If there's one thing the world doesn't need, apart from more war and famine and all that, it's another game with the letters ATV in the title. And if there's one thing the PSP doesn't need, it's another racing game.
That's our opinion, anyway, so we weren't exactly thrilled when our copy of ATV Offroad Fury Blazin' Trails arrived. But after closer inspection, our hopes were raised - and not just because we initially misread the title as ATV Offroad Fury Blazin' Squad Trails and liked the idea of a special stunt called the Flip Reverse.
What really appealed was the game's online mode which, judging by a look at the manual, looks mighty comprehensive. There are all manner of features - scoreboards, buddy lists, downloadable ghosts, collectible cards you can win off other players and trade with your friends, and so on. The game even matches you up with other players of the same skill level, which comes in handy if you're rubbish.
Unfortunately, when you first start playing (and indeed for a considerable amount of time after that), you're likely to be very rubbish indeed, thanks to a very poorly designed control system.
Essentially, you have two choices. The first is to use the analog nub, which is great for preloading and pulling off jumps, but very tricky when it comes to steering - the slightest nudge can send you careering off to one side, and all too often straight into a barrier.
The directional pad makes steering easier, but - you guessed it - doing jumps is a lot harder, involving a super quick switch between the down and up buttons. The end result is that for trouble-free driving, you need to switch constantly between the D-pad and analog nub - something which, as you might imagine, is neither particularly easy to do or any fun at all.
It doesn't help that the game is extremely unforgiving when you hit an obstacle, and often resets you in a stupid position - directly facing another obstacle, for example. Meanwhile your astonishingly fast opponents will have zoomed miles ahead, making it extremely hard to catch up and leaving you with little motivation to try.
In short, there's no fast and furious mud-splattered fun to be had here - and you can forget showing off to the crowd with all your fancy high flying tricks. When racing, all your concentration is focused on trying to master the fiddly controls and avoid obstacles at all costs, since the tiniest mistake can leave you hopelessly behind; there's no time for Can Cans and Heel Clicks and all that nonsense.
It's not always that easy to concentrate, either, thanks to one of the worst soundtracks we've ever encountered. Inevitably, ATV Offroad features a load of twangly guitar tunes from the likes of Slipknot, Good Charlotte and Keith Urban, but even if you like that sort of thing you won't be able to enjoy it because of the constant buzz of your ATV.
It doesn't sound remotely realistic, unless real ATVs actually do sound like a hyperactive wasp trapped inside a tin can, and after half an hour of it you'll happily swap listening to it any more for dipping your hand in Lucozade and sticking it in said can.
At least the graphics are all right - sort of. There's a good level of detail on the riders and the vehicles, and movements are realistic and fluid. The backgrounds, however, could do with a bit more work, particularly on the blurry textures and appalling water "effects".
But things really start to go wrong when you come off your bike (which, as mentioned previously, happens A LOT) - every single time you crash, frames start dropping all over the place. Rubbish.
So what with the shonky controls, dodgy graphics, infuriating soundtrack and all, the online mode would have to be pretty impressive to make this game worth considering. And it would be pretty impressive - if it worked properly.
First off, there's the problem of finding other players to compete against - frequently we couldn't find a single race to join, despite the fact that the game's been out in the States for over a fortnight now; and yes, we did take account of the time difference, thank you.
Even worse, when we did find races, we found it impossible to join them. Every single time we tried, we were greeted with the following message: "Network error: you have been disconnected from the network." Your only option then is to reconnect, relogin, and try to join a race all over again. And fail. Many, many, many times.
Bizarrely, we found that the game would let us set up our own race and allowed others to join in without any problems. Well, one other - hello "Peter", if you're reading this, and thanks for being our one and only ATV Offroad buddy.
Once it's up and running, the online mode works well - there's no lag, no frame dropping (apart from when you crash, of course) and it's easier to overlook the game's poorer aspects when you're playing against a real life person who is as hampered by the control system just as much as you, and isn't automatically going to win the race the moment you make a tiny mistake. It also helped that Peter was a bit rubbish, to be honest.
But the next time we had a go, we couldn't get online at all: "Connection with lobby server failed" every single time. Of course, server problems are inevitable with online gaming, but we had problems of many different varieties every single time we went online - and that's just not good enough.
So, to conclude, here are four good reasons not to buy ATV Offroad Fury Blazin' Trails. First off, it adds absolutely nothing new to the genre - a career mode and unlockable music videos aren't going to break any ground. Secondly, it's worse than ATV console games, thanks to a poor control system that's seemingly been designed with little thought for how the PSP itself is designed.
Thirdly, the online mode, whilst fun when it works, doesn't work nearly often enough. And finally, you don't get to "be" Kenzie, Plat'num or Spike-E. Even if that last factor doesn't bother you too much, this game isn't worth your cash.
4 / 10