Last year's surprisingly addictive off-road racing game ATV Offroad Fury was one of the best games released for the PS2 and it's strong sales meant that a sequel was inevitable. Luckily, ATV 2 isn't a rush job and builds on the best elements of the original game and makes it even better. You can drive on more than 40 non-linear environments and the game offers more than two dozen different ATVs from real world-manufacturers to race with, giving it both authenticity and depth. Before each race, players can select their rider and vehicle and create a profile. This allows you to name the rider, create a custom profile that they can use for the duration. Players can then change their clothing, ATV and helmet colors to create their perfect alter-ego. These customization options are much more extensive than the first game, and having a profile is very important because you need one to play online. There's a limited selection of riders and vehicles available at the start, you unlock more as you win races. While the riders seem to perform at similar levels, the ATV's themselves are the biggest factor, some are better at cornering while others are faster in straight-aways. Each vehicle has its own performance variables but can be upgraded, which gives the player a strong impetus to keep playing.
ATV 2's structure is very similar to the first game and there are several different modes of play available. The game includes several different Event Types including Practice, Single Race, Championship, Duel, Lap Attack, and Freeride Modes. Practice and Single Race should be self-explanatory while the Championship is the usual series of races. There are 14 Championship series in the game, and when you medal in these events, you can unlock additional vehicles and riders. In Duel, you go head-to-head with another driver, while in Lap Attack you race against the clock for the best time. Freeride is an open mode where you can ride wherever you want. In addition to these modes, there are six different types of courses. As you'd expect, ATV Offroad Fury 2 has some really awesome tracks that are quite challenging. ATV 2 offers both outdoor and indoor Super-cross tracks to tear up including Enduro races, which take place in large, open outdoor areas. These are tricky because the routes aren't always linear and you need to pay attention to the markers on the course. Players can also edit their own course with the Enduro tracks, which is another cool customization options.
While the initial selection is a bit limited, additional modes, courses and, tracks are available once you win a championship season. ATV 2's extras don't end there, because there are 4 mini-games that can be unlocked. These mini-games are Tag, Hockey, King of the Hills and Treasure Hunt. In Tag, the object is to hang onto a ball for the longest time without it getting knocked out from your vehicle. Hockey is a variation on the sport where you have to knock a puck into the opponents' goal using your ATV. The King of the Hills is a competition where you earn points for stunt jumping. Treasure Hunts object is to collect as many tokens as possible before the other riders can collect hem. These many different modes of play are incredibly fun and challenging, and can also be played online for added fun and excitement. This adds a lot of replay value to the game, giving ATV 2 a long-lasting appeal.
You'll face many different surfaces on each course including mud, gravel, sand and dirt. Each surface has a different effect on the how the vehicle controls, so you need to be aware of this. Players will face different weather conditions including rain, snow, sun and rain plus day or night racing. The track layouts are all the more impressive because some of them allow you to race off the pre-set lines and go-off-road for a faster time. Mastering the different terrains is challenging because unlike some other racers on the market, ATV 2's tracks are quite long. There are many different obstacles on each course and the game challenges your endurance and concentration as much as your reflexes. The single biggest difference between this new game and the old one is the addition of online play, which allows you to race with up to 4 players on the internet using the PS2's Network Adaptor. ATV 2 supports both Dial-up and Broadband connections and we played the game using a cable modem where there was no lag to speak of. Setting up games was a snap and the included modes such as Tag are much more fun with live opponents. Unfortunately, playing ATV 2 online doesn't allow you to unlock anything and you are stuck with your profile for the duration of each online session. However, the upside is that since there's no hidden fee for this, these problems aren't a big deal.
As in last year's game, ATV 2's controls are tight and responsive making the gameplay a pure frenetic joy with a pick-up-and-play arcade style approach that makes the game incredibly easy to get into. The vehicles are quite responsive and corner turns with precision. Mastering timing and making the huge jumps while performing stunts is the game's main appeal. One strategy that's we found highly effective was to watch the computer controlled racers to learn how to handle the hills and ramps properly. Aiming the vehicle is very important and can lead to longer jumps. Pressing the shift key will also allow you to perform stunts as well. There are several different stunts that can be performed, just be careful to time them so you land upright, or you'll suffer a devastating crash. The controls are precise and straightforward. The racing action is intense, and aside from learning when to point your vehicle up or down when jumping, most players should have little problem learning the ropes of the gameplay, giving it an instant appeal.
ATV 2's graphics and visuals represent a modest improvement for the series, with a fast-frame rate and little in the way of those dreaded PS2 jaggies, though they rear their ugly heads occasionally. The game also implements some impressive environmental effects such as sun-glare and rain. Excellent texture mapping, detailed environments, and dynamic lighting are used extensively to make the game's appearance look incredibly realistic. ATV 2's excellent water, mud and snow effects definitely add to the flavor and make for a convincingly realistic appearance. There are also some cool voice-overs and announcers that add to the game's overall atmosphere. The animation is excellent and the course designs can be quite challenging. An excellent interface allows you to see your position clearly. The soundtrack is decent as well, with a good mixture of Alt-rock and rap from such artists as Cypress Hill, System of a Down, BT, Filter, Jurassic 5 and Korn providing appropriate background music that fits the 'extreme' racing genre perfectly.
Despite the many good points, some nagging problems detract from the experience. While it is fun to do the tricks, there's only a small number of them available, which hurts the variety of the experience to some degree. Another flaw comes in the camera angles, which are decent but are either placed too far away, and there are too many glamour views that aren't useful during the race, and not enough good ones to use. However, the first-person perspective is the best angle and allows you to get right in the action. While these problems are a bit annoying, they definitely should not dissuade you from purchasing the game. SCEA deserves credit for producing a worthy sequel that builds smartly on the first game, with the same high replay value, excellent controls and addictive modes that made the original so enthralling. ATV Offroad Fury 2 offers gamers more of the same satisfying and addictive gameplay that they loved the first time around, but throws in a few extra modes plus Internet play that more than justify the purchase.