Release Date: 21-Jan-2003
Racing on an ATV is quite a bit different than racing in a car. And frankly, there are enough car racers on the Xbox, such as Project Gotham Racing, or Rallisport Challenge, that are very well done. But where cars are bigger and less maneuverable, ATVs are smaller and built to be thrown around. Tricks are commonplace and pulling off fancy moves can be as important as winning the race. This subgenre has certainly been lacking on the Xbox, and Acclaim is attempting to change that. How does their latest effort hold up? Let's see.
I must admit I was initially surprised with the high quality of Acclaim's latest work. It moves very smoothly, and the controls are fairly tight. Level design seems pretty good, and the sense of speed is fine. Controlling your vehicle is fun and easy, and the physics, despite being a little outrageous, are solid for the most part.
Controlling your ATV is, in it's simplest form, just pressing the gas and steering. However, you won't win many races by simply doing that. There were some measures taken to ensure that the basic racing doesn't get old too quickly. There's the pre-load meter, which, when full, will add a fair bit of height to your jumps. It takes a bit of time to master - you have to figure out when to start the pre-load (by pulling the right trigger), or it may start to decrease before you get to use it. Timing is everything. Letting go at precisely the right moment before leaving a ramp will leave you flying.
Also of importance is the tricks system. Unfortunately, it's not up to snuff. Whenever you successfully complete tricks, a little bit of juice is added to your turbo meter. You can use it to speed up ahead, but it runs out quickly. Getting this meter filled, however, is where things get problematic. There are only a small number of actual moves available - which wouldn't be a huge problem, but certainly doesn't help - and pulling them off is a real bitch. They all require you to let off of the gas, hit a button and turn the stick to the needed direction at precisely the right moment, then align yourself properly with the road to land.
While it doesn't sound horrible on paper, actually pulling them off is very frustrating for beginners, and even when you feel you're comfortable with it, they don't always work instantly. There is a noticeable lag from the time you press the correct buttons and when the racer actually performs the trick - sometimes up to a second, or more. This can be especially frustrating if you didn't catch a lot of air - your racer won't be finished with the trick and will crash, despite the vehicle being aligned properly.
Aligning your vehicle is actually a nice touch that really reminds me of a 3D version of Excitebike. If your wheels are parallel with the road, then you land smoothly. If only two wheels hit at a time, you're in for a rough landing, or worse. In a similar fashion, you can wheelie while on the ground, but it doesn't earn you much turbo. It's more useful for linking together tricks - but, thanks to the lag between tricks, it usually doesn't work out.
There are a number of modes available. There's Career mode, which takes you through all of the available stages, awarding you points for successful races to be tallied up at the end, a la Mario Kart. The Arcade mode plays very similarly, but adds a time limit. This is the mode which allows you to unlock all of the courses. There's also a multiplayer mode. It's fine for a while, and offers head-to-head races, races with extra computer drivers, or freestyle driving where you try to rack up the most points with tricks. They're okay for a while, but don't expect them to hold your attention for terribly long - it's a been-there, done-that affair.
The course designs themselves seem very nice at first, but get monotonous as more are unlocked. The initial five are easily the best, and their themes (desert, forest, swamp, et cetera) are recycled with the remaining ten tracks. Honestly, most of the rest are uninspired at best. They feel simply like variations on the original stage. If the developer had taken the time to create a new theme for each stage, I'm sure they would be a lot more fun to play through. As they are, they're fairly linear and lack many shortcuts - they're pretty easy on the eyes, though, and offer an abundance of hilly terrain.
Speaking of looks - the game looks fine, overall. The game plays smoothly enough, and textures and objects are fair. It's nothing that really pushes the Xbox - it looks more like a Playstation 2 title - but it's fine. I just have a few complaints, such as the driver selection screen - all of the drivers look the same! Not to mention the fact that they're wearing their helmets - you can't tell one from another! The female riders seem identical to other female riders, and males look the same as all of the other males. If it weren't for a difference in apparel (none of which is all that great), there'd be very little to distinguish one from another. There's a tiny, hard-to-see image of the actual riders at the bottom of the screen, but that hardly does justice.
Sound is also rather unfulfilling. The sound effects are fine and all, but the music smells of hip-hop, and if you don't like it, that's simply too bad. You're stuck with it! Even though the manual boasts the option of playing custom soundtracks (which could have saved the sound category), I couldn't find that feature anywhere. I spent at least ten minutes looking for it, but instead, I could only change the playlist of the tracks already included with the game. I assume that the feature was either not implemented but planned, or taken out after the manual was printed. It would have been an excellent addition to this kind of game, but oh well - I hope you like hip-hop.
I can't honestly comment on the real originality of the game compared to other Playstation 2 titles, having not played any. But I can tell you that the game feels somewhat fresh and unique, at least for the Xbox user. ATV enthusiasts will certainly want to give this one a rent, or possibly a purchase. It certainly has it's fair share of flaws, but overall, I did have a good time with ATV Quad Power Racing 2.
Score: 7.3 / 10