Version tested: Xbox 360
Remember the first time you ever rode a rollercoaster? The intoxicating, freefall terror of plummeting downwards into infinite doom; the feeling that you're surely going to die as your stomach flies past your ears. That's Pure's stock in trade.
Nestling somewhere between Burnout and SSX, you'll find Pure, hurtling through the sky, whooping and doing 1080 flips while punching the air. It's that face-wobbling devil-may-care speed madness, mixed in with mid-air sick tricks, that instantly marks Black Rock's quad-bike racer as something special. Not only is it completely insane, it looks fantastic, and has that all-important addictive immediacy that makes it a ludicrous amount of fun from the very first time you play it.
In old money, Pure is a straight-down-the-line arcade racer. It essentially takes extreme sports to ludicrous extremities, and creates a world in which mentalist quad-bike riders with testosterone issues feel the need to drive hundreds of feet into the air off the side of a mountain, play air guitar during the descent, and do a few flips for good measure. Broken bones? No problem.
Diving straight into Pure's main World Tour campaign mode, the game gets you into the action with the minimum of fuss. The key thing to learn is the trick system, because performing them tops up your boost bar. So every time you ascend a ramp of some kind, you're advised to 'pre-load' a jump by pulling back on the left stick and then pushing forward at the last moment in what it calls a 'flick-flick' motion. This effectively launches you into the air, and therefore gives you more time to pull off the tricks you need to top up your boost.
Once you're in the air, tricking is as simple as pressing a button at the same time as one of the eight directions on the left stick. At first, you'll only have access to the first tier of tricks (mapped to the A button on 360, X on PS3) which are quick to pull off, and therefore low-risk. If you manage to pull off a few tricks without wiping out, you'll unlock a further three tiers of progressively more elaborate manoeuvres, with the added bonus of being able to gain more boost for when you need it.
As you become more comfortable with tricking, Pure makes it easy to chain moves together, and one of the most efficient ways of doing this is through using the modifier button. Mapped to the bumpers on 360 or L1/R1 on PS3, this allows you to do a subtle variation on one of the eight standard tricks, and proves to be much quicker than trying to chain entirely different moves together. With practice and familiarity, it becomes quite straightforward to chain together three, four or more moves together in one leap.
At the fourth stage of tricking, you're able to unleash even more ludicrous feats of stunt insanity. With a massive drop at your mercy, pressing RB+LB / R1+L1 at the same time, followed by a direction, triggers the most over-the-top moves yet, such as the spiralling Tornado or the axe-wielding Air Guitar. The hardest part is landing these signature tricks successfully, but if you do manage it, not only does your boost bar get fully replenished, but you're able to pull off another signature trick into the bargain.
But with danger lurking around every bend, it takes a fair amount of repeat play before you're familiar enough with these branching courses not to keep screwing up. With incessant crashing almost a given, Pure makes sure you're respawned almost instantaneously, keeping frustration to a minimum. The only penalty is the loss of some boost, along with your most recently gained trick level, but working your way back through the pack is never really a tall order.
The World Tour mode tasks players with working their way through 10 tiers of events in sequence, with 50 events in total. Similar in structure to, say, Burnout Revenge, your goal is to earn enough points to unlock the next tier, which obviously means playing through each event in the order of your choosing. Pure has three types of event: Sprint, Race and Freestyle. Each has its own specific discipline, and each sees you racing alongside 15 aggressive, determined riders.
Sprint, described by Black Rock itself as the game's "Espresso shot", is exactly that. It's a quick hit of racing, with short, sweet five-lap races, designed around tight courses and maybe only one or two trick opportunities if you're lucky. Riders jostle for position throughout the race, and with most courses clocking in at around 20 seconds per lap, there's no room for screw-ups. But in terms of getting in tune with the basic handling and cornering techniques away from the added complication of tricking, it's always good to have a crack at these events first.
Race events, meanwhile, are also simple first-past-the-post affairs, but much longer, and with much more complex courses to negotiate. Arguably the most intense challenge in the game, Race events test you on every level. Not only do you have to be fast and efficient, you need to trick to regularly in order to build up a good boost stock - and doing so is a risk-reward relationship.
From the first bend, you'll face the initially daunting prospect of numerous branching paths. As you'll discover, some offer better trick opportunities, while others provide a more efficient racing line or a safer passage. With races always set over three laps, and the same tracks repeated over numerous subsequent events, you'll soon become very familiar with the complexities, and, hopefully, stop sucking quite so much. Usually by the time you reach the middle tiers of the game, it all falls into place, and you'll find yourself comfortably capable of not only racing proficiently, but tricking like a demon.
Apart from the obvious adrenaline rush of leaping headlong into stomach-churning drops, half the fun of Pure is learning how to stay in your saddle. At first, you'll eagerly trick at every opportunity, but such enthusiasm is generally rewarded with a swift cuff around the back of your head as you're launched, yet again, off the handlebars into certain death. Anticipating how much time you really have is all part of a fantastically well-judged learning curve.
As much as failure hurts, it's the best medicine, and you'll soon develop a wily appreciation of what represents a trick opportunity, and when to leave well alone. Like all the really great arcade racers of the past, part of Pure's inherent appeal is familiarity, and the way Black Rock builds that without it overstepping the mark with repetition is to be applauded.
Just as you start routinely winning Race events, at almost the exact same time, the game's Freestyle mode becomes an amazing amount of fun. This time you're not stressing about race position, but simply how your points tally is faring - and how much petrol you've got left in the tank. Unlike the other modes, you have a rapidly diminishing fuel supply, and the idea is that you've got to rack up as many stunts as possible before you run dry. Doing so is a tricky balancing act, because, as you'll have discovered, boosting is integral to enhancing your jump, but in Freestyle it drains your fuel quicker, leaving you with a choice over whether to go for a big combo multiplier, or try and stay in the race a little longer.
Dotted all around the track in Freestyle are four main pick-ups: fuel, boost, multiplier and one that effectively gives you the ability to instantly pull off a signature trick. At first, the AI riders will snaffle all of them from right under your nose, but as the event progresses, more pickup opportunities present themselves, giving you the chance to prolong the event and therefore clock up a winning scoreline. The key thing to accumulating a big score is keeping the combo multiplier topped-up, so you'll find yourself tricking off every little bump in the track - and usually taking far more risks into the bargain. But once you've got a better appreciation of what's feasible, it's possible to rack up some truly gargantuan scorelines, as the online leaderboards will prove. And although it's a little on the easy side to win offline, taking these matches online, in particular, should prove a real test for anyone, and a huge amount of fun.
The main criticism levelled at Pure is how quickly you can blitz through the majority of the game. Admittedly, the first five tiers are relatively easy, and within a couple of hours you'll have whipped through a good portion of the World Tour. That said, Pure's opening chunk does an excellent job of preparing players for the main meat of the game. By the time you reach, say, tier seven or eight, you're in for a real battle to accumulate enough points to progress. Often it's so tight that simply going back and winning races is the only way to gain access to the next tier, because without the requisite upgrade, you might otherwise struggle to match your opponents.
And while we're on the subject, it's worth noting that we haven't made a big deal about the customisation. Pre-release estimates reckoned that you could feasibly build up to 100,000 different types of quad-bike, but that's a bit meaningless in practical terms. Thanks to the game's excellent, clanking auto-build function, all the bits whizz across the screen into place, giving you the choice over whether to build a bike suited to freestyle or race disciplines.
With that feature, it's almost always best to just junk your last ride and let the computer build you a new one every time you get a significant performance upgrade. It's certainly quicker, at any rate. Less excitingly, there are also seven riders to choose from (one of whom is unlockable), but there's no real difference apart from perhaps a unique trick manoeuvre specific to that rider, so there's no real sense of attachment to any of them. Maybe Pure could have made more of them somehow. Answers on a postcard, please.
It's impossible to ignore Pure's excellent technical qualities. It is, quite simply, an extraordinarily pretty game, with some of the most lavishly detailed tracks ever conceived. With massive draw distances, a rock solid 30 frames-per-second, and some superbly designed courses, there's a real sense of artistry about the whole project. Nothing is lacking in any way, and the amount of polish applied to every element, from the bikes to the rider animation, gives an unlikely sense of conviction to a game which is, after all, utterly ludicrous on every level.
Best of all has to be the game's money shot: the freefall descent as you leap into the abyss. The bomb-drop whistling, the screen edge blurring, the slightly muted sound. You subconsciously hold your breath and feel like your heart's in your throat. It's a wonderfully realised effect. On that basis alone, Pure stands out from the crowd.
On reflection, though - in terms of modes, the number of tracks and gameplay variety - Pure does come up just a fraction too short to warrant dishing out a higher score. It feels like an incredible platform to build on, in the same way that Burnout set Criterion on a path to greatness. As much as the wonderful production values and refined trick-based gameplay deserve massive respect and critical acclaim, there's a sense that's there's more to come from Pure before it becomes the definite article. As a starting point for a successful brand, though, Black Rock has totally nailed it, and this represents a hugely promising effort. Stomach churning insanity doesn't get any better right now.
8 / 10