Review: Git down and derrty, baby
Ever so quietly, SCEA's ATV Offroad Fury franchise has developed quite a following since its release back in the early days of the PS2. With help from Arizona-based Rainbow Studios, ATV and ATV 2 have been solid successes, and Sony was confident enough to put the sequel in the position of being packed with the PS2 Online bundle last year?which was unusual since ATV Offroad Fury 2 has probably the worst online implementation of any PS2 game. That said its surprising Sony has even gone this far with ATV Offroad Fury. Once independent, Rainbow Studios was purchased by THQ a couple years back, and thus Sony was a publisher without a developer to continue their franchise with ATV Offroad Fury 3. Thankfully, Sony saw fit to enlist Climax, the UK-based team that has experience in the genre of racing, thanks to the ATV games for Acclaim (as well as the ?Burnout on bikes' game Speed Kings), and most famously, the Moto GP series that's been critically acclaimed on the Xbox. The result is another solid entry into the ATV Offroad series, though veterans of the franchise will likely see it as a step back. Much of the game will be familiar, but frequently cheap AI, occasionally boring track designs, and framerate hiccups could very well overshadow the numerous good things, such as perhaps the best online implementation of any PS2 game online (ironic how this one series could be both the best and worst online game on the system). If you need an ATV game, this is all there really is, but if you're a big ATV fan and don't need online, you might just as well save $20 and buy the Greatest Hits version of ATV Offroad Fury 2.
ATV Offroad Fury 3 features everything you'd expect from this franchise ? a lengthy and tough Career mode with an equal mix of circuit and waypoint events, a track editor, split screen and LAN races, and basic exhibition races when you're just passing time. Two things that really stand out are the enhanced Training mode and Online play. Training is not required, but the horde of tests and unlockable rewards make it worth it even for hardened ATV fans. And if you're a new player, the Training option will teach you every single thing you need to know in order to race well, from pulling multiple tricks in a jump, to knowing exactly how and when to ?preload' a jump to keep at top speeds, and everything else in between. It was quite entertaining and might even show the vets a thing or two. The Online implementation is quite exceptional, with voice chat, friends lists, plenty of race modes, and a much more functional system overall, compared to the 2nd game, which of course was infamous for having almost no online options ? you couldn't even back out into offline menus when you were done online, and finding your friends online to participate (or play against the people you just played) was a real pain in the ass. That said, the intuitive and smartly done online play is a real highlight here, and if anything it shows Climax learned much from their experience with Xbox Live.
If you've never played an ATV Offroad Fury game, you can look at it as a combination of a normal racing game, mixed in with the trick system of an extreme sports game (something Rainbow has pioneered and Climax has carried on well), against other opponents doing the same thing. There's a lot to take in as the game itself can be pretty complicated, what with preloading jumps to get over the hills of dirt without losing speed, doing tricks while you position your landing, and figuring out how to handle the challenging AI. This is why the Training should really be appreciated for all players, as it really helps get all these different facets of the gameplay down. Early on the game eases you into the idea of handling the jumps and tricks (though as always, tricks are not really emphasized as vital for winning, coming in 1st is still the most important), though the tracks get tough in a hurry. For fans of the old games, the change of developers hasn't done much to how ATV 3 plays, as it runs on basically the same engine, just with some minor enhancements here and there. Obviously if it's your first try at the franchise you won't notice, but the hardcore fans won't have to worry about learning a whole new game, as everything functions like the classic Rainbow games did.
That said, there are some fundamental flaws with ATV 3 which can frustrate the hell out of veterans. The AI has always been tough (Rainbow really knows how to make smart, tough, but fair AI), but in ATV 3, it can be near impossible. It's one thing to race perfectly and win, as you most certainly should, but if you make even one teeny mistake, it can be exceptionally difficult to get back into the race. The AI is catchup-based as always, but it works more for the CPU opponents than for your own interests of being able to pull out a comeback victory. This is obviously irrelevant online since everyone's human (I hope), so really, this is a much more appealing game if you plan on playing online, even though you may have to suffer through some offline troubles to unlock different ATV's and outfits for your rider. To its credit though, ATV 3 doesn't have as many dismounts from your ride as much as the original games, which was one of the things that drove me nuts.
2nd of all, the track designs can be a little boring, with nowhere near the craziness of some of the ATV 1 and 2 tracks. Instead, they made them pretty straightforward and full of difficult jumps, which does make up for some of the generic courses. You can make your own courses, of course, which is a nice plus, though those have a novelty value for just a short time. I'd prefer more challenging turns than constantly having to preload jumps to take the zillion hills, but that's not the path Climax took, at least compared to ATV 1 and 2's excellent track designs.
Otherwise, despite its flaws, ATV Offroad Fury 3 is still a good game, though it easily could have been much, much better. Once you master the jumps and the tracks, winning comes fairly easy and advancing through the different Championships will happen fast, almost despite its attempts to keep you down. Obviously online is very entertaining since it's designed so well, and for many that will be more than enough to make this game worth their while. It doesn't quite equal the great offline experience that ATV Offroad Fury 2 was, but in many ways it evens out if you're a fan of playing racing games online with friends and strangers alike. One thing you can't take away is the depth of the game ? with so many Championships, the online play, a deep Training to learn the ropes, track editors, and offline multiplayer options, the game certainly can last a very long time if you're really into it.
Seeing that it basically uses the same engine as the original games, ATV Offroad Fury 3 looks very much like those. The trademarks of a vast environment, stadium tracks full of cheering fans, and fluid framerate is all there for a good experience ? for the most part. The framerate is pretty good, but occasionally it really gets hiccupy when there's too much going on, and it can get frustrating, especially if it happens mid-jump or while you're preloading, which can really screw up your timing. When it all clicks though, the framerate is fast and solid, and everything looks pretty sharp on the screen. The multitude of different ATV's and uniforms to match is another nice touch as well. In terms of audio, a very boring soundtrack of generic rock and ?I hate the world' music offsets the solid sounds of ATV's racing across the dirt and screaming crowds in the stadium courses. The original ATV soundtrack was pretty decent, but ever since then, it's just gone downhill from there.