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ATV Offroad Fury 4
ATV Offroad Fury 4 Review

ATV Offroad Fury 4 is the fourth installment of the popular racing franchise for the PlayStation 2, sort of. For those who have not been keeping up on the crazy license swapping that has been taking place with the franchise of late, allow us to briefly recap.

Rainbow Studios (with publisher Microsoft) had earned a reputation for developing incredibly rich offroad racing games for the PC in the late 1990’s. When the PS2 first came on the scene, Sony lured Rainbow away from Microsoft and their first joint effort, ATV Offroad Fury, was a smashing success. The combination of Sony and Rainbow would go on to produce the equally successful sequel, ATV Offroad Fury 2, before parting ways. Rainbow would begin working with THQ on the Unleashed series of offroad race games while the ATV Offroad Fury name would stay behind with Sony as the publisher. Only this time, beginning with ATV Offroad Fury 3, Climax Studios was filling in as the programming team. As such and since Climax returned for ATV Offroad Fury 4, the game play most closely resembles that of part 3, which is to say slightly faster and more arcade-like than the first two (Rainbow Studios) entries of the series. Confused yet? Don’t be. Keeping track of the license swap isn’t necessary to enjoy ATV Offroad Fury 4.

Anyone who has logged time on any of the three ATV Offroad Fury predecessors will immediately feel at home here. Since this is Climax’s second effort at the development controls, the textures, color pallet, frame rate, and details most closely resemble those found in ATV Offroad Fury 3. However, the graphics in ATV Offroad Fury 4 actually improve upon the tried and true formula by streaming environments directly off the DVD-ROM rather than uploading the tracks into the PS2’s memory. As a result, nearly all pop-up draw-in distance is eliminated and the backgrounds are loaded with activity and color. Terrain is truly amazing with life-like valleys, hills and off-camber slopes. The frame rate is smooth and precise with a few noticeable glitching or dips in fps (frames per second) to report. Those glitches are found mostly in the sponsors' races. Even with these few glitches, the frame rates are top-notch for the amount of details PS2 renders.

The ATV models themselves are superb, especially considering the restrictions of the quickly aging PS2 hardware. The quads truly resemble their real life counterparts and are coupled with very lifelike engine sounds and exhaust notes. Still missing are the brand name ATVs. Climax manages to deliver an accurate racing experience even without the major manufacturers' brand names.

Unfortunately, while the engine sounds are stellar, the same cannot be said for the sound track. Generic scream-rock, screeching guitars, and intermittent hip-hop does more to distract from the game’s core play elements than it does to enhance them. We personally wish more developers would follow the example of titles such as Tourist Trophy and Gran Tourismo in which quiet voiceless up-tempo melodies, or a complete lack of music during races, allow players to immerse themselves in the racing experience.

Variety is definitely the name of the game in ATV Offroad Fury 4, and Climax makes certain there are enough game play modes to tide players over until the Playstation 3 era begins. Single Player mode offers up a Training Mode which starts by teaching basic maneuvers and vehicle control. Once training is passed, players can venture into Quick Race which is basically an arcade-like single race experience across any of the events offered in the game. Classic Mode picks up where the series predecessors left off by offering a string of races to win in a given event series be it indoor Supercross, Outdoor National, Rally, Point to Point, Freestyle, or Sponsor Race. Finally, and new to the series, is the impressive Story Mode. Visualize the career mode of your favorite wrestling game and you get the idea: Bad acting, terrible voice over work, and a plot as thin as tissue paper all strung together with poorly animated cut scenes. However, don’t misinterpret this to mean the mode isn’t addicting. There is something about starting at ground zero then working your way up through the ranks to Offroad racing stardom that is quite satisfying. After a few game sessions the corny acting seems to fade into the background of challenging racing and traveling the virtual globe to compete and hopefully earn the attention of sponsors.

Multiplayer modes are also abundant, offering everything from head to head racing to an entire host of online competition options that support a whopping eight player simultaneous action. Not only can players prove their skill in the game’s preprogrammed events, there are some interesting mini-games to be found here as well, including hockey, bowling, and the wonderfully addicting treasure hunt.

Finally, and also new to the series, is a fairly intuitive track editor. A staple to the PC versions of this series for years, console players finally get to try their hand at laying out their own Supercross circuits which can be raced against computer controlled opponents or imported online for a completely unique racing experience.

Again, if you've played any of the past ATV Offroad Fury efforts, then you know exactly what to expect. The challenge is mostly derived from the player’s ability to time various obstacles while keeping the ATV on all four wheels. While most similar games attempt to increase the challenge factor by forcing players to use every single button of the controller to be successful, ATV Offroad Fury maintains the tradition that simple gas, brake and preload options are all that’s required to succeed. In our opinion this is the game’s absolute definitive factor as the developers manage to make the racing action challenging but not overly frustrating while keeping a very simple, yet effective control scheme.

While slightly more arcade in nature than the simulation aspects of the early entries of the series, ATV Offroad Fury 4 is far from mindless button mashing. The key to success is mastering the suspension preload control which uses a meter to determine how far the ATV will bounce on the lip of a take-off ramp. The system is fairly simple and easy to control but requires skill to master. In the end, players who are able to smooth out rough sections by carefully timing their jumps will have a definitive advantage over just smashing the gas. There is still a high degree of simulation found in this racing series even if the system seems a bit rudimentary initially.

Finally new to the series (and taking a chapter from Rainbow Studios’ MX VS ATV franchise) is the ability to race far more than just ATVs. Players now get the opportunity to try their luck racing everything from trophy trucks, to dune buggies, to motorcycles. While this does contribute to the excellent sense of versatility, it cheapens the ATV racing experience in our opinion by suggesting that ATVs aren’t interesting enough to warrant a game devoted to them exclusively.

Overall, Climax pulled no punches on what is likely their final ATV Offroad Fury effort on the PS2 console. It is truly amazing to witness their mastery of tapping the aging hardware for all it is worth. There is much to be excited about here and even more so in anticipating the possibilities of their transfer over to the much anticipated PS3.

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