Though still in its infancy, the PSP was blessed with a number of top-notch racing games at launch. ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails is the first off-road racing game for the Sony handheld. While the single player mode tends to be frustrating, the game combines fast four-wheel action with one of the most feature-rich online multiplayer modes we've seen on the PSP. If you're in love with the grit and grime of dirt racing, and don't mind a challenge, then Blazin' Trails should be right up your alley.
The first thing that will probably strike you about this game is its difficulty. Unlike many racing games (heck, unlike most games in general) that start out easy and gently ramp up the intensity as you progress, Blazin' Trails' single-player championship events--of which there are 14 to choose from--start out challenging and don't let up for a moment, even on normal difficulty level. This is partially due to some newly tweaked, and far less forgiving, physics that put an absolute premium on jump strategy. Unlike other off-road racing games, which tend to be forgiving in terms of how you approach a jump, how much you preload your ride, and more, Blazin' Trails forces near-perfect approaches and skillful landings if you hope to even have a chance of winning against your three ontrack opponents.
While demanding physics aren't necessarily a damning aspect of a game, when coupled with equally unforgiving controls and a deadly efficient (some might say rubber-band) opponent artificial intelligence, you have the makings of a championship series that will leave all but the most experienced ATV fans clawing their hair out in frustration. Blazin' Trails makes no bones about throwing tough competition against you. From the very outset, you'll find yourself fighting just to stay up with the pack, much less win the race. While you'll see computer-controlled opponents wreck periodically (eliciting a roar from the crowd in the process), when they manage to stay perched on the bike, they are notoriously fast and aggressive. Even if you manage to open up an early lead in the championship series races, you never have room to feel comfortable in your position to concentrate on things like pulling off tricks from the game's massive roster of stunts. Instead, you're completely focused on nailing a clean landing, leading early in the upcoming turns, and generally doing your best to stay in the race. A little luck never hurts, and if you can manage to topple an opponent from his ATV, thus opening up a little space for yourself in the process, all the better.
The game's controls make it difficult to recommend using the PSP's analog stick over the directional buttons, or the other way around. While the stick feels better for turning and preloading the bike on jumps, its limited range of motion makes it too easy to overcompensate on turns. Similarly, the directional pad works fine for turns, but the down-up motion needed to preload the bike feels awkward and inefficient. In the end, neither configuration works especially well.
Collision detection in Blazin' Trails is more accurate than has been seen in previous ATV games. You can't fly through flagpoles or rubber barriers, because all these roadside obstacles are perilously solid and should be avoided at all costs. Some glitches exist, so you'll sometimes be able to land directly on a rubber barrier and then hop directly back onto the course with no ill effects. But for the most part, your best bet for staying on your ATV is to avoid everything but the jumps. Should you crash or manage to go offtrack, the game has a tendency to reset you back on the track at an odd angle, often leading you to run immediately offtrack again. In all, the racing found in Blazin' Trails is designed for those who enjoy a challenge, but it may be too frustrating for beginners to enjoy.