Racing games have progressed to the point where there’s essentially a genre for any kind of driving fan. There’s arcade style, sim-based, car combat and street racing, to name a few. Then there’s the consistent standby of this current generation of consoles: the off-road racer. For the past 5 years, an ATV title of some kind or variety has managed to grace a gaming platform, fulfilling player’s lust for speed with their desire for aerial stunts or painful crashes. Now, with the launch of the PSP, gamers can take this mud-spraying pastime with them wherever they go. Strap on your helmets and wake up your inner Knievel, because we’re heading out with ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin’ Trails.
The heart of the game itself is relatively unchanged from its platform brethren. You’re essentially given the option to compete in outdoor or stadium arenas in a number of different event types. Many of these are the standard Enduro, National or Supercross race modes, where you’re primarily restricted to specific courses or maneuvering through numbered gates. Blazin’ Trails also includes the classic Freestyle mode for trick lovers, as well as an object based variant where you collect tokens as well as pull off stunts. Finally, for more technically minded racers, there are Short track and Olympics modes that focus more on racing skills than speed or aerial grace. Players can further customize these game modes with practice rides, straight races or fastest lap time options.
Veterans of ATV titles will have very little difficulty picking up on the basics of the game itself. In fact, very little has changed from previous ATV games: Racers still try to time the drop of the gate to get some kind of a lead on their competition, and while the choice of ATV can sometimes help determine how much control you’ll gain over power slides into corners or your top speed, you’re still dependent upon your timing and your reflexes when it comes to jumps and curves. Players still have to pre-load their machine’s shocks to maximize their hangtime, particularly if they’re going to attempt to pull off any tricks in midair. With more than 30 separate stunts that you can combo together, you can really boost your score dramatically as you race to the finish line.
Rounding out the features for Blazin’ Trails are large number of unlockable features via the career mode. Success in the racing arenas gain you credits and playing cards that you can use to buy new racetracks, vehicles, gear, music videos and even mini-games to entertain players. Many of these are taken from the console version, including Soccer, King of the Hill and Hockey, although there are other obscure diversions like Graveyard Madness and Rings of Fire. However, if you get tired of racing the competition, you can always take on other PSP owners via the Wi-Fi mode. Blazin’ Trails truly shows off what the PSP can do in the online space, with fully fledged online rankings, buddy lists and world records constantly tracked online, so you have a sense of where you stack up with global competition. No other PSP title has come close to the amount of detail with its multiplayer.
That being said, there are a number of significant gameplay issues that flatten Blazin’ Trails’ tires. First of all, the handling for the game is simply atrocious. Sure, you can use either the analog stick or the directional pad to direct your driver around the track. Yet once you get into a race, you’ll notice just how problematic this is. The handling on the analog stick isn’t truly responsive enough to make turns smoothly, while the directional pad is horrible at sensing preloads and delivering accurate boosts. The result is a somewhat accidental driving system that feels like it works when it’s convenient for the game and not particularly for the player. For instance, it felt like I stumbled onto the timing to pre-load my bike, and I’ve been playing this series ever since it launched on the PS2.
What’s more, the game seems determined to exact seemingly perfect timing on just about any trick to have you avoid certain disaster or pain from being thrown from your ride. In other ATV games, the trick system was a bit more forgiving with the landings you could stick, as long as you were relatively stable on as much as two wheels. In Blazin’ Trails, you practically have to come off as the Mary Lou Retton of the ATV, sticking each landing perfectly. This can be somewhat difficult when you combine this with the trick book and the sticky handling mentioned above. This practically makes abandoning these stunts an almost definite plan when you’re competing in everything except the freestyle arenas.
This is especially true when just about every single object that can be found on or around a racetrack is now extremely hazardous to your racer. In previous games, you could potentially run into barriers and potentially bounce these markers onto the track. Now, everything from posts to signs are rooted in place no matter how flimsy looking they might be, and all of them can send you flying. The last, and potentially largest issue that comes up is the overwhelming difficulty that Blazin’ Trails exhibits, even on rookie difficulty levels. Not only do the computer opponents exhibit plenty of rubber band AI in case you wind up gaining a lead, these foes are relentless, fighting you for every inch of ground that you gain and even sending you into the aforementioned objects to eliminate you as competition. This overaggressive AI is so stern that even expert players will have trouble beating the computer.
Visually, Blazin’ Trails is somewhat of a mixed bag. First of all, the animation that you’ll find within the game is extremely nice. Each trick has its own particular movement and motion that distinguishes it from the others. Stadiums are also nicely detailed; however, there is also a major flaw within the frame rate of the game, either during collisions or primarily at the start of races, where the game chugs slowly along before picking up. Unfortunately, this is disappointing when this can happen multiple times in a race. Fortunately, the sound picks up some of the graphical slack, with a musical soundtrack of more than 30 artists. Overwhelmingly rock, like songs from The Distillers and Slipknot, Blazin’ Trails does manage to infuse an adrenaline rush with every race based on the songs played.
Although Blazin’ Trails does manage to present an engaging amount of gameplay thanks to the large number of game options, diversionary mini-games and impressive online features, it’s also significantly hampered by a kludgy control system, unforgiving trick system and psychotic AI. If you’re looking for a decent off-road title to satisfy your on the road driving frenzy, Blazin’ Trails will satisfy you for a while, but you may soon find yourself looking at other titles for your racing fix