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ATV Offroad Fury 4
Graphics: 7.5
Gameplay: 8.3
Sound: 7.2
Control: 8.7
Replay Value: 8.1
Rating: 8
Publisher: SCE
Developer: Climax Racing
Number Of Players: 1-2 Players

Several franchises began and enjoyed great success in the PS2 generation, and although that era is drawing to a close, there remain plenty of reasons to stay tuned to new PS2 releases. One of the more well-received and popular series on the system is the ATV Off-Road franchise, which features games that specialize in high-octane fun and easily accessible Ė yet quite intense Ė entertainment. And now, the fourth installment in the series is set to hit stores this week, so letís take a look at how the ATV games have grown over the years.

While none of the ATV titles have sported groundbreaking visuals, they have all provided a mostly solid and relatively high-quality graphical palette. But despite the fourth ATV featuring some cool effects and a bit more detail, it looks very much like previous installments. Itís a touch disheartening to find a lack of any significant improvement, but at the same time, the graphics arenít necessarily disappointing. Furthermore, the graininess is acceptable thanks to a respectable level of detail and fine-tuning, and besides, thereís a lot of dirt of course it should be a little grainy!

You could always expect a decent assortment of rock and alternative soundtracks in the ATV games, and the latest title is no exception. This time, weíre greeted with several hard-hitting tracks mixed in with a few more off-beat selections, and although they tend to get a bit repetitive the more you play, the soundtrack ultimately serves its purpose. The sound effects arenít quite as crisp as youíd like, as the dirt-grinding tires and high-impact collisions tend to get downplayed by the oddly muted effects, but again, they do the job. All in all, thereís nothing all that spectacular in the sound category, but there isnít anything particularly damning, either.

If thereís one aspect of the interactive video game ATV has always excelled at, itís the gameplay. ATV Off-Road Fury 4 brings it all back, from the high-flying leaps courtesy of the "jump stick" to the rock-solid controls. And even better, Climax Racing has gone and spiced things up with new modes, new and improved online play, and best of all, new vehicles. Thatís right, ATV fans, youíre not just limited to four-wheeled frenetic fun this time around, so buckle up for even more off-road action.

If youíve gotten tired of the ATV, this game introduces you to a goodly assortment of dune buggies, MX dirt bikes, and even trophy trucks. The ATVs control almost exactly the same as they did in previous ATVs (which isnít a bad thing), and each of the aforementioned vehicles also boast the same fluid and mostly simple controls. However, because the buggies and trucks donít fly through the air with the greatest of ease, theyíre relegated to straightforward racing. And unfortunately, buggy and truck racing do seem somewhat bland due to a less than fully-realized race structure and physics mechanic.

Still, they offer something different, and the controls really are very good. The buggies love to power-slide Ė thus allowing the player to rack up some easy trick points Ė the trucks are stable and effective, and the MX bikes are appropriately quick and agile. Much like the ATVs, the MXs can be used to pull off some seriously sweet mid-air stunts, and although a bit more erratic, theyíre still crazy fun to ride. If only the buggy and truck races felt like the total experience of the ATV and MX events...

But speaking of new additions, certainly the most appealing one is the new Story Mode, which is very similar to the traditional Career Mode found in many sports titles. It was a feature sorely missing in the ATV franchise, and theyíve finally come through with a comprehensive start-from-scratch story that puts you in full control of your destiny. Climax has you accumulate credits through racing and tricks, and you can use these credits for cool upgrades and even for purchasing new vehicles via the Garage. You can also fiddle around with your characterís race uniform and the paint job for your wheels, so this all comes together to be a much-appreciated set of options.

Not only is the Story Mode appreciated, itís almost essential for creating longevity and replay potential. Further, being able to select between great upgrades like exhaust, engine, brakes, gearbox, and intake, and getting the opportunity to choose between these upgrades and a new vehicles adds a good bit of strategy to ATV Off-Road Fury 4. Youíll also get to participate in new point-to-point events (use multiple routes!), a Training mode that will test your skills, and a Classic mode designed specifically for any hardcore ATV fan.

Other modes include Supercross, Rallycross, National, Hill Climb, Head-to-Head, Freestyle and Circuit, and with 30 available tricks to pull off, a ton of new tracks, and an albeit basic Track Editor, ATV 4 is chock full of content. It also features a completely revamped online experience, supporting up to eight players and offering player access to message boards, buddy lists, and scoreboards. And thankfully, beneath all that content lies a nicely polished and well-designed gameplay mechanic that never fails to deliver. However, itís not all sparkling news...

The new vehicles are a nice addition, to be sure, but the shortcomings of the trucks and buggies only emphasize just how focused the series remains on ATVs. If there werenít so many tracks and events, the extra vehicles might also feel arbitrary; after-thoughts in a primarily ATV-oriented game. Furthermore, the difficulty and AI leave something to be desired as most races just come down to avoiding mistakes rather than superior racing ability. Your opponents have the standard, ho-hum AI weíre all familiar with, in both the ATV franchise and many other sports games.

And lastly, while the Story Mode is nicely implemented and gives the player a reason to keep racing, that somewhat mediocre challenge and opponent AI soon proves to make the game a bit tedious and boring. But the final word remains wholly positive, thanks almost entirely to the combination of fantastic gameplay control and an almost absurd amount of new content. There are some pretty glaring issues in the overall package Ė those tracks wear on you after a while, and the repetitiveness is painfully evident Ė but itís not enough to fall below recommendation.

ATV Off-Road Fury 4 is a definite upgrade, plain and simple. It may not be quite enough to summon new fans this late in the day, but that Story Mode and extra modes/content is always intriguing, regardless of whether or not youíre familiar with the franchise. Sadly, it suffers from some of the same old problems, but it remains, above all else, fun. And in the end, thatís more than enough.

10/29/2006   Ben Dutka