We've been following the progress of Pure now for what seems like an age, and we were worried at one point that the offroad racing title might have been suffering from over-engineering on the part of the developers.
Our suspicions were heightened by the lack of any real detail covering what goes on in the garage. Exactly to what degree could you manipulate your bike? Would the changes really matter on a map that had so many different paths to the finish? The last time we sat down with Pure, these questions needed answering before we could declare that a true racing title was on the cards.
Happily, Disney has come to the rescue with a final release-quality build for us to play with, so we've had the chance to not only investigate the bike modifications, but the entire game in its finished state.
To bring the uninitiated up to speed, Pure is a quad-bike stunt title designed to push your racing experience to the limit - typically the vertical limit, that is - and offers a dynamic, fast-paced and challenging foray into the world of extreme sports, with a bit of arcade goodness thrown in for luck.
The initial qualification round has been retained for the retail release, which gradually teaches you the fundamentals of bike control and eases you into what would otherwise be a bewildering race mechanic. This tutorial really should be considered mandatory, as without understanding the relationship between weight distribution and timing your tricks you'll spend a frustratingly long period of time sliding face-first along the track. It won't be long however before you master the quick one-two of pre-loading your weight using the left thumbstick, and pushing forward to gain some serious altitude.
It's at this point where the real Pure experience begins. Pure has been designed with a serious slant towards absolutely insane stunt manoeuvres, indeed if you want to stand any chance of beating the rather gifted AI you're going to have to become proficient at the gravity-bending art as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, the learning curve isn't as steep as the tracks you're racing on, so after a few exploratory combinations of the left thumbstick and A button (for the Xbox 360 version) in mid-flight you'll soon get the hang of judging how long the trick lasts for, and at what rate you're accelerating towards the ground. That's all it really is - basic physics, and avoiding ever meeting the ground during the execution of a trick.
Of course, easy as the initial tricks may be, the difficulty soon ramps up and you'll be saving the more insane tricks for the truly long jumps. There are usually at least one or two jumps on every level that throw you hundreds of metres skyward, typically with nothing but the mere suggestion of where your landing point will be, and the implied consent to pull off the craziest trick possible. In order to prepare for these, you need to perform smaller tricks first, which unlock the "B" button, followed by the "Y" button, each scaling up the complexity of the tricks you can select. Maintaining these unlocked tricks requires concentration. If you slam out at any point you'll have to earn them again, and there's nothing quite as annoying as missing out on the big jumps due to a momentary lapse in judgement earlier in the race.
Much like drifting is to circuit racing, stunts really are the synchronised swimming of competitive offroad racing, so you'd be right to question why the game is called Pure in the first place. To balance things out somewhat, tricks performed will earn you boost, which you can then use to gain more air, allowing you to perform more complicated tricks. It's a neat circle of insanity that culminates in the inevitable spectacular wipe-out, but at least it's nothing but pure fun getting there.
There's nothing really revolutionary about the game modes in Pure, as you'll find the same career progression seen in many other racing titles to date. You can choose from the primary World Tour mode, where you can indulge your single-player needs across ten different stages that increase in difficulty as you progress. You can also jump into the Sprint mode (which concentrates more on handling over shorter tracks) the Race mode (a more competitive Sprint mode with extra jumps and heavier boost requirements) and the Freestyle mode, which outshines the other two with its open-ended racing style.
In Freestyle, old-school players will welcome the arcade roots embedded in every twist and turn of the track. You're battling against the clock here, as large comical tokens twirl in mid-air, promising everything from boost to fuel, to score multipliers and additional tricks, and tantalisingly available to whoever dares jump for them. It's not for the faint of heart, you'll need to practise and learn where the best tokens are, and then link them together to get the highest score. After about the fifth time you run out of fuel after missing a jump you might question why you're bothering, but if you stick with it the feeling of accomplishment when you nail everything perfectly is more than worth it.
The single-player campaign may be clocked relatively quickly if you're a real racing expert, but fortunately there's a robust multiplayer element that will see up to sixteen people battle it out online for supremacy. Both single-player and multiplayer campaigns share the same tracks, which are stunning not only for the attention to environmental detail, but feature what has to be some of the longest draw distances ever seen. Hardly surprising given that Pure has to have some of the largest jumps in any game out there as well.
As for the bikes - well, you're either going to love or hate the sheer volume of parts and modifications available. We'd heard statements like "80,000 mechanical combinations available" being bandied about prior to receiving this review copy, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if that was entirely correct. Everything can be changed, from the chassis to the shocks, the swing-arms to the motors, even kick-plates and stickers can be added to customise things further. If you're not mechanically minded and just want something off the shelf, the game will provide you with an automatically crafted bike, but it's not hard to select a range of parts that will compete across the board, and as there are multiple slots available to store finished bikes you're encouraged to experiment anyway.
Further parts are unlocked according to your prowess on the track, although you will eventually grow to dislike the less than intuitive and overly manual method of fitting them, which will see you trawling through a menu structure and replacing each component individually. But it's not the end of the world and is hardly a show-stopper.
Overall, Pure is a well-rounded, cleverly designed and spirited attempt to capture the high-octane world of quadbike racing. Highly recommended for the long summer evenings coming up, and ideal to be enjoyed on a sofa in close proximity to beer and barbecued food.