Reviewed: September 14, 2003
Released: July 23, 2003
ATV Mania, a new release from the French developers Deibus (under the Gotham Games umbrella here in the US) for the Playstation, is a weapon-fueled racing game based on the premise of an illegal (duh), no-holds-barred ATV race through the French Alps.
The title features a handful of play modes and supports either one or two player races. Players choose from one of six characters whose ATVs are rated by top speed, traction and armor, then have at it on one of six available courses, picking up weapons to use on their opponents as they go. Like most games released through Gotham/Take 2, it's a $9.99 "budget" title.
Concerning newly released video games, the general rule is that you get what you pay for. With ATV Mania, this holds true as well. I'm the last person to wantonly insult the French, but as long as Deibus Studios is developing titles like this one, they'll have to put up with at least some amount of ridicule from the gaming community.
The controls in ATV Mania are miserable, clunky and counterintuitive. I felt like I was wearing gorilla gloves when trying to control my rider. Braking is too touchy and can cause your rider to overcompensate on turns. Acceleration feels nonexistent, and in effect it is. If your rider is destroyed on the course even once, there's only a very slim chance of catching up to the other riders. On a related note, I occasionally felt like my rider was driving through molasses for some unexplained reason, especially on certain courses. Perhaps it was something having to do with the graphics, but just the same it was annoying.
The only thing I was happy with was that the armor, speed and traction ratings of riders do actually make a tangible difference on the course, which is a nice touch. On the other hand, choosing the fastest rider won't help you much. Armor, I found, was the only thing that really mattered. Overall, the game's physics are a frustrating disappointment.
Out of the three modes available, single race mode is so sleep-inducing that it doesn't warrant more than a sentence here. Time attack mode, pathetically enough, is the most fun for a single player, which is to say that there's not much fun to be had. Racing against myself offset the AI problem a bit and didn't last any longer than I wanted it to. In all honesty, though, I would rather have stared at a blank wall for five minutes than run a time trial.
Championship mode is the flesh and bone of ATV Mania, and the worst part of it. I could go on for thousands of words carefully ripping apart every aspect of the championship. Instead, I'm going to write a small list of some of the worst parts. Here goes...
Firstly, the "evading the police and reporters" aspect of this game (as printed on the case) is a crock of crap. There are no police or reporters to evade on the courses. What happens is a series of typo-ridden, poorly paced "choose your own adventure"-style dialogues between races. A still drawing of a police chief, environmental activist or like figure is accompanied by a text-only conversation in which the NPC asks you a series of questions. You can choose from three ill-suited and often ridiculous responses, after which (if you answered satisfactorily) the game moves to the next course. It feels awkward and very amateurish in style.
Secondly, there's absolutely no reward for placing first in the championship. Just a still screen, which simply reads, "congratulations!" and tells you to try the next difficulty level. Additionally, the personality of your rider isn't developed at all! Each rider is given a short profile at the selection screen. Naturally, one would expect at least some hackneyed attempt at telling the stories of these riders as they competed throughout the event, but no such luck.
Lastly, the back of the game also claims "realistic effects where the... riders need to recuperate after their harsh encounters on the track". Okay... where was this? I didn't see this anywhere in the game at all, unless setting a rider back on the course after he or she is destroyed counts. It's just one more disappointment to heap on the pile.
A big selling point for ATV Mania is the fact that you get to try your hand at destroying other riders on the course. In the style of a kart racer, players drive through sets of three boxes containing one of several assorted power-ups. Grenades, land mines and homing missiles are among the available weapons. During championship mode, ammunition that is collected or bought with prize money can be saved from race to race. Also, more than one type of weapon can be collected at once and scrolled through during play.
In a championship, this feature proves to be a huge disappointment because it's hard to hit your opponent with most of the provided arsenal, making any attack a touch-and-go affair. On a brighter note, two-player mode can actually be a fair amount of fun for the same reason. It detracts from the experience when playing against the AI, but makes it a friendlier race when going head to head with a fellow gamer.
Speaking of rival AI, it's nonexistent. There isn't much else to say on this count- a race against the computer is a race against a bunch of cardboard cutouts.
I don't have so much to say about ATV Mania's graphics. The rider/quad models are small and uninspired, but at least you can tell the difference between them. Graphics are "last-gen," so to speak, but passable for a budget title. However, thanks to poor texturing on the courses, it's often hard to tell what's happening on them. This is one of those games in which the textures detract from gameplay rather than add to it.
The drawings of the different competitors look like they were drawn by the same marginally talented comic book artist who drew the title screen picture (which is also the loading screen picture, by the way). They are lumpy and awkward. There was even at least one picture that looked like a hand-drawn body with a shot of someone's face Photoshopped onto it. Effects are sparse, basically limited to a transparency skin which creates a "ghost rider" for the time trials. The color schemes are boring and uninspired. ATV Mania is a visual snore.
Well, well. What is there to say about sound? On the plus side, your rider will make a half-hearted attempt at a scream if you drive off of a cliff, as well as one of four different unintelligible yells upon placing for a course. On the other side, there's no other voice "acting" to speak of. Even when hit with a hand grenade, the riders have nothing to say.
The soundtrack, such as it is, is forgettable and poorly mixed. A small amount of ambient noise in the form of birds chirping along the course is not only out of place, it gets annoying after a few minutes. Turning the SFX down in the Options menu can help this problem. ATV's make dull droning noises that are barely noticeable. Hitting the brakes hard produces a distinct sound of tires on asphalt, which is fine, except that most of the time you're racing on dirt. All in all, the sound isn't even worth mentioning except to say that it's bad.
By now, most of the people reading this will have realized that ATV Mania's lack of replay and entertainment value is a foregone conclusion. Based on the title's mind numbing one-player gameplay, it's safe to say that the only value this game has is within two-player head-to-head mode. This lump won't even be fun the first time around otherwise. The unacceptably long load times don't help, either.
Lackluster sound and boring graphics only compound the problems that riddle this game like mold. Its only redeeming qualities are the weapons system and two-player mode, and then only if they are taken together. If there ever was a good game inside of ATV Mania somewhere along the line, it must have died in agony long ago.
I've played some pretty dull games in my time. ATV Mania is one of them. I was bored with it within five minutes, and had seen everything it had to offer within thirty. Ancient-looking graphics, dull sound and largely crappy gameplay make this a title best left on the shelf. It fails on all counts. If you collect that sort of thing, feel free to add another to your gallery. Otherwise, stay away from this one.