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Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Black Rock Studio
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; (2 - 16 Online)
Genre: Racing/ Sports (Extreme)

Graphics & Sound:
If SSX and ATV Offroad Fury fell in love, got married, and had a child, their offspring would be Disney Interactive and Black Rock Studio's PURE. This off-road, all-terrain vehicle racer mixes high-speed racing with over-the-top stunts. It's not an original concept for a game by any means, but it is very clear that the game's purpose is not innovation, but the three-letter word all games aspire to be: fun. From the tried-and-true mechanics to the satisfying multiplayer component, PURE is a winner.

Let's get one thing straight. PURE looks fantastic. The draw distance is beyond impressive - you can see several miles ahead, and this is most apparent during one of the many death-defying leaps you will survive. The landscapes are lush and realistic, tracks are unique, and the ATVs look and sound exactly like they should. The animations in PURE are believable and surprisingly dynamic. For example, in the middle of a jump, I pulled a Bar Hop that didn't quite finish by the time my ATV hit the ground. The game sensed that I had slipped up, but it also sensed that my mistake wasn't severe enough to cause a wreck. This resulted in a very impressive animation in which the rider was caught off-guard, bouncing awkwardly with his feet still over the handlebars, the rider himself whimpering in fear and scrambling to regain control. Oddly enough, crashing has its own sense of style; when you bail, the screen drains of all color and the camera bails with you. All told, it's always nice to see developers willing to go the extra mile for the sake of immersion.

The sound in PURE gets the job done, although it doesn't meet the standard set by the visuals. Characters tend to pump their fists and shoot off corny one-liners during races, but it doesn't really interfere with the experience. The soundtrack works pretty well with the on-screen action, but the only track I can really recall off the top of my head is Wolfmother's "Woman." The "narrator" is kind of helpful at first, but less than an hour into the game, he starts to sound like a broken record. He's nowhere near as annoying as DJ Atomica from Burnout Paradise, and Black Rock Studio has graciously given us the option to turn him off.

Above all else, PURE succeeds in delivering the sense of speed that is absolutely integral to this kind of racing game. The graphics and sound are at their absolute peak when racers are either boosting or making insane 200+ foot jumps. The screen blurs realistically and the background sounds and music are drowned out by a powerful mix of rushing wind, a mechanical whine that steadily decreases in pitch, and utter silence. This aspect of the presentation has been used before, but PURE absolutely nails it. Another really cool (albeit cheesy) part of PURE's presentation is the fact that if you land a really awesome trick, the driver of your bike will sometimes turn around and break the fourth wall... just to let you know how awesome you are.

The core gameplay of PURE is most similar to that of EA Big's Freekstyle in that you race on a motor vehicle and are capable of pulling tricks that can only be described as ludicrous. Executing tricks, as in most extreme racing games, fills your boost meter. In PURE, accumulating boost unlocks up to two extra tiers of increasingly complicated stunts. Repeating tricks results in less boost earned, so you'll have to keep things fresh if you want to stay on top. Fill the boost meter up completely and you'll be able to do a Special Trick. These tricks take a while to complete, and you'll need a considerable amount of air to even come close to finishing one of these. Successful Special Tricks result in not only a completely refilled boost bar, but a feeling of satisfaction that is impossible to describe until you've felt it. However, none of this is as easy to keep up with as it sounds. Boost is essential to winning races, and the only way to earn boost is by tricking. You have to learn the tracks and know what jumps yield the most potential for the more complicated stunts. Boost must be managed responsibly, as well; if you find yourself behind in a race and need to boost, you have to keep an eye on what kind of tricks are available, as boosting too much will remove a whole tier of tricks from your stable. It's a very strong exercise in judgment that rewards successful risks and punishes bad decisions.

PURE's primary attraction is the aptly-named PURE World Tour. You start off with the quad bike equivalent of a jalopy, and once you learn the ropes, you launch into a ten "stage" campaign that takes you around the world to compete in a large number of events. There are three distinctly different events; Race, Sprint, and Freestyle. The Race is the bread and butter of PURE; it's all about going fast, doing tricks, going even faster, and doing even crazier tricks. The Sprint is a much shorter, less trick-focused race that concentrates on rhythm sections and well-executed turns. The Freestyle race gives you a set amount of gasoline that will burn away completely unless you trick often and with variety. In addition, score multipliers are scattered all around the tracks. These types are all fun, but the Race is what you'll be coming back to if you're good enough to complete the PURE World Tour.

The online-only multiplayer component in PURE pits you against up to fifteen opponents. The multiplayer games can get quite wild and competitive, and these matches are usually extremely exciting. However, I very strongly suggest you try and get as far as possible through the PURE World Tour before even thinking about multiplayer; bikes upgraded with parts earned from winning Tour events are available for use in multiplayer. If you pick up a copy of PURE and go straight for the multiplayer, make no mistake: you will be shamed... and then ridiculed.

PURE has a relatively gentle learning curve; it starts with several easy races and progressively gets harder, as most games should. As your bike gets more powerful, so do those of your opponents. However, the game is paced well; if you find yourself struggling to come in at fifth place, you just need to practice more or tinker around with your ATV a bit (more on that in a bit). The game is forgiving at times; if you find yourself in one of those terrible moments where you get stuck and can't drive straight out of your predicament, the game will notice and bail you out faster than you can say "Help!"

PURE's difficulty level is fair. That's not to say the game is easy, however. If you bail more than a few times during any event, it's not likely you'll end up in first place. You are given every tool you need to win from the start; that's how near-perfect PURE's control scheme is. Unlike the games in the Burnout franchise, PURE's opponent A.I. is not built around a "rubber band" system. If you're putting your opponents to shame, the game doesn't have them suddenly (and unrealistically) show up on your tail. Most of the challenge in PURE comes from deciding when and how to pull tricks and use boost. Turn patterns are also extremely important, and can be the difference between a win and a loss. Playing the game is fun, but playing it well is a fine art, and once you master the basics, you'll be rewarded with some of the most satisfying racing action on this generation of gaming consoles.

Game Mechanics:
If PURE is any indication, the trick-racing genre doesn't seem to have evolved very much. However, the core mechanics are quite sound. The trick system revolves around a single button press and a direction on the analog stick. What helps to flesh this system out, besides the tier system, is the fact that the shoulder buttons act as modifiers; this pretty much doubles the list of tricks you can do. If you want to maximize your airtime, you must preload the suspension on your bike right before leaving the ground. This can be done with a rhythmic flick of the left analog stick. It feels just right, and a perfect preload results in killer hangtime punctuated by a silky smooth landing.

As you progress through the PURE World Tour, you will be rewarded with a staggering number of unlockables - from characters to vistas to new parts for your bike (about twenty-two different kinds of parts, to be specific). This brings to light what is perhaps the most surprisingly robust mechanic in PURE: the Garage. Unlocked parts can be fitted to your ATV, and each one usually helps a certain statistic while hindering another. There's not a whole lot of strategy to this. Simply put, if you know what kind of bike you want to use, you'll know which parts are right for you. The customization system is deep enough and will undoubtedly attract gamers who happen to be gearheads.

PURE won't make you rethink the way racing games are played; in fact, it will more than likely bring back fond memories of the extreme sports games of yesteryear. PURE's single-player campaign may not last very long, but its stellar presentation, addictive multiplayer, and formidable challenge are enough to make it a thrill ride that is well-worth the price of admission. If you're a gamer that even has a passing interest in stylish racing, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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