Thursday, October 16, 2008

PURE Review

PURE, developed by Blackrock Studio and published by Disney Interactive Studios.
The Good: Fun arcade racing, three distinct race types, full-bodied career mode, comprehensive ATV customization, online play, well-designed courses, capable AI competition, straightforward controls, minor penalty for crashes, slick presentation
The Not So Good: Extremely long load times, fixed screen resolution
What say you? A strong arcade racer with an emphasis on tricks, big air, and close racing: 7/8

While the PC has always been a bastion of racing simulations, the console market has (for the most part) focused on more accessible, more unrealistic arcade racing games. There is nothing inherently wrong with that as long as you know of the casual slant going in and the game is fun. Continuing the proud tradition of limiting arcade racing games to only four-letter titles, PURE takes the action to the all-terrain vehicle: it offers all of the heart-pounding racing excitement without all of that pesky safety equipment getting in the way. High flying action is the order of the day; is PURE pure excitement, or pure drudgery?

One thing you can be assured of in a console racing product is an emphasis on graphics. I mean, as long as the game looks good, who cares how it plays, right? PURE does a fantastic job offering up stellar visuals: from the intricately detailed ATVs to the environments, everything looks like a whole lot of money was spent developing the graphics. The special effects, such as tire tracks, dirt, and water, all look fantastic. Even the loading screens have style: your customized ride and rider are pictured as a new track is opened. Performance is acceptable as well, providing smooth gameplay as you hurtle around each environment. The console roots rear their ugly head as PURE features a fixed screen resolution at an archaic 1024 by 768 pixels. This would probably result in some problems for widescreen monitors, although since I am not l33t enough to have one I am not sure. As you might expect, the soundtrack for PURE relies heavily on what the kids call “rock music,” and it fits the theme of the game well. The audio effects are generally quite good, with engines roaring and tires squealing (although more sliding is present on the dirt tracks). The character voices are repetitive, but these rarely get in the way of the overall high quality of the presentation.

As the title clearly indicates, PURE is an arcade ATV racing game. Obviously. The meat of the game is contained in the career mode, which consists of ten stages comprising four to six races each; more on this later. In addition, you can undertake single races that fall into one of three flavors: traditional races, shorter sprints, and trick-filled freestyle competitions that are points-based (more points for landing unique, difficult tricks). The freestyle races are also peppered with powerups, such as score multipliers or additional fuel to perform tricks longer. The two race modes and the freestyle mode are distinct enough to make PURE essentially two games in one, and each of the modes utilizes different strategies. If you are a bit rusty, you can practice any of the unlocked tracks with no competition to worry about. PURE also includes online play either through the Internet or over a LAN; joining a game is a easy affair using either the quick match option or a more detailed server listing. Hosts can limit the maximum allowed engine class to make races fairer for beginning racers that have not progressed as far in the career mode, but few actually use this option. By far the most frustrating aspect of PURE is the load times. It takes a good two minutes to enter the game, about twenty second to load a race, and thirty seconds to quit to the main menu. This is with 2 GB of RAM, mind you. With everything stored on the hard drive, you would think that PURE would load much more quickly, but you almost spend more time waiting for a race to load than actually playing the game. The extreme load times actually discouraged me from playing PURE, a phenomenon that should never, ever happen.

Now that it is later, it’s time to talk about the career mode. Six riders are available to choose from, although the differences seem to be purely aesthetic instead of actually impacting the gameplay (I could be wrong; the game doesn’t make this clear). PURE does not require complete perfection in order to progress through the career: all you need to do is the equivalent of winning half of the races in each stage in order to unlock the next. This is great, especially since each stage consists of all three racing modes and you might not be as adept at certain ones and bad luck does happen. PURE has very comprehensive ATV customization: all twenty-three (!) parts can be switched out and upgraded. Some of these parts affect performance (max speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and tricks) while the rest just make your vehicle look cool. The game can suggest the best part for a specific type of setup (race vs. tricks) to speed up the process. The game clearly marks newly unlocked parts, at least for the first vehicle you access. The lack of mouse support (hello console port!) hurts here, as drop-down menus for all 23 parts on one screen would surely speed up the process considerably. But, who uses a mouse on a PC, right? Keyboard FTW!

Controlling your ATV is slightly more complicated than “go” and “turn.” You can “pre-load” before a jump by holding down a button and then releasing it at the top; this will make you jump further and increase the amount of time available for cool tricks. You can also add an almost insignificant amount of boost to catch up to nearby riders. Tricks are completed by pressing and button and a direction while in the air (tricks can be modified by holding another button…talk about multitasking!). You only have access to “level 1” tricks to start out, but as you successfully land tricks without crashing, you will make level 2 and 3 tricks available (more points!). It takes a couple of races to get the controls down, but once you do, PURE is pure enjoyment (ha ha!). The game does have a tutorial, but it doesn’t do a sufficient job: it tells you what to do using the default keyboard controls, but just makes sure you press the appropriate button and not necessarily at the correct time.

PURE does a good job giving you race information without cluttering up the screen. Your location relative to other competitors is clearly indicated in the upper level, with a quick visual showing distance gaps. The game lacks a map, but it doesn’t really need it. Courses are designed well and take advantage of the game modes: jumps are frequent without being overkill and the terrain is varied to make races more interesting. The physics are decidedly arcade, although you will occasionally have to use the brake for tight turn. The insane amounts of air time are appropriate for landing a couple of tricks. Unlike the complete insanity of skateboarding games, you usually only have time for two or three at once time in PURE. Crashing, either by landing awkwardly or, you know, running into a tree, results in a short cut-scene followed by almost immediate respawning. Crashing will not kill your race, thankfully, as PURE favors experimentation over boring, conservative play. The AI is quite competitive and ramps up in difficulty at an appropriate rate as you upgrade your vehicle.

PURE is a well designed arcade racing title. While an arcade racing game is not the most unique thing on the planet, the elements of PURE come together quite well. The races are fun thanks to the track layouts and the competitive yet fallible AI. The computer drivers will race you hard, and fast crash recoveries will not drastically penalize you for getting too close to the edge. The career mode comes with a ton of customization options that have a significant impact on your vehicle’s performance: you can alter your setup through parts alone to tailor your ATV for the next race’s objectives or compensate for your racing shortcomings. Add in three distinct racing modes, online play, and intuitive controls, and we have a winning product. Of course, the load times are long enough to make you want to quit and customizing your ride is very tedious due to the lack of mouse control, plus widescreen users might be put off by the lack of an adjustable screen resolution. Still, these shortcomings are quite bearable in the grand scheme of things, and PURE is easily the equal of other top arcade racing games, if not slightly better all round.