Now I think it's important to say that this game is not merely SSX on ATVs because that would be unfair, it's so much more than that, but the comparison is worthwhile however as fans of one series would undoubtedly be fans of the other. However the SSX games are not the only series that Pure reminds you of, as when booting up the game you'll get the overbearing feeling that this title is attempting to thieve the crown from another racing series also. Motorstorm, you have some very tough competition to beat. You could argue, "Oh yes well of course they're both off-road racing games you muppet!" but you see even when the game loads you're treated to a voice over declaring a statement of intent to a backdrop of locales you'll race on in the game, as well as clips of the racing itself. Remind you of anything? It only gets better when the theme song for the game kicks in, "Stompbox" by Qemists, just like in Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. It's a little amusing but besides the setup of the main mode of the game featuring a similar system to that of Motorstorm via events, that's where most comparisons end, although I'm sure Black Rock Studio would love to be put side-by-side with Evolution Studios franchise.
You see Black Rock Studio has a history, a particular knack for racing games especially. They've been responsible for entries in the ATV Offroad Fury and Moto GP franchises and thus have some experience with this whole going fast and offroad racing thing. Pure takes a more arcadey approach than their previous games however, with a very blatant and deliberate emphasis on fun. Does it work? Oh yes.
As soon you the game starts, prior to even getting a glimpse at the game's main menu you are thrusted into a tutorial to get you used to the basics of the game. You're placed on a relatively short circuit, tasked with completing 5 laps all with varying objectives such as preloading (holding down the left stick and then flicking it up to jump), boosting and tricks before the final lap which you must complete in under 27 seconds, relying on your new found abilities to see you to a speedy finish. It's in this brief tutorial that you're treated to your first pleasant surprise, the game controls wonderfully. You'd suspect that being an off-road game the possibility to screw up the controls would be immense, with one small oversight resulting in the sensation of trying to steer a sloth pumped full of horse tranquillisers across an ice rink in a direction other than "Oh no". The ATVs handle just right, expertly conveying the sensation of off-road racing but being forgiving enough to allow you to focus more on the tricks than trying to wrestle your way around corners without having an accident.
The trick system itself is also well done, and combined with the boosting system to add a small layer of strategy to races where you have to decide whether to sacrifice some of your trick meter to gain a small speed boost and catch up with other racers or focus on maxing it out to pull off some special signature tricks. Tricks are broken up into 3 levels, with the default one available at the start of the race being tied to the cross button on the controller. After launching yourself off a ramp you press the button down and select a direction with the left thumbstick to pull off a trick, with the option to use the L1 and R1 buttons to tweak these tricks for extra points. After pulling off a satisfactory amount of tricks level 2 then opens up giving you access to more tricks via the circle button, and finally level 3 being tied to the triangle button. If you fill your trick meter completely, special tricks become available to you that are activated via pressing both the L1 and R1 buttons after a jump, just make sure it's a big jump however. You're given the option of rotational tricks also by double tapping a direction on the left thumbstick and then holding when launching off a jump, as well as a combo system that's brilliantly integrated and encourages you to be as mercilessly stupid as possible in your quest for points.
The tricks that are available to you however will depend on which character you choose to play as, from a rather limited roster of just six generic and stereotypically extreme boys and girls. I opted for Takashi Yukio and after spending some quality time guiding the little guy around the courses of the game, throwing him off mountains and watching as he crushes himself underneath his ATV thanks to my idiotic timing with special tricks I've come to the following conclusion - give this guy his own game. Each of the characters have their own phrases that they mutter when you pull of tricks successfully, launch off jumps, have nasty crashes and so on, but Takashi is the best by far. He just completely and utterly kicks ass, and he kicks it fiercely. He also encourages you to race better and pull off tricks successfully due to the necessity of keeping him alive so you can continue to hear him scream "YATTA!" and go about his overly Asian ways. Unfortunately though the game contains no half-naked pop stars shimmying about to disco music with only a fig leaf to cover up their crown jewels, perhaps the developers thought best to save such a revolutionary game play mechanic for the inevitable sequel "Takashi Yukio is YATTA". The sounds in general are decent however, with the sort of soundtrack you would come to expect from a game in the extreme sports genre. If I'm forced to tolerate listening to Wolfmother's "Woman" in one more game though, I fear I may develop a nervous twitch. Clearly that band has gone out of their way on a mission to answer one of life's greatest riddles, how on earth could a man with an afro possibly be annoying?
For all the gear heads out there the game also features deep ATV customization, with the game requiring you to build your own ride before you're allowed to tackle the world tour mode. Luckily there is a quickbuild feature for players eager to race as soon as possible, allowing you to select a racing or freestyle ATV to be generated for you, with the former favouring speed and the latter useful for the freestyle events which are trick-orientated. There are a lot of areas of the vehicles to customize, from the wheels and seat to brakes and hand guards. These all have an effect on the statistics of your vehicle from the acceleration and speed to how suitable the vehicle is for tricks. You can choose multiple colours for the bikes also and if bright pink doesn't tickle your fancy, you can opt for something more metal in appearance. The ATVs can also be modified at any time, something that will become a necessity as you progress through the World Tour in the game.
The game features a handful of modes including World Tour which is the main heart of the game, a Single Event mode for racing on unlocked tracks and a Trial Mode if you just want to set new records without having other racers get in your way. The World Tour mode takes the form of 10 stages, each with several racing events contained within (Motorstorm tickets anyone?) and locked until the required amount of points from the previous stage have been accumulated. The events within these stages consist of races, sprints and freestyle events. The sprints are the quickest events to tackle, taking place on the smallest courses and simply requiring that you finish as quick as possible, with minimal jumps in your path to distract you. At the opposite end of the spectrum however are the freestyle events which are by far the most fun and entertaining events to take part in. The basic premise for them being that once the race starts your gas will slowly begin to run out and only by performing tricks will you be able to top it up. The mode also keeps tally of your score however, prioritising scoreboard placement on who has the most points. Tracks will be loaded with more ramps for jumping in this mode to assist you with performing tricks and the task of linking them together in combos, and also a variety of power-ups will be scattered around the courses to with an assortment of effects ranging from score multipliers, to a gas top-up and nitro. Standard races are a mixture of freestyle and sprints, offering a set number of laps but on full-sized courses with the trick/boost mechanic being present.
Out of all 3 events freestyle is by far the best and it's a shame that more of a focus wasn't placed on it within the game, it can be furiously addictive and with the rules forcing you to play the game in such a manner that when you get on a roll it's absolute bliss. Sprints feel more like they were tacked-on just for the sake of variety more than anything else and races just aren't as good as the freestyle mode. The World Tour does progress decently though, starting you out on class D engines and making it very easy to upgrade for new stages that require a more powerful engine. It's quite surprising just how fast the game can become in fact, and makes you relieved at just how generous it is with rewarding you with an abundance or parts for completing races. As the speed increases however so does the difficulty, and when you've progressed roughly halfway through the World Tour mode is where you will notice a very sharp increase in difficulty going from breezing through races with minimal effort to struggling to break into the top 10. The game is not impossible but it's at this point you will need to take advantage of some of the extra ATV slots you'll have been awarded to build some rides that focus on the different disciplines of speed and tricks, as you simply will not get anywhere further trying to use an all-rounder.
The game features a good variety of tracks to race on, from Italy to Thailand and California with some very impressive graphics. Considering the sense of speed and scale the game does a fantastic job of maintaining a rock solid framerate. It just simply doesn't get old boosting towards a ramp only to have the camera pull back a little and show off the insane sense of scale and draw distance the game possesses, treating you to some magnificent eye candy and views. With 16 people zooming around on such large and well designed courses the game really does deserve praise if just purely from a technical standpoint, let along the joys of freestyle events. Even when racing online with up to 15 other people (with AI racers filling in any gaps) the game doesn't hitch, with races running smooth and making use of a much-appreciated invite system and wealth of options.
One minor complaint however is that after a little while the courses can all seemingly merge into a blur of dirt tracks and ramps, with not quite enough to differentiate a good portion of them given the vastly different world locales. It's an incredibly minor nitpick and one that shouldn't negatively influence your purchasing decisions, but at the same time it would have been nice if locales were a little more unique. On that same note a little more colour would have been fantastic also, what's in the game works and works very well but the muted style is nothing new and is a trend in gaming that would do well to die soon.
So is the game amazing? Very nearly. As mentioned previously the graphics are incredible and freestyle events are in essence, perfect. The problem is however not enough focus has been placed on them, which is a shame since when playing a game that does trick racing so brilliantly on gigantic awe-inspiring tracks, you don't want to have some quite frankly rubbish sprints taking time away from that. On that note also the World Tour mode is criminally short with the difficulty curve needing some fine tuning, you'll breeze through the first 5 stages in a ridiculously short period of time before being shocked at the sharp difficulty increase for the remaining 5 stages. Whilst the average amount of events for the last 5 stages jumps from 4 to 6, it's still not enough. Likewise the other modes on offer seem to merely be there for the sake of it rather than trying to flesh out the game a little and the overall impression is that the developers lost direction somewhat when trying to flesh the game out beyond the stunning freestyle races. With something so flashy and engineered towards showing off, some form of replay mode would have been nice also, as well as splitscreen multiplayer.
At the end of the day this is a very good game and if you need something to fill the absence of an SSX game on the current generation of consoles nothing comes close to this. It's a little unfortunate that the game doesn't offer more trick-based game play and both the singleplayer and multiplayer modes didn't have more thought put into them, but there's still a great amount of fun to be had with this title with a lot of promise for what would undoubtedly be a well deserved sequel. Whilst a little flawed in some places, when this game gets things right it's pure concentrated gaming bliss.