I have to be honest: what I know about ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and racing them could be stored on the head of a pin, with room left over for the inclusion of a complete transcript of War and Peace. What really makes this embarrassing is that my father actually runs a shop that sells ATVs and even sponsors a racer or two. But I know nothing about these machines other than they have a tendency to roll over whenever I spot them on a show like Maximum Exposure. This fact alone is enough to keep me from riding one—a thousand-pound vehicle landing on top of me isn't something I'd like to experience firsthand. This is why it's cool to be a gamer—I can play a videogame version of the ATV experience and get all the thrills and spills without having to spend any downtime in the hospital recovering from broken bones.
ATV Offroad Fury 3 is the latest installment of the popular offroad racing series, and while stalwart developer Rainbow Studios has moved on, new kids on the ATV block, Climax, has picked up the gauntlet and made the transition between one developer to another as seamless as possible. Fans looking for an ATV racer with tricks, customization options, and a whole lot of wicked crashes should be pleased with what they find here.
What's always made the games in this series so popular is their accessibility. Offroad Fury 3 is no exception in this regard. It's got a pick-up-and-play approach making it easy for just about anyone to grab a controller and get in on the action. To truly succeed, however, players will need to learn to master a series of maneuvers—some complex, some simple—and it's here that the game really shines. Sporting a great tutorial mode, the game will teach players how to pull off everything from power-slides (to take those sharp corners) to linking tricks to max out combo points. Each tutorial starts with an explanation and a demonstration, and then the player takes his shot at it. Failing will happen, but a quick reload allows gamers to keep working at honing their skills with minimal downtime.
Of course, players looking for the Gran Turismo of ATV racing will be disappointed. Despite the ability to upgrade and customize your ride, Offroad Fury 3 falls squarely into the category of arcade racer. Winning essentially comes down to knowing when to "preload" your jumps (a maneuver wherein the player must push down on the control stick going into the jump and up at the peak for a boost) and how to power-slide through corners without wiping out in the process. Tracks will become more complex as the player advances and the artificial intelligence will become significantly more aggressive and ruthless in their tactics, but at the end of the day, mastering these moves is the key to winning.
To truly succeed at the game, though, players will need to learn to utilize the game's trick system. Sure, a gamer can win races with power-slides and big air, but to unlock items (like new bikes), pulling off some mad stunts will be necessary. Fortunately, the trick system in ATV Offroad Fury 3 is pretty simplistic. If a player can run up some million point combos in a Tony Hawk game, they'll be pulling off sick tricks here in short order. The selection of ground tricks is pretty paltry, featuring wheelies, endos, and bicycles. Air tricks are much more diverse, although mastering all of them comes down to one thing: learning how long the animation lasts so that the player can make sure he's back in the saddle before touching terra firma. Failure to be in the seat at landing ensures a crash that would make Johnny Knoxville and the guys on Jackass cringe in sympathy. I have to be honest, though—I had almost as much fun wiping out as I did playing the regular game. Watching my onscreen avatar fly through the air like a ragdoll before crashing into something like a wall just never got old…
What does get a little old are the endless races. Of course, complaining about a racing game having races is a lot like complaining about a role-playing game having battles. It's just that there doesn't seem to be as much variety to the racing on display in Offroad Fury 3 as there should be. There are Supercross events, Enduro challenges, Short Track, and National races. Yet, despite the differences in setting, the racing in all of these events feels the same. Yes, there are different tracks and the Enduro challenges are more open than the Supercross events, but at the end of the day, it's still just running an ATV over some dirt. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the game's other mode—Freestyle—is so underwhelming that it's barely worth playing.
Playing online is a different story, however. Racing alongside five other human beings certainly brings a new dimension to the game. The online interface is easy to navigate and streamlined in its presentation, so getting into a game is easy enough that players will spend more time racing than looking for a match. All of the offline race types are available online, as well as the Freestyle mode (which is still a letdown even online) and games like soccer and hockey on ATVs (these aren't as fun as they sound, either). Gamers who go online with their PS2 will find a lot more to like about ATV Offroad Fury 3. This is one of the rare titles where the online component seems more fleshed-out than the offline.
Graphically, Offroad Fury 3 is a toss-up. Bikes and character models look surprisingly decent (in a nice touch, the racers and bikes get dirty as the races progress), but the environments suffer from bland colors, low-res textures and an overall aesthetic appearance that stands in stark contrast to the riders and the bikes. Worse still is the slowdown that mars the game from time to time. Offroad Fury 3 will run smoothly for the most part—at least until players start power-sliding on a rain or snow covered track. Weather effects cause some major slowdown that really takes the joy out of the experience, but at least the camera is manageable.
Like all "extreme sports," ATV Offroad Fury 3 sports a soundtrack of rock and alternative music that someone out there apparently enjoys. It didn't do much for me (and a special nod must be given to whoever decided to include a Bootsy Collins song—that's just too bizarre), but most of the time the music will be buried underneath the screaming whine of the ATV's engine. When a player would rather hear the high-pitched whine of an engine at red-line over the music picked to accompany the action, that's definitely a statement about the quality of the soundtrack overall.
All of this being said, ATV Offroad Fury 3 is still fun. Sure, the offline mode can get old fast, but arcade racing fans with an internet-ready PS2 will find that the title's playability grows almost exponentially when experienced with a group of other human beings. Offroad Fury 3 has some kinks to work out, but that just gives us all something look forward to when the inevitable ATV Offroad Fury 4 hits shelves sometime in the not too distant future.