Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Who would have thought that Disney Games would publish one of the best racing games of this generation? Sure, Pure was actually developed by Black Rock Studios, but Disney’s general contribution to the gaming market is Disney’s Extreme Sports: Skateboarding than anything worth paying attention to. Early reports about Pure were shockingly optimistic, calling it the SSX of ATV games and earning the game E3 awards, beating out the highly anticipated Motorstorm 2. After playing the demo I was pulled in by its high-octane something or other and convinced that I needed to have the game when it was released, and was not disappointed in the least.
The controls are tight, albeit unrealistic. Pure feels a lot more like an arcade game than its competition, and people who have trained themselves to react realistically to obstacles by oversteering might need to find a way to get over that hurdle before playing. For all the focus that’s been put on the game’s racing physics, the main focus of Pure is the tricks. Hitting the A button will execute a trick, which builds up your turbo boost meter. This can be used normally to gain speed, but can also be built up to unlock more air tricks, all of which can be tweaked by hitting the shoulder buttons. Holding B might have the rider holding the back of his seat, preforming a "Superman," and hitting the shoulder buttons will bring it up in an arch, turning it into a "Scorpion" for double points. These all add up and eventually allow the player to execute their character’s special trick, which is about as over-the-top as possible. Riders leap off their ATVs to do backflips while spinning uncontrollably through the air, use their seat as a pommel horse, or similar acts of foolishness. They are unrealistic, insane, and fantastic; adding to the game’s arcade feeling.
There are three modes of play in Pure: Race, Spring, and Freestyle, all of which are available online. Race mode is the most traditional of the three, racing against 15 opponents over normal courses in three laps. There are plenty of opportunities for big air and, in turn, big tricks, giving racers plenty of opportunities to build up the trick meter. Sprint mode features shorter races, with much less airtime, where trying to do too many tricks for anything other than short boosts will likely end in a quick trip to last place. The third mode, Freestyle, is one that Black Rock didn’t talk about much leading up to the game’s release. It works more like a Tony Hawk title than it does any other racing game, where the goal isn’t to keep up with opponents in term of placement, but in terms of tricks, and each trick is assigned a point value.
The duality of the boost meter adds a slightly deeper gameplay mechanic when it comes to a turbo function; leaving it up to the player how to handle this shared resource. Crashes aren’t as epic as those in other racing games, but the collision detection is top notch, and the racer animations are fantastic. I did research and couldn’t pinpoint the exact physics engine in use for Pure, but the character’s bodily reactions to crashes are as realistic as anything Euphoria has delivered, without the wacky antics that usually go along with it. Botched tricks will result in an utter wipe-out if the rider couldn’t make it back into their seat in time, but they will often scramble up in time in a realistic and believable way, and should leave game-blames silent.
The animations are made better by the game’s fantastic graphics, which are arguably the best in its genre. Games like Gran Turismo may have it beat on the track, but Pure doesn’t stay on a track, it skews off and kicks mud onto the rider and ATV. The sun’s rays give the characters an unearthly glow and the level’s detailed environments cast shadows, creating some of the most immersive visuals in any racing game. The game’s audio and soundtrack are also worth applause, featuring the most un-annoying soundtrack in racing history. There are a few gems, like Wolfmother’s “Woman,” and Black Rock Studios did a good job assembling tracks that are hard to grow tired of, since the addictive gameplay will keep you playing Pure for hours on end.
There are only a few negative points to touch on, like the lack of split-screen multiplayer and somewhat long load times, but to complain much would be nitpicking. The only thing that gets in the way of gameplay is the occasional spot where going off the road a tiny bit might end up crashing you, but it only happens from time to time. There are twelve locations and over forty tracks and events to compete in, a traditional World Tour mode, which serves as a plotless campaign to the game, and an amazingly in-depth vehicle customization screen. Pure offers a massive amount of content for the money, and the online multiplayer, which features up to sixteen players, is as intense as any other racing game’s this generation. I cannot recommend Pure highly enough, and think that everyone who considers themselves a fan of racing or extreme sports should pick it up, you won’t be disappointed.