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MTV Sports: Pure Ride (PSX) Review

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Yet another snowboarding game carves its way onto the Sony PlayStation. MTV Sports: Pure Ride is THQ's follow-up to MTV Sports: Snowboarding, and it is developer Radical Entertainment's third snowboarding effort. While the PlayStation is saturated with extreme sports titles, particularly snowboarding titles, Pure Ride shows there is still room left for another snowboarding game. With its vast, interactive environments and tight gameplay, Pure Ride is an enjoyable, albeit short-lived, Tony Hawk-like snowboarding that revolves around crazy tricks/stunts instead of downhill racing.

Presentation/Graphics : 75
If you are purely looking for a snowboarding game with cutting-edge graphics, I suggest you invest in a PlayStation 2 and pick up either EA's SSX or Konami's ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding. However, if you are not terribly discriminating about graphics, especially outdated 32-bit graphics, you will appreciate what Pure Ride has to offer in the graphics department.

What Pure Ride's graphics offer is simple: a smooth frame-rate (for the most part), limited pop-up, snowboarders with a fair amount of detail, cool lighting, slick-looking tricks, and wide-open environments. Although not the best-looking snowboarding game on the system, Pure Ride does contain great character designs, which range from your average snowboard dude to a wacked-out clown. In all, the game includes fourteen detailed boarders (five fictitious characters to start), with five zany characters and four professional snowboarders that you must unlock. All the boards in the game (twenty total) are licensed, and the pros, naturally, have their own signature boards.

The courses and backgrounds look decent, but many objects (trees, vehicles, spectators, etc.) within the environments resemble cardboard cutouts and are quite pixellated. In addition, Pure Ride suffers from what I like to call the "Triple C": collision, clipping, and camera problems. Thankfully, some very pleasing lighting, cool special effects (e.g., lens flare, sparks during rail tricks, etc.), and great-looking special tricks help make up for this. The frame-rate is also quite smooth -- even during the two-player split-screen modes -- but there is some occasional slowdown. Oddly enough, most of the slowdown occurs before the start of the session (during the introductory sequence) and after returning from the pause menu.

Pure Ride has two third-person views of the action: a distant view (default) and a closer, behind-the-back view. The default view does a great job of showing your rider's immediate surroundings, as well as what lies ahead of him or her. On the other hand, the closer view restricts much of the viewing area during the half-pipe competitions, but it does highlight the riders and their cool tricks. Although this does not relate directly to the graphics, I should mention that the camera-view button (select button) does not always respond after a press.

Sadly, Pure Ride's replay mode is unexciting, and it does not capture the spirit of the run. This is mostly due to the tiny snowboarders and pulled-back camera angles that the game displays during the replays. I would have enjoyed seeing some in-your-face moments spread throughout the replays. Nevertheless, you can pause, rewind, and advance the playback to suit your taste.

The letter-boxed FMV clips are also not terribly exciting, and they are a bit on the short side (some even feature the same clips). Like the two Tony Hawk games, Pure Ride has several videos that players must unlock. Therefore, the fact that the video clips lack length and excitement may disappoint some players. (Ironically, Pure Ride's most exciting video clip features some skateboarding in it. Go figure.)

Presentation/Audio : 77
Pure Ride's selection of sound effects complements its on-screen action nicely. From cheering crowds to smooth whooshing sounds on the snow, the sound effects are quite satisfying. Rail tricks, spins/flips in the air, and falls also sound good and have an energetic, arcade-like quality to them, which fits the arcadey nature of the game. The special tricks in Pure Ride, however, feature the best sound effects, with each character and professional snowboarder having unique sounds that accompany their special maneuvers. While I would have liked more sound variety from the crowd, as well as some voice samples from the characters/pros la SSX, the included sound effects sound good nonetheless.

Musically, Pure Ride's soundtrack consists of both up-and-coming and lesser-known bands (El Plus, anyone?). Although I do find it a bit ironic that a game endorsed by MTV has a soundtrack made up of smaller acts, most of the ten songs are inoffensive. In fact, Incubus -- perhaps the best-known group on the soundtrack -- gets things started on the right foot with their rocking song "Privilege," which backs the opening FMV. While I prefer Incubus' older stuff, this song from their latest album is a welcome addition. Most of the ten tracks are rock based, but there is some variety between them, with the Freestyler's song, "Phenomenon One," bringing a little reggae-like flavor to the mix. The menu music and instrumental songs are also quite good, consisting of fresh, funky beats. Overall, Pure Ride's soundtrack cannot compete with some of the other extreme-sports soundtracks out there, but it does provide a few foot-tapping moments.

Interface/Options : 76
Pure Ride contains a fresh menu system that is well laid out and easy to navigate. The options menu lets players choose from three controller configurations, adjust the audio properties, and load & save games. Unlike the last MTV Sports game I reviewed, MTV Sports: Skateboarding, Pure Ride automatically loads memory card data upon the start of the game, and it lets you save during gameplay. Unfortunately, after you save your game, you must return to the main menu, since the game only lets you save and exit simultaneously. Jeez, is it too much to ask for a save feature that allows players to save their game and continue playing?! These MTV-endorsed games sure do feature strange setups.

When it comes time to select your snowboarder, you can read a short description about him or her and also select an alternate outfit (this option is only available for the five initial characters). The snowboards also have descriptions, which briefly explain their strengths. Unfortunately, the developer did not include stat levels for the snowboarders or snowboards, so casual gamers and snowboarding newbies may have difficulty choosing their rider and board, especially since the descriptions are barely adequate.

Load time during menu navigation is kept to a minimum, but it is much longer -- and annoying -- during gameplay. While you can select the song during the pre-game load screen, giving you something to fiddle with, the annoying load time between runs is unforgivable. For example, if you want to replay the same level after reaching the bottom of the mountain, you must sit through another load screen. Strangely, though, if you pause the game and restart the run before you reach the bottom, the screen will briefly flash white and quickly restart the run. This is very schizophrenic, to say the least.

Unlike its peculiar save feature and schizophrenic load time, Pure Ride's default control interface is intuitive. The D-pad or left analog stick control the direction of the snowboarder on the ground, flips and spins in the air, and movement on top of rails. For hard turns, you can press the L1 or R1 button while carving through the snow. You can also use the L1 or R1 button to jib on a rail, and to control the rotation of spins and flips in the air. The X button is used for regular jumps -- and to jump on and off a rail -- while the square, triangle, and circle (also executes switch stance on the ground) buttons are for basic grab tricks. To do more advanced grabs, you can press the R2 button with any of the four buttons (i.e., X, square, circle, and triangle). Finally, you can do one of two special tricks by pressing the L2 button with either the circle or square button. Although some gamers may not take to Pure Ride's control scheme immediately (I had a little trouble adjusting at first), it becomes second nature after a few practice runs.

Gameplay : 79
Pure Ride does not try to simulate the extreme sport of snowboarding, nor does it feature races against other snowboarders. Rather, it offers some great arcade-style thrills that any gamer can enjoy, thanks to its simple and responsive control system. Like Pro Skater, you can carve a variety of objects within the huge environments; from large trucks to ski lifts, almost everything you see on the mountain is fair game. On the other end of the spectrum, the large half-pipes and jumps let you get sick air and throw in a variety of spins and grabs. The special tricks are very easy to do, and the "magnetic" rails eliminate the need for guesswork, since your snowboarder can hop a rail from several feet away at almost any angle. Although these "magnetic" rails strip the game of most of its challenge, they do make it more fun, as even first-time players will be transferring from rail to rail within minutes.

In Pure Ride, four unique single-player modes await your snowboarding skills, with a couple two-player modes and a cool build-a-mountain feature available as well. The single-player modes include the following: Tour Challenge, Free Ride, Specialist, and Stunt. Developer Radical also included a handy "Express Pass," which conveniently selects the mode, rider, and snowboard for the player, allowing him or her to jump quickly into a game.

Tour Challenge, the main mode of the game, consists of five different tours, with a dozen events in all. You will start with the simple Oakley Challenge and try to progress to the final tour: MTV Sports Final. To advance, you must rank at least third overall in competitions, which include half-pipe, slopestyle, and big air -- all of which consist of two or more runs. However, if you want to unlock the four professional snowboarders, complete with their own boards and videos, you must place first in the last four tours. Sadly, this mode is not very challenging, since you can easily rack up enough winning points by simply doing your rider's special tricks continuously. In fact, the only difficult part is making sure you nail each landing, since there is no time limit to contend with, let alone other riders on-screen. While you will definitely want to unlock the four pros, their accompanying videos, as mentioned earlier, are short and unexciting.

Free Ride mode lets players shred a mountain at their own pace. Unlike the "free" modes in other extreme sports games, however, Pure Ride's Free Ride mode forces players to collect special icons and meet objectives before another location is available. In all, Free Ride mode has seven locations, ranging from the good ol' USA to the grand Himalayas. The difficulty level slowly increases between each level, and the game tacks on different objectives as you progress. This is a decent mode, but the name is a little deceiving, since there is nothing "free" about meeting goals, albeit without a time limit.

The Specialist mode is another easy mode that consists of three unique events: half-pipe, slopestyle, and big air. Each event has four stages that increase in difficulty. Successful completion of an event will unlock one of five wacky, fictitious characters. Although I found it to be the least challenging mode of the game, the Specialist mode still manages to entertain.

Stunt mode is probably the most enjoyable mode of the game, with 18 stages consisting of huge jumps, gaps, and rail transfers. The 18 stages are split among three locations -- Japan, Canada, and the US -- each of which has its own theme and set of challenges. Unfortunately, the "magnetic" rails I mentioned earlier take away most of the challenge from this mode, as nailing transfers and clearing gaps is very easy. Nevertheless, the last stage on each level does provide somewhat of a challenge. Overall, this mode is a great deal of fun...while it lasts.

Pure Ride's two-player mode, Head To Head, contains two competitive split-screen events: time and trick. The time event is a basic race, whereas the trick event revolves around scoring points with -- what else -- tricks. Head To Head mode is a great way to kill some time, especially since the split-screen action is smooth. Yet, it would have been better if the developer included more two-player games, including a couple innovative ones.

Those who are looking to create their own mountain will enjoy Pure Ride's build-a-mountain feature. Although limited, the mountain editor lets players litter an empty mountain with a variety of rails, ramps, and vehicles (e.g., trucks, snowmobiles, etc.). You have the option of constructing your mountain in Canada, Sweden, or France. The interface is very simple, enabling you to build a decent mountain within ten minutes. Unfortunately, you cannot include any half-pipe sections, as you are limited to a downhill course. Another limitation is the fact that you cannot ride your mountain anywhere but within the mountain editor. This means that you cannot school a friend on your user-created mountain. Overall, the build-a-mountain feature is a welcome addition, but it would have greatly benefited from additional features and options.

Replay Value : 75
Although Pure Ride has plenty of characters, boards and videos to unlock, most gamers can probably unlock everything during a standard Blockbuster rental period (i.e., five days). The limited trick list also hurts the game, as does the lack of a custom rider feature. In fact, only the two-player mode and the build-a-mountain feature keep this game from becoming stale after a week. Still, even the two-player mode and the build-a-mountain feature suffer from limitations. Thus Pure Ride, sadly, will not be spending much time inside your PlayStation.

Overall : 77
MTV Sports: Pure Ride is an enjoyable snowboarding game that unfortunately lacks depth. Although it has some cool secret characters and a neat build-a-mountain feature, the single-player modes are a little too easy. If you are not quite ready, or are unable, to delve into the next generation of arcade-style snowboarding games -- namely, EA's SSX -- Pure Ride will provide some entertainment in the meantime... Just make sure to rent it first.

By: Cliff O'Neill 11/1/00



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