Hands-on / Pure, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals

Walking into Disney Interactive’s meeting room, I hadn’t entirely done my research and so I was expecting a bunch of games featuring Mickey Mouse doing things like saving the town of Happyville from the evil King Grumpikuss. What I got was an ATV racer called Pure with enough style to seemingly overcome the fact that it’s an RTV racer called Pure, and a sequel to the Pokemon-esque DS game Spectrobes that’s been pretty much entirely revamped from the ground up. Now, I’m sure the words Pokemon and ATV have made some of you turn away (and if that didn’t Spectrobes might have) but stick around you could learn something.

Let’s start with Pure, a game you’ve probably totally ignored because, like me, you don’t see much appeal in racing games involving only ATVs. On the surface, Pure is simply a racer, but sitting down with Jason Avent, the games director, and tearing through a few tracks showed me that they’ve thought through the fact that driving around dirt tracks just doesn’t appeal to everyone, and injected the game with a bit more life. If you haven’t heard anything about the game there isn’t much to explain — you race around the world in a sort of world tour mode trying to be the best ATV racer out there. There are plenty of characters to choose from when you start off, and there are a wide variety of tracks.

While winning the race is the point of any racing game, in Pure getting to that goal is more about pulling off insane tricks off of impossible jumps. Every time you hit a ramp you get air and can pull off a trick building your boost. The higher the boost the more complicated tricks you can pull off. When you first start you can only do tricks with one button, and you execute different tricks by tapping the button (X in my case since I was playing the PS3 version) and the joystick in different directions. Landing the trick gets you boost, boost gets you more tricks, more tricks lead to more boosts until you’ve filled your boost meter and are able to pull off a special trick which allows you to boost for a while without draining. Avent says that good players can basically keep their boost up the entire time pulling of special trick after special trick, and that getting great air and doing stunts is the only way to really win on the more difficult levels.

Getting air isn’t as easy or mind numbingly simple as it sounds. Before each jump you have to sort of launch yourself to get more air. Pull back and then push forward on the control stick and you launch your RTV even higher, letting you do more tricks and thus garnering more speed. There’s a bit of depth behind the controls, so it offers up more of a challenge than a first glance reveals.

But one glance is all you need to see that the guys behind Pure have put a lot of attention into track design. Not just how the tracks work but also the world they’re in. Tracks have a huge variety of paths that take you in different directions. Each time I did a lap it felt almost like a completely different course since I would veer some other way and get a totally different view. And the view is gorgeous. The team made the the horizon line insanely far away so whenever you got air you can see forever. In fact, the camera work on tricks and stunt is designed around showing off not only your rider but the view as well. Hitting a big jump in a mountain top racing level I could see clear out over a crystal lake and the rest of the track opening below me — it was really stunning and made the boring repetition of driving around the same track a bit more exciting.

The game also has an extensive ATV creation system. You can literally build your vehicle from the frame up, adding extras here and there with the money you gain from winning races. Almost every aspect of the ATV can be changed and upgraded for both aesthetic and practical purposes. I don’t know how much of a difference it will actually make as I only played with one ATV but it should be a cool feature.

Despite all, this the game is pretty basic. Though they wanted to show a bit more depth, from what I saw of the game it wasn’t there yet. The tracks were fun because they were new, but I’m not sure if the simple trick system and gorgeous views would make me come back over and over to race. It felt like it would be fun for a week and then I’d move on. Of course, I only played three tracks so the variety would definitely liven things up, plus the difficulty level was pretty low so a bit more of a challenge from the other racers would have been appreciated, though it might get annoying once they start pulling off impossible tricks over and over. Another feature I wasn’t so sure of was the fact that after crashing you basically pop right back on your ride. It definitely keeps the flow of the game going but it takes away the feeling of having a penalty for crashing.

All in all, I was impressed with what Pure had to offer and the way the game’s design and play never let the races slow down was great, but until the full version comes out I can’t shake the feeling that this is just a mid-par racer with pretty graphics and plenty of dynamic camera work.

[See also: Pure gallery]