Hands-on: Joy Ride

Joy Ride is a game with an agenda. As a free downloadable title with lots of accessibility, Avatar support and plenty of customization options, we're sure Microsoft sees it as a great gateway game to Xbox Live. At any rate, Microsoft saw something in the game, as the company decided to acquire developer BigPark based on its merits. Having spent some time with Joy Ride -- which is still pre-alpha, mind you -- we think Microsoft might be on to something.

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Joy Ride reminds us of the Rush series.

For those that don't care why this game is important to Microsoft, let's say this: Joy Ride reminds us of the Rush series. We started out in the game's free-roaming stunt mode -- which also serves as the lobby on Xbox Live. The game controls very simply, easily allowing players to perform stunts, drift into powerslides and fire off precious turbo boosts. Before long we were boosting up half-pipe ramps and pulling off tricks with ease. The game also lets your Avatar perform tricks, like hanging from the side of the car during long jumps. These Avatar tricks were mapped to a single button for the E3 demo, but we were told these would be performed via a more complex combo system in the final game.

We also participated in a race mode that took place on a more linear track. The track -- again, like the Rush series -- had lots of shortcuts open to those with sharp eyes and good reflexes. Right now, there aren't any combat items or power-ups like you would find in a typical kart racer, so winning will depend on your ability to navigate corners and spot shortcuts. Again though, Joy Ride is still in pre-alpha. There's a lot of play testing left to be done, so combat items could make it into the game if BigPark decides it adds to the experience.

Graphically, the game is perfectly adequate, especially for a downloadable title. It's colorful and there are lots of customization options for the vehicles. Combine these options with Avatar support and it's unlikely you'll encounter another identical player. This gives the game a very personal touch and is pretty far removed from the licensed characters seen in similar racers.

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There is still an unknown hanging in the air though, and that's how much all these customization options are going to cost. Joy Ride itself will be free, and BigPark assured us that players will still have plenty of options included with the base game, but we know that there will modifications for the vehicles that will come at a price. BigPark isn't sure about how the game will be monetized, but it's something to think about. While there will be premium tracks for download, it's important to note that if only one person in a group has payed for a premium track, all of the players in the group can still race on it, which is a nice touch.

All in all, we're sure that the combining the addictive qualities of Rush with microtransactions was a very attractive proposition for Microsoft, but the important thing is that the Joy Ride is actually fun to play. Even if you never pay for a single hubcap or spoiler or track, there's a fun, free game underneath. It's hard to argue with that.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.