If you think of ATV’s, a few images come to mind. A powerful machine that breaks new ground and establishes new benchmarks. A fast machine that smokes the competition with its performance, leaving others in the dust. An agile machine that can nimbly handle just about anything thrown at it. Say what you will, but these descriptions could also be attached to the PS2 at its launch, which made ATV Offroad Fury’s runaway success so much sweeter. With an easy to learn control scheme, solid racing simulation and impressive soundtrack, Offroad Fury became an instant classic on the fledgling system. Now, two years later, SCEA and Rainbow Studios returns to its fast-paced racing action with ATV Offroad Fury 2.
Just like most racing games, ATV2 features single and multiplayer modes for quick races against other players or the computer, along with a hall of fame that tracks your best race times and placement on courses. The ubiquitous training mode is also presented, which explains some of the basics of gameplay; however, progressing through the elementary driving tests actually unlocks four ATV’s and four sets of equipment for you to use in the game’s Profile Editor mode. Easily the richest part of the game, the profile editor allows you to create a persona that will be used to establish yourself through each one of the four major events, a.k.a. types of races, throughout the more than 40 environments in the game.
Each event has its own specific traits, which requires a completely different approach to succeed on their individual courses. Nationals are large, winding outdoors tracks that feature plenty of jumps and abrupt turns that can cause dramatic falls off ATVs if riders aren’t careful. A majority of these races force players through the elements, like mud and snow, which can affect a machine’s handling and speed. Obviously, a balance of speed, technique and reflexes are needed to conquer these environments. Enduro racing, by contrast, has no definable shape, instead relying upon waypoints that have to be negotiated in numerical order. Tight steering and a speedy machine are necessary to establish a large lead, because with plenty of hills, switchbacks and hairpin curves on the course, positions can, and often do, trade places quickly.
Supercross are the races that you’ve probably seen on ESPN or other channels. An indoors based competition known for its large jumps that launch riders skyward, supercross tracks also feature areas called rhythm sections. Rhythm sections consist of plenty of little jumps or hills, each of which can sap top speed and potentially throw a rider. Successful navigation of these areas is based off timing and technique to either steer through them or attempt to leap over the entire section. Finally, for those hot doggers out there, Freestyle gives you the opportunity to bust big stunts and combos over wide-open areas. Packed with ramps, hills and jumps, everything on Freestyle courses can be used to boost you into the air to perform your tricks. The amount of elevation is based off the level of preloading performed on your shocks. By approaching a ramp and preparing your shocks for take off (“preloading” the shocks for initial take off and landing), you can launch your rider high into the air, providing them all the hang time they’ll need to pull off a trick. More than 20 realistic tricks can be attempted, all of which can be combined to pad your score.
Aside from your stunt score, the number of combos successfully landed and your final ranking determine how many profile points you’ll receive after a race. Essentially the game’s major form of currency, profile points can be used to unlock additional courses to race on as well as mini-games. There are four new mini-games in ATV2: Tag, Hockey, King of the Hill and Treasure Hunt. Tag throws a ball on a course, and tries to see who can retain possession of the ball the longest. Hockey places a large puck on a hockey rink, with the obvious objective of putting the puck into the goal. King of the Hill is a trick based game, where you claim hills or jumps as your own by successfully launching and pulling tricks off them. Finally, Treasure Hunt flings numerous coins across a large course, and you’ve got to try to gather up more of the doubloons than your opponents to win the game. Other than these games, profile points can be used to unlock new rider outfits and ATVs. A rider’s helmet, jumpsuit, and gloves, amongst other equipment can be specifically customized, and with more than twenty different companies providing racing gear and ATVs, players should be able to make a profile that’s as individual as their personality.
Graphically, ATV2 has been significantly improved over its predecessor. The most obvious enhancement is the lighting within the game. Every texture, from the riders to the tracks themselves, looks brighter and more detailed. This extends to the environments for Enduro and Nationals races, some of which are beautifully drawn with sunsets or cloudy skies as backdrops. Trees are well rendered, and the draw distance for each course has been significantly increased. This is very important considering the size of some of these tracks, many of which are very large. Environmental effects are also nicely added, with dust, mud and other debris flying with mud caking riders. Riders and ATVs have also received an overhaul, with cleaner models for each customization screen and more noticeable changes based off specific gear or vehicle configurations. Riders in particular animate very nicely, with their tricks and particularly their spills coming across very realistically. Let me warn you, there are some moments when falls will look so painful that you might wince. The only serious flaws that you might find within ATV2 are the frame rate hits that the game suffers, especially if computer and player controlled riders attempt tricks at the same time in the same stretch of track. While not overdramatic, it can noticeably slow the game down. There are also clipping moments, but a large amount of these seem to come from quick swings of the camera or particularly massive spills.
Regardless of these glitches, ATV2 excels with its music. The original title had tons of grunge tracks, packed with songs from Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and other major bands that fed the onscreen action. ATV2 keeps this licensed music theme going with plenty of alternative/dance/hip-hop tracks from groups such as Korn, System of a Down and Jurassic 5. Fortunately, if there’s a song that comes on that you don’t like, you can choose a new one from the available track listing. As for sound effects, you’ll specifically detect the differences between larger and smaller engines, especially when you throttle up or down along the track. However, you won’t find anything effect wise in ATV2 that wasn’t in the original game, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Controls, for the most part, are pretty solid. There are very few times in which you’ll ever feel that you’re not in charge of your machine. If there’s a specific loss of control, you’ve most likely caused it by an oversteer or a poor landing. In fact, the physics engine is so specific that it can track your ATV in the air, measure your landing and make your machine act accordingly. Landing with a slight angle can potentially lead to a spinout or a disastrous flip, while perfect landings seem to give you an additional boost in momentum. Learning to control your jumps is such an important skill that it’s taught in the training mode, and for good reason. The AI in ATV2 has been realistically modified, making sure that computer controlled riders act just like a human racer would. They’ll cut corners, jostle for position, edge bumpers on jumps and react in ways that can offer quite a challenge. They’ll even wipeout and cause accidents or other traffic jams with mistakes they make on rhythm sections or turns, which is very cool to know that the game doesn’t automatically turn their drivers into superhuman bots. They can be just as fallible as you. Potentially the largest hindrance with the game is the online competition. Races are limited to four players per race, which is insanely small considering the possible numbers of players online with the broadband adapter. It would’ve been much better if the game could support larger races, such as eight or even 16 racers on a course. It also would’ve been better if you were given the choice of more race events other than simple Race and Freestyle. Some of the mini-games are available, but some of them have also been locked away from multiplayers, requiring you to have unlocked them in single player action before you can access them as a possible game. This severely limits the amount of fun you’ll wind up having online, turning this feature into more of a gimmick than a selling point.
However, ATV2 does provide one thing: a solid offroad experience. With an improved graphical presentation, solid controls and good soundtrack, ATV Offroad Fury 2 is a worthy successor to the ATV crown. While its online feature could’ve been better, the single player experience is a great mix of simulation and arcade racing.