A bumpy ride.
I've always had trouble reconciling the All-Terrain Vehicle's name with its safety record. If the vehicles can go anywhere, then why do people get in so many accidents while riding them? After playing ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails, I've got the answer. The vehicle can go almost anywhere; many places, in fact, that its rider cannot.
However, there are a few places an ATV cannot traverse well, and your PSP is one of them. This awkward racer might enjoy some surprising depth, but that doesn't make it a smooth ride.
The controls are simple enough - you can accelerate, brake, E-brake, and press two buttons at once for reverse. There are also advanced controls that let you rock your ATV onto two wheels. These can be combined with tricks performed during jumps for higher scores or can be preloaded before nailing ramps. Once in the air, you can bust a series of tricks by entering simple button combinations. The trick system is decent, even though Blazin' Trails places most of its emphasis on racing.
And sadly, racing is where things fall apart. The controls are extremely loose, but your competition is tight and your margin for error is very slim. Eat it just once and say goodbye to placing.
Plus, the actual driving part is badly implemented. You can accelerate all the way through most turns without applying either braking mechanism at all. The E-brake works well on hairpins, but doesn't react negatively when you misuse it. As a result, it can be hard to fine tune your E-brake timing. But since you can motor through most turns with your thumb firmly planted on the X button, braking becomes almost useless. Other racing rules still apply, like taking a good line into a turn, but this simplified control scheme just isn't as interesting as what other racing games offer.
It's also harder than it should be due to the useless analog nub. It's never been a very precise instrument, and here it seems downright unwieldy. I had a lot of trouble simply straightening myself out after hairpin turns and jumps.
That's a bigger problem that it sounds, because Blazin' Trails' crash system is hardcore. Bump into just about any obstacle at any speed and your rider will fly off of their ATV like Superman, arms and legs flailing under the influence of rag-doll physics. This leads to some awesome looking crashes, but it's also a source of incredible frustration. Simply clip a block while backing up at five miles per hour and your rider will fling himself to the ground. Or, more likely, clip a barrier while making a tight turn and grimace as your racer flips out of the saddle, costing you the race.
Crashing is usually fatal in the single-player game because your A.I. rivals almost never crash, and they move really, really fast. They tend to rubber-band if you take the lead and they love to drive in a big, nasty clump, so chances are you're either going to finish first or last.
The sum of these qualities is a game with an arcade control scheme, but a level of difficulty you would expect to find in a sim. In turn, Blazin' Trails feels incongruous.
Still, the game's selection of single-player modes is impressive. You can race in a deep Championship mode that features four levels of difficulty and has you competing in tournaments against other racers, or you can jump into Single events. The race types include Supercross (indoor races), Nationals (outdoor races), Enduro (outdoor checkpoint races), Short track (short indoor races), Freestyle (get trick points within a time limit), Freestyle Objective (bust tricks while collecting tokens), Olympics (a skills test) and Free Ride. That's a pretty hefty, varied list.
You can also customize your own Waypoint races by setting the locations of the gates, although this probably won't change the way you play or enhance your enjoyment much. There are simply a lot of ways to play, even if playing isn't always much fun.
Where the single-player game provides pleasant depth, the multiplayer game offers a yawning chasm of impressive online content. You can play Ad-Hoc with friends and compete in almost all of the modes and mini-games found in the single-player game. Also, if you play the single-player game and perform well, you'll unlock cards that grant new vehicles and other goodies. These can be wagered on races or simply traded between you and your friends.
Online infrastructure mode is even more impressive. Not only are there rankings, leader boards and downloadable ghosts of the Top Ten fastest racers, there are also buddy lists, ignore lists, and you can even leave online mode without going offline to change your settings and micromanage. The online content in Blazin' Trails is some of the deepest we've seen thus far from a PSP title.
"Seen" may be a poor choice of words, though, since Blazin' Trails is not a pretty game. It moves at a snappy pace until you enter a sharp turn or fall off your ATV, at which point the framerate dives like Greg Louganis – violently. The environments don't feature any interesting effects, most of the textures are bland and the draw distance is very limited in outdoor levels. And just to make everything a little bit worse, every single race comes at the expense of a long loading screen.
As bad as it looks, Blazin' Trails features a really interesting soundtrack. We weren't familiar with most of the music, a lot of which is bad rap-core, but there are a couple excellent tracks that are so good it's almost hard to believe they're in a video game. The sound effects, on the other hand, are very believable, mainly consisting of the constant "Vvvvvvmp" of the ATV as well as identical gasps from the crowd every time a racer bites the dust.
ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trials features groovy Internet and Ad-Hoc content alongside a beefy single-player game, making it almost a complete package. Unfortunately, the missing piece is the biggest one, the playability, without which all the modes in the world don't mean a great deal. Your competition is dead serious, the hazards are all fatal, and your only resource is the X button. While Blazin' Trails manages to cover a lot of different terrain, its shoddy gameplay prevents it from handling any of it well.