value.

Dirt, mud, asphalt, and snow--you'll drive it all in Offroad Fury 4.
Dirt, mud, asphalt, and snow--you'll drive it all in Offroad Fury 4.

Visually, Offroad Fury 4 is looking sharp. The default view behind the ATV rider, a bit closer than in other ATV games, gives you a chance to check out the ATVs, which look great. We liked how dirty the ATVs got after a few laps on the track; the build-up of dirt and grime looked more convincing than ever before. In our time with the game, we didn't notice much in the way of frame rate hitches, which is an improvement over the previous game. Our only complaint was a relatively muted color palette that seemed subdued, even for a game where things are supposed to get muddy.

We're looking forward to spending even more time with ATV Offroad Fury 4 in the future, especially to check out the intriguing story mode. And we wouldn't mind taking a few more cracks at those intriguing point-to-point courses either. The game is due for release later this year and we'll be bringing you more coverage soon.

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