The ATV Offroad series was originally started by Rainbow Studios, who had also created some of the Smuggler’s Run and Splashdown titles. They had created an excellent engine for offroad racing and a very fun title that really captured the essence of ATVs. After the second title, Climax came on board and took Rainbow’s original plans and just tried to refine them for the third game in the series. With the fourth title in the series, Climax has gone way above the call of duty in terms of content in a racing game as well as maintaining the balance and sheer fun of the past games.

“Featuring an all-new story mode, players will be able to live the life of a rookie rider and earn a path to the ranks of professional racer. Players will experience the drama and intensity of realistic offroad racing with increasingly difficult race challenges and events all tied together with engaging, story-driven Full Motion Videos (FMVs). ATV Offroad Fury 4 adds cross communication capabilities with ATV Offroad Fury┬« Pro for the PSP system, including vehicle exchanges and upgrades, shared online communities, and the ability to share user created circuits.” That’s the company tag-line, and I would say that they weren’t too far off in their description. Read below and find out why.

ATV 4 really puts the PS2 through it’s paces. No it’s not photo-realisitc, but every race is chock full of stuff, massively huge, suffers from no pop up, and runs at a smooth 60 frames a second. Regardless of whether you’re racing in dirt, sand, snow, or part-ashpalt each track has a unique look and is filled with little touches that really add to the whole environment. On top of the environmental touches, ATV 4 runs great with 8 riders on the track at once with no graphical sacrifices. Climax has definately pushed this engine to its limits.

One thing that dings the graphics a little is the lack of detail in any of the vehicles. All of them have a very matte and bleh kind of look to them. I think it may have been intentional to allow you to customize your colors and add logos to your heart’s content. Also, when performing tricks, the animations will sometimes run after you’ve landed, which looks very awkward and sometimes leads to gameplay glitches.

On the whole though, ATV 4 runs at a great clip and the sense of speed is true, making for a very good visual experience.One recurring thought I had while playing this game was how much better it would’ve been on the PS3. Seeing what Climax has done with PS2 architecture I am certain they could’ve amped ATV 4 up for the PS3 launch and have been able to fully detail the vehicles and add just that much more touch to the game.

Licensed soundtracks are always hit or miss. Especially if you are not a big fan of the style of music that the developer chooses to include. I can safely say that with ATV 4, Climax has selected music that perfectly accompanies the on-screen action. Sure, most of it is pop-punk rock with catchy guitar riffs and 18 year olds yelling into the microphone, but it fits perfectly within the game. To pile on the praise, the sound effects are some of the best I’ve heard in a racing game. Every gear has a clear sound, and every vehicle type sounds differently. When you crash there’s a clear audible thud, other racers even yell at you when you hit them, and there’s a satisfying crunch when you fail to land properly and bail off the ride. Some people may be turned off by the choice in bands and music, but I think that it complements the game and is not offensive and makes for a more seamless gameplay environment.

Control is always the make or break for me in racing games. The way a vehicle responds to your input is so amazingly critical while playing. Add onto that a trick system and you are doing double duty in the controls department. Fortunately for ATV 4, the controls are fairly solid if not vanilla.

The first thing I did when I popped in the game was play one race with each of the different types of vehicles. I wanted to see if there was any difference between the way each one controlled. For the most part they all control like you would expect. You have to preload the springs on both the ATV and Motorcycle, but with the Buggy and Trucks you don’t have to worry about it.

I will say that all the vehicles responded fairly similiar to the controls, and that’s actually a draw back. While on an ATV or a Motorcycle you can do a faster turn, and that was really the only difference between how those two felt versus the bigger trucks. Lastly, the trick system is identical for ATVs and Bikes and that is to be expected, but I was really hoping for more vehicle specific moves. On top of that, sometimes you crash while doing a trick even after you release the buttons during a move. This is a problem that goes with the animations taking too long. Sometimes you would crash and bail and others you’d finish a “Superman” while the vehicle is on the ground. Little things like this draw you out and frustrate you in an otherwise excellent title.

Gameplay is spread out over a wealth of options. You’ve got basic racing, classic career, story mode, trick/arena mode, and online modes. You are also given the option of playing any of these pretty much without restriction. I found myself pretty well enveloped in the classic racing modes. You race a series of events against 7 other racers and try to win each series. How you perform earns you new sponsors and equipment that you can you in the story mode.

As for that story mode, it’s not my bag. Some folks might want that kind of thing in their racing game, but I don’t feel the need for it. Especially when the story is cheesy, has poorly done voice acting, and unskippable cutscenes. The great thing is that the whole story mode is completely skippable in and of itself and you still have a huge racing game to dive into.

The trick system in ATV4 is fairly simple to grasp, all the tricks can be performed by pushing in one of 8 directions and either pressing triangle or circle. You can combo moves together to earn greater and greater amounts of points. You get rewarded with credit in the game for the more tricks you pull off during a race, and you can use that credit to buy upgrades for your ride. There are two keys to getting good with the tricks, knowing how to preload and release your springs, pulling back on the L-stick and then releasing it at just the right time can send you flying into the air of a jump. This allows you ample time to try and squeeze several tricks for a combo. As long as you don’t run into any of the weird animation or control issues I did, all you need to do is make sure you are positioned to land, and you’ll reap the benefits of the trick system.

Arena mode lets you choose between the ATV or Motorocycle and try to accomplish several goals in an arena. Goals range from ride through all of the markers to score a certain amount of trick points. It reminded me of classic Tony Hawk style gameplay. Lastly, let’s not forget online play and a full fledged track editor, both expand on the single player, and with up to 8 people racing each other at once online you don’t need to worry about whooping the computer. You also have the ability to create your own online tournaments to see who is the best rider out there. It’s just a great way to expand on everything else you can do. The track editor is full to the brim with all of the options you’d expect, you can make differing sizes of tracks and even trade them with your friends fairly easily. I am starting to think that all racing games need track editors

Having long lasting value is a double edged sword for me. Sure I love games that last a long time, if they can keep my interest. There are, unfortunately, too many developers out there who stuff their titles with stuff to only have it as a bullet point on the back of the case. Well, I was in luck with Offroad Fury 4, as Climax not only got a ton of stuff into the box, but for the most part it’s all enjoyable and worth messing around with.

You can choose to play out the career mode in the story, race through the ranks in the classic mode, or go online and compete across the globe in tournaments as well as regular races. On top of all that is a trick mode, the option to ride a bike, buggy or truck, and then there’s the track editor! I can imagine Climax sitting down to put together the design document and seeing them look back at racing games as far back as Excitebike on the NES and realizing all of the little things that gamers have wanted out of their racing games. It’s always refreshing to see a developer not stuff the disk with useless content just to extend playing time, but to actually take the time and effort and construct very enjoyable modes and to give the gamer the power to make their own experiences online or with the track editor is great, and I hope we see more of this thinking spread to other genres.

ATV Offroad Fury 4 is an immense racing. You get 4 different vehicle types, over 70 tracks plus a track editor, robust online modes and even a story mode for those that want it. All of this is wrapped up in an attractive package that runs well, controls very smoothly and plays like it looks.

Climax has definately refined this series immensely and beyond a few minor quirks I can’t find much to dislike. They’ve taken something very good and improved on it in almost every conceivable way. Of course this type of racer and this type of racing in general won’t be for everyone. However, if plowing through the dirt on an ATV or in a Buggy or Truck sounds like fun to you, well it is. The story mode could’ve been more interesting, but you’re not forced into it, and overall ATV Offroad Fury 4 is an exciting title that has a lot of great diversions and different modes to play that you’ll rarely find yourself bored.