I want my ATV.
It's a familiar story. Boy meets world. Boy takes world by the tail. World turns and bites boy, leaving him a broken man. Boy regroups, joins extreme sports racing team, and returns to conquer world. Okay, so the last part isn't so familiar but it's the set up for the story mode in ATV Offroad Fury 4, the latest in Sony's long running ATV Offroad series. You are "Slick" and you've returned to the extreme sports world after having had it all and -- on the cusp of stardom -- pissed it all away. It's up to you, the player, to complete Slick's redemption.
You do this by competing in races using extreme sports vehicles such as ATV's (All Terrain Vehicles), Motorcross (MX) bikes, buggies and trucks on a wide variety of tracks across the continents. As you race you win credits and gain sponsor endorsements, both of which translate into cash that you put toward upgrading your vehicle. The more you put into a given vehicle, the more powerful a machine you have to race with.
The game can be played within a story mode framework or not, your choice. If you prefer, you can just pick and choose different races you want to compete in and forgo Slick's plight altogether. The story itself, while lacking in originality, keeps your interest but really only bridges the gap -- by way of cut scenes -- between stages of racing. That's fine, though maybe future editions will include some of the other staples of extreme sports: funky hairstyles, tattoos, hosting an episode of MTV Cribs, etc.
However, if it's random races you're looking for there're plenty to choose from, with over seventy different race tracks in the game. You can even customize your own tracks with the track editor and tear them up with the vehicle of your choice. There's a lot of to do here.
Each of the vehicle classes has its own play mechanics and personality. Really, though, the distinction between vehicles comes down to two types, rather than four: the ones you ride on (ATV's, MX bikes) and the ones you ride in (buggies/trucks). Naturally, there's a lot more risk when you ride on something, because you can fall off, and so it is with the ATV's and MX's. Meanwhile, the buggies/trucks are a safer, more grounded, driving experience.
And since this is the world of extreme sports, it's not just what you do but how you look doing it (in other words, style matters). It’s not enough to win races, you have to perform tricks and stunts while doing so. The thing is, there's a huge discrepancy between the two classes of vehicles (ATV/MX versus buggies/trucks). On ATV's and MX's the player has to use the right analog stick in combination with the triangle or square buttons to perform specific stunts. With the buggies/trucks, you get trick points just for jumping and turning. Since trick points equal money, you’ll have a lot more to spend on your buggies and trucks, and wind up using them a lot more than the bikes and ATVs. It’s not remotely even.
The game remains highly competitive no matter how much you upgrade your vehicle. While on one hand it would be cool to build a super machine and blow everyone away, the AI always keeps up, which makes for more competitive races. Rarely will you blow your opponents off the track and that keeps it interesting, if somewhat frustrating.
The only other issue I have with the AI is that it sometimes feels inconsistent. You'll take two runs around the track at exactly the same speed and on one of them an opponent will pass you, seemingly for no other reason than the compeer decided to. Also, I would swear you tend to wreck more in close races but maybe I'm just not a strong finisher. In any case, there were a few too many last second loses to hard charging opponents or last second crashes for my tastes.
The graphics are excellent. Each track has its own personality and challenges. The vehicle and rider fit their surrounding world nicely and the physics are (relatively) realistic. The music is aggressive yet rhythmic, perfect for shredding but never a distraction, with enough songs that repetition is never a problem.
Despite some minor annoyances, this game is big fun. Something you can drop in for a few minutes for a quick race, or spend hours upgrading your vehicles. You can play it alone or have a buddy over for a trash talking session of eating up track. Whatever way you choose to play -- with friends, online or otherwise; or in story mode -- expect some taut, body-gyrating, controller-gripping, curse-inducing races. In other words, the best kind.
They say every story has been told, and that's certainly the case with ATV Offroad Fury 4. What differs is how the story unfolds, and that's up to you. So, boy, meet world ... again.