Four strokes or two strokes, victory is in your hands.
The first time I won a race in Pure, I was gleefully informed that “You Came 1st!” The missing preposition didn’t just have me wondering what sort of contest I’d just won, but I also felt pretty damn good about myself. Without a doubt, Pure fills the snowboard-shaped hole in my heart that used to be filled by the SSX series.
[image1]Pure takes all the best ideas from extreme sports racing games of the past, adds some spit and polish, and comes out a refreshing—if not terribly unique—experience. Up to now, I’ve been unimpressed by the slew of prior ATV games, some even by Pure’s developer Black Rock Studio. Most quad-racing games in the past have gotten too hung up on making a game that accurately simulates the feeling of riding a quad, but Pure forgets about all of that distracting simulation jazz and focuses instead on creating a fun experience first and foremost.
Pure has about as much to do with actual ATV racing as Katie Holmes has to do with Tom Cruise. You tear through outlandishly exaggerated courses from around the world, performing gravity defying jumps and cartoonish tricks at every possible turn and bump in the road. The game comes down to three basic mechanics: steering, boosting, and performing tricks. Like in the SSX games, you perform tricks to fill your boost meter. As your meter fills, it unlocks the ability to do more impressive tricks. And as was first introduced in SSX Tricky, once your meter is completely filled, you can perform special tricks unique to each of the game’s characters.
Like sex and video games, you need to find a healthy balance [There's a balance?! ~Ed.] between tricks and boosting. How you decide between the two has everything to do with the course, the event type, and your play preference. In race events, tricks tend to slow you down, but they also can give you enough boost to give you the lead once you return to earth. In sprint events, you’ll generally want to stay as firmly rooted to terra firma as possible. In freestyle events, the sky is your playground, but boosting can often get you even more air for squeezing in more impressive combos. While it doesn’t take long to make your way through all of the single-player events, it’s a great trip the whole way through.
[image2]You’ll notice almost right away that steering in the game feels very floaty. This game could just as easily have taken place on water or in the snow as on dirt, since you’ll spend much more time controlling your skidding, slipping, and sliding than riding in a straight line. But since this game is obviously not aiming for realism, its floatiness doesn’t detract from the fun. If anything, it helps give it a much more frantic and frenetic feeling, just like watching an old man cross an icy street.
Pure also includes a vehicle customization feature. You can either build your own quads from scratch or have the game build one for you that’s better suited for either freestyle or racing events. As you win races, you’ll unlock new parts that can then be slapped onto your ATV right away. Some parts are merely cosmetic, but others affect various performance traits. You also unlock new slots for new ATVs with a total of ten possible different ATVs to design, though it’s hard to imagine why you’d need so many since there are only the three different race types.
In addition, as you progress you’ll unlock new engine classes that you’ll need to put to use in the higher stages. However, the engine class divisions make for some odd quirks. For example, if you want to go back to an earlier stage, you have to downgrade your engine class. It would have been much easier to do away with the engine classes altogether and just confine you to slower or faster speeds depending on the stage. Instead, we’re left with a clunky requirement to keep changing engines.
[image3]Worse, when you play online, the engine class requirements disappear, so you won’t stand much of a chance until you’ve unlocked your class A engine. If all you’ve got is a class D, you’ll be left in the dust of the big boys. That means that the online game is pretty much pointless until you’ve gotten to the later stages of the single-player game. Otherwise, racing and freestyling online works without a hitch. Playing with up to 15 other people doesn’t cause any problems and load times remain zippy throughout.
The game’s hidden strength, though, is in its visual presentation. Vehicle and character models look great. Riders react appropriately to collisions, jumps, and crashes. Environments are stunning and handily put graphical gems like Motorstorm to shame for sheer variety and detail. Finding new and hidden paths through the courses is just as much about exploring the lush and interesting environments as it is about finding a faster route.
Pure doesn’t change the extreme sports racing genre in any major way, but it does give hope to those of us who have been patiently waiting for a substitute for the SSX games. Pure is the new kid on the block, and if given a sequel or two to improve, it could grow into a brilliant beast of a man.