Nothing is ever quite extreme enough for game developers. Confronted with snowboarding - the act of strapping yourself to a small piece of wood and flinging yourself down a mountain - they add extraordinary obstacle courses and balletic mid-air stunts. Tame old parkour? Bah. Running up vertical walls 500 feet away from a very hard pavement is dull - best put in an authoritarian police force to fight with while you're at it.
Then there's ATV. Hurtling across rocky, muddy tracks in flimsy-looking vehicles whose engines make a noise like an angry giant hornet and propel you towards the nearest boulder at breathtakingly stupid speeds? Boooooring. Boring boring boring, says the game developer. Nail'd, then, is the brave effort of a fearless team of game developers to bring the dull, fuddy-duddy sport of ATV kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The essentials of the sport remain the same - you choose from a selection of entirely unsafe looking two- and four-wheeled contraptions and proceed to hurtle around an ill-defined rural circuit at whiplash-inducing speeds, until someone wins. Or everyone dies, presumably.
In the hands of the team at Techland (last seen working on second Call of Juarez game, which Oli thought was pretty decent), these snooze-worthy elements are spiced up with lots of extra excitement to keep the jaded, adrenaline-crashing gamer interested.
Within minutes of picking up the pad, I'd hurled myself through a ring of fire suspended over an enormous vertical drop, hitched a lift on the back on an express train in order to outpace a rival, and capped it all off by speeding off the top of a cliff and landing on an airport runway below - right in the path of a taxiing Boeing 747.
This is the point where a game like Nail'd goes in one of two directions. It can present itself with an over-enthusiastic "Oh wow, we are truly so extreme" sincerity, not unlike a man introducing himself at a party by announcing "I'm a bit crazy!", thereby ensuring that you spend the rest of the night avoiding him. Alternatively, it can accept that this is all utterly ridiculous, shove its tongue firmly in its cheek, and play the whole damned thing for laughs.
Based on my brief experience with the most recent build of Nail'd, this game opts for the latter approach - and is incredibly good fun as a result. The two finished tracks I saw were absolutely packed with over-the-top details for players to discover, each more ridiculous than the last. I hooted with laughter when I had to avoid the air intakes of a jumbo jet in order to land my buzzing dirt bike. However, the point where I knew for certain that the game was taking this no more seriously than I was was when I encountered a sawmill. Its circular saw blades danced across the track, exactly like those featured in a timing puzzle from a platformer of yore.
All of the game's tracks - only two of which were finished in the version I played - are absolutely massive, with a single lap taking several minutes. There are multiple routes through each one. I suspect - although the representative who showed me the game couldn't confirm - that certain routes only open up in later laps, ensuring that races feel very different from start to finish.
The final game will feature four distinct zones, ranging in flavour from Yosemite national park to a Mediterranean coastline. Each zone will play host to a range of different tracks, in much the same way that Project Gotham games, for instance, provide a small number of cities which are mapped into several different circuits.
Nail'd wears its heart on its sleeve, offering only a fairly rudimentary set of customisation options and other such window dressing - it's all about getting into a race as quickly as possible. Similarly, crashing is seen as part and parcel of the experience. After a few moments of watching your ragdoll driver flip rather gruesomely over the rocks, you'll be instantly reset on the track and can continue your race. It's a very direct, simple and hugely entertaining racing experience, one which I suspect may not have enormous staying power in single-player but will come into its own as a multiplayer experience.
Comparisons with MotorStorm are, of course, inevitable. However, it's early days yet for Nail'd, and probably unfair to start comparing the two games side by side at this point. The variety in the tracks - even between the two we saw - definitely plays in Techland's favour, and the game is also extremely good-looking, using the firm's proprietary graphics engine to turn out handsome landscapes that whip past you at impressive speeds while a solid framerate is maintained.
With a focus firmly on fun rather than realism - the controls are extremely responsive even while in mid-air, for example - Nail'd has a noisy, messy, exuberant kind of charm. It's not the kind of game that's about to set the world alight, but I can certainly see its multiplayer filling plenty of evenings, especially given the combative focus on "nailing" your rivals by boosting into them and pushing them off the track. Techland, whose pedigree does include rally titles as well as the FPS games for which they're better known, has a solid prospect on its hands.
Nail'd is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in Q4.
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