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     " Sort of like being given a howitzer to shoot ducks in a barrel. "

      Title: ATV Off Road Racing by Sony

      Format: PS2 Racer

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: To my knowledge, no one has made an ATV racer for any console since either the old NES or the Sega GenesisÖBut Sony launches us back into that particular fray with abandon. Hyped for several months, this is supposed to be the quintessential racer for the PS2. So, is it? Like Iím going to tell you here. Read on, Monkey Faithfuls, read on.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Lets be honest. Weíve seen a lot of crap turned out on this "next generation system" so far. Sony, prior to its launch, went to great lengths to impress us with demos and shots from games that truly "utilize what the PS2 is capable of." However, so far, in general, weíve seen diddly of that capabilityÖuntil now. Iím happy to report that ATV joins Madden and DoA 2 as a glimpse of what weíre really going to get out of this machine. While, like the above titles, itís not perfect and later sequels will be much sharper- the graphics in ATV really are exceptional. Crisp, clean modeling, smooth animations, beautiful environments, and great effects all make Off Road as much fun to watch as to play. Itís really quite impressive. Unfortunately, it loses the coveted "5" by having undynamic rider crash animations (you just go fetal and bounce around instead of reacting to what and how you hit), no tracks left by the bikes, and crowds that are so poorly rendered that calling them "badly pixalized 2D sprites" would do be like calling Hitler "unbalanced." Though Iím inclined to say "should have spent more time in the shop" I think the truth, as we said with Madden, is the developers really just want to make sure they have room to improve for the sequels. 4 out of 5

      Sound: Say it with meÖ"Vrrroooooommmmm," and "Vroooooooooom," and of course "Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroooom." Add in the occasional grunt, groan, and scream (though they are far too infrequent) and you get the idea. And, while Iím inclined to mark down for that, I just canít, knowing how incredibly kick ass the sound track is! Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Primus, Anthrax, and many more all lend their beautiful hard lined driving tunes to this game. It is the first time I have ever turned the game effects down so I could hear the music better. Amazing. And, Iíll say right now, something we better hear a lot more of from now on. No more cheap ass midi or generically boring crap. 5 out of 5

      Game Play: Weíve had a bit of an argument in the office as to what exactly ATV should get here. The problem is that it is a fun game, a very fun game. A damned fun game, game thatís enough fun that we will not be getting rid of it until the sequel comes out. Unfortunately, however, it has a few points so annoying that certain aspects of the game become almost unplayable.
                    You see, on the plus side it has:
          1) A kick ass physics engine that lets race around with an almost perfect mix of realism and surrealism (400-foot jumps, etc.). Pull off hairy jumps, insane tricks, and some ludicrous driving (like on top of trains and in oil pipes) while still needing to lean hard into your turns, control your balance, and keep track of your speed to climb ratio. Itís incredibly cool.
           2) Several cool modes of play including enduro, indoor motocross, outdoor races, and freestyle, enough crap that youíll almost never get tired of playing. Each mode also has at least 2 different options on whether you want to race or just screw around.
           3) A race editor to let you set your own check points on enduro courses. Which lets you make courses as real or as ridiculous as you want.
                    Unfortunately, it also has:
           1) Possibly the most infuriating crash physics in any racing game. Did you hit something? Anything at all? Was it a tree when youíre going 140mph or a stump that would easily pass under your tire at 2mph? Well, you get to have the exact same crash animation for both. Witness in awe as your rider flies 20 feet off his bike and whines like a 4-year-old girl with the slightest tap on your front tire. Gawk in amazement when running into a sign going so slow your speedometer canít even register sends you careening as though being hit by a truck. Itís absolutely ridiculous. It also means that if you bail for any reason, at all, you can look forward to the same 3 or 4 seconds of down time before you get back on your bike. Definitely a real problem for a racing game wrought with hazards. There is also no abort key in race mode, so you get to just sit there and watch as you lose your precious race position.
            2) One of the most bullshit AIís in gaming history. The further you go, especially in career mode, the more ludicrous the AI becomes. Bumps and hits that would send you flying they take like nothing happened. Collisions between you and them almost unanimously end with you losing, regardless of whoís in the position of power. And, worst of all, where it takes you 3 or 4 seconds to recover from a crash, after which you return to your stopped bike in some unfortunate track positionÖThe CPU respawns almost instantaneously and already driving at speed! So, to put that in terms youíll definitely understand, it means that say youíre driving and the computer accidentally runs into your rear tire with its front. Typically, this would mean he crashes and you just get bumped a bit. Instead, it means that you definitely go flying and he may or may not. Even if he does, by the time youíre back on your bike, heís not only already back on his but has also driven 50 or 100 feet...Even though the crash should have been worse for him! Itís, by definition, the way a cheap-bastard game developer adds difficulty and one of the most insulting and aggravating things Iíve ever seen in a racing game. Pissed me off to no end.
            3) The dumbest "off track warning" Iíve ever seen. In real racing, if you cut a corner or drop a set of ollies they tack a few seconds on to your time. In most games, they either have barriers or auto-aborts should you go off track. In this game, there is an arbitrary measurement of how far youíve traveled off track (not whether or not youíve actually gained anything by doing so) and a five second reset if you went "too far." So it doesnít matter if youíve actually gained time/distance or notÖIf youíve gone out on purpose to cut a corner or if you accidentally jumped outÖIf youíre off track "too long" (whatever too long is, thereís no indication) you will have to return to where you went off track, and if your not off track "too long" you get away with whatever you did. This means jumping at the wrong angle, getting bumped, or just missing a turn will lose you a race, but finding the right corners or ollies you can cut fast enough will give you the win. Itís crap, and itís inexcusable on the PS2.
            4) The worst "Career Modeí of any racing game Iíve seen in years. What it is, as you may have guessed, is the single player mode in which you unlock additional tracks (which is absolutely necessary to keep the game playable). What you wouldnít guess is how completely inane the process is. Before you begin, you pick your rider and ATV. The one ATV you will get, so make sure to pick it well. Then, in career mode, you will compete in race after race (from which there is no diversion) for the sole and exclusive purpose (note the redundancy) of unlocking tracks. There is no money made to use in upgrades on your bike (as in most games). There is no plot. There is no repairing of damage or swapping of parts. There is only the monotony of timed race after timed race (which, if thatís all I wanted to do, Iíd just do in normal race mode). Whatís worse yet, way worse as a matter of fact, is how they make it more difficult. First and for most, this is where you see the AI problem in all itís preposterous glory. Be prepared for nothing but endless screams of "What the hell!?!" as you watch the computer perform impossibly well, be ridiculously stable, and have absolutely no penalty for wiping out. Second, is the place in which you have to finish. Youíd think, it being career mode and all, that the points you acquire for previous races would be measured against a grand total for the circuit. Not only does it make sense, but again, thatís the way it works in real life. But then, this game isnít real life. Forget the fact that by race 9 of 11 you lead the 2nd place racer by 4 first place victories. Forget the fact that it is absolutely impossible for any of the other "career" circuit racers to catch up to you. You will generally need to finish each race in 1st or 2nd place or you donít get to advance. So, in the end, it will take as much luck as skill to finish the monotony of career mode- with you desperately repeating race after race hoping you can not only pull off a perfect run but also that the computer wonít bump you, land on you, or just be impossibly better than you could ever be. Which, I think it goes without say, is a sad frickiní way to make a game difficult.
      So, add all that up, good and bad, and you have a fun game that should have been a lot more so. Thus, it splits the rating almost down the center. 3.5 out of 5

      Level and Environment Designs: Oh, Mama! These tracks all rule, all pretty and jumpy and exciting. Now, granted, some are more entertaining than others, but in general I couldnít imagine how they could have made the runs any better. Each one has its own feel, its own rhythm, and its own demands from you and your ATV (none of that "floor it from start to end" crap here). Best of all, there is a ton of them so you shouldnít get board any time soon. The only two disadvantages are that there are no hidden features, so you only do the race/run as prescribed and that the tracks are only usable for their specific types of runs (so you canít do motocross on a enduro run or just tear up and explore a race track). Theyíre small gripes, but it keeps it at 4 out of 5.

      Multiplayer: 2 players split screen and up to 4 with a multi-tap means you can all cut mud together. Run races; kill enduros, and even just take time pulling off tricks. The only potential problem at all is trying to decide which songs to play. 5 out of 5

      Replayability: Hell, Iím not board of it yet and Iíve gone way past the expected 15+ hours playtime I expect from a title. For that matter, I donít anticipate hanging my helmet up any time soon. Race, jump, grind, and flyÖplenty to keep you busy and entertained. Plus, youíll unlock enough tracks that you wonít even memorize them all for a very long time. Best of all, though, is unlocking the "Havoc 1000" ultimate ATV after you finish the single player modeÖwhich is sort of like being given a howitzer to shoot ducks in a barrel. 4 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: Definitely my one true bone of contention, not only is there no story (at all) but you donít even get to build or upgrade your rides. I know most people donít care much about story in racing games but give us -something-. 0 out of 5

      Instructions and Learning Curve: HmmmÖ"X" makes you go, "square" makes you stop, the little analog stick makes you turnÖThink you can figure it out? Good, Sparky! The only deduction comes from the fact that it doesnít support an analog throttle for some completely unimaginable reason. It is a racing game, right? What were they thinkingÖ 4 out of 5

      Installation and Real System Requirements: Though I know the PS2 is capable of more and Iím drooling all over myself in anticipation of it, this will definitely get you through in the mean time. Oh and, since I have to mention it, the load times are entirely reasonable to boot. 5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

 

       This game is so fantastic it makes me want to go by a damned ATV for real. Fast, fun, and furious- youíll be happy to part with every hard earned banana this sucker costs. Though its flaws are a bit glaring, they canít come close to detracting from the overall joy this game brings. It makes me forget that Iím a pariah, with no one who loves me and how horribly, horribly alone I amÖHold me?

      The Good: Great Physics, Killer Graphics, and a Fantastic Sound Track.

      The Bad: Cheap Ass Difficulty Modifiers, a Few Huge Glitches.

      The Overall Ugly: You need to go get this game. Right now. Trust me, itís worth it... Hey, why are you still sitting there? I said go now, dammit!

      What it's Worth: Market

Buy it direct from Amazon.com

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