I might as well be straight with you. The only reason I'm reviewing ATV Quad Power Racing 2 is that in the long run, it will mean I'm the most qualified to review Rainbow Studios' ATV Offroad Fury 2, which is due out to coincide with PS2 Online by the end of spring. Does this make me a bad person? Kristan thinks so. Does this imply that Quad Power Racing 2 is a bit of a dud? Well, only a bit.
SSX on quad bikes
The best way to describe it is SSX on quad bikes. Think three laps round very long tracks, boost and point meters, brutally unseating other riders, and tricky tendencies and you've got the general idea. What lifts QPR2 slightly above its rivals is the use of quad bikes, which require a bit more effort to master. The courses are uniformly bumpy affairs, and every trip through the air has to be landed correctly if you want to retain momentum and speed off efficiently. An uneven landing will often lose you vital seconds - more than enough to cost you the race.
As the left stick is used to turn left and right, and move the rider forwards and backwards in the saddle as you race, so it is used in mid-air to angle the quad for a suitable descent. Mastering landings takes lots of effort, and it gives QPR2 a satisfying learning curve.
However, there are plenty of other ways to keep yourself ahead of the pack, and these come in handy until you've matured to an expert level of quad biking. You can boot other riders into the dirt if you can get alongside them, much as you could in Road Rash all those years ago. Sadly the animation and sound of unseated bikers kissing the dirt is sorely lacking, but I'll get to that later. You can also perform tricks, similar in style and number to those in EA Sports BIG's Freekstyle, but nowhere near as smoothly implemented.
It's too tricky
In order to perform tricks you have to hold down one button while tapping a trick modifier, and angling your craft appropriately with the left stick. But having to boost to maximise your take-off speed, and simultaneously charge and release another button at the point of take off to jump as well means a three button clash before you even think about what you're doing. And then there's the problem of timing - QPR2 is far less forgiving than BIG's offerings, and you'll spend half the time wondering why you didn't manage a trick that jump. It's not just you, believe me. We'll all be spending half an hour repeating the tricks training section because of "bad timing".
Worse still, unlike SSX' and Freekstyle's memorable track designs, QPR2's are long, visually repetitive and difficult to memorise, making tricks that little bit harder still. Track design is consistently good, but you'll only enjoy an easy ride for the first couple, after which point passages narrow, jumps become less straightforward and the locations throw up their own obstacles - water hazards in the swamps for example.
But this choice of exotic locales takes its toll on the frame rate, which suffers in places. Then again it is normally 60fps and not just 50. The graphics themselves are unspectacular, but nicely put together. The draw distance is ample. The use of light and shadow is nice, contrasting sandy dunes straddled by beaming sunshine and rear view glare nicely with shadowy forested locations illuminated by shafts and reflections. And weather effects like rain on the camera and lens flare, although expected, hit all the right notes.
The characters and bike models are very appealing, and it's a nice change to watch your back wheels spin in the mud before a race starts - something most other racing games can't easily help you with. As I mentioned earlier though, character models are only good when they're seated. Kick someone out of the saddle or go flying yourself and it all starts to look a bit 1995, with the spindly, sprite-like polygons hitting the ground sharply and staying there.
We also think Climax missed a trick with the camera modes. The choice is good, but a first person view would have made this an even greater experience - particularly during a backflip! It isn't hard to imagine why this was left out, but it's a risk we would have liked to see taken. Particularly given the generous complement of just about everything else.
Game modes for example
There are lots of things to do and see in ATV Quad Power Racing 2. After 20 minutes of training, you have a long and winding path ahead of you. The Career mode is split into three classes with 15 tracks, and it'll keep you occupied for a good while - particularly since attaining gold medals will unlock new bikes, which give you an even better chance of securing golds in the higher classes.
Then there's Challenge, which has you completing ramp and ground-based objectives to unlock more characters. And then there's Freestyle, a trick mode set in a sort of Skate Park. Unfortunately though, the trick mechanic's complexity comes back to haunt us here and derails this mode as inaccessibly hard. At least until you've conquered everything else and built up a tolerance for the insanely tricky trick system. Fortunately there are two main modes and also the obligatory Single Race, Arcade and Time Trial modes on offer. Not to mention two-player split-screen.
Speaking of tolerance though, we haven't much for the soundtrack. Godsmack, Boxcar Racer, Midtown, Rollins Band, Bionic Jive - who are these people? Are we some sort of musical lunatics for not understanding this curious blend of rock and pop, which pulsates like a rundown Vaxuhall engine? Well ok, we could be, so we'll let you decide if it floats your boat. The rest of the sounds in the game are mostly great, from the riders yelping in anguish to the menacing roar of the quads, but we could have done with some more crunches, particularly if we've just smacked into a log and gone goose over stumps swampside.
Dreaming of Offroad…
So you may well ask, what's really missing here? A bit of inventiveness, we think. This is all very unsurprising, albeit fairly enjoyable SSX-type construction, and a bit of thought and adventure could have elevated it above its cohorts in the genre. You could argue that that's a tough brief for a quad bikes game, but hey, it was there choice to make two of them…
Fundamentally QPR2 is a good, competent racer with SSX tendencies which don't quite work in the same way. Nobody's going to be too disappointed with it. It's a pretty playable quad bike game with a good handle on what's important and offers a successful blend of Road Rash/Excitebike type ideas - the only problems are unresponsive tricks and a lack of imagination. And the fact that the reportedly much better Offroad Fury 2 with online support is due in just a few months.