Joy Ride Preview: Take It Easy

Avatars, long-caged in Xbox 360 waiting rooms, finally have a chance to cut loose on dirt race tracks, better still Joy Ride is free for Xbox Live members.

Well, free if you don't spend a dime on customization, new tracks or tricks. Is Joy Ride a fun freebie from Microsoft or a Trojan Horse packed with microtransactions?

What Is It?
BigPark's avatar-sporting cartoon racer is free to Xbox Live gold members and will feature local two-player coop and up with eight player races online. It will be free to silver and gold Xbox Live members, but only gold members will be able to play online.

What We Saw
I ran two races against computer-controlled cars.

How Far Along Is It?
No date has been announced for the game's release and the developers told me they are still working out some of the bugs and adding new features.

What Needs Improvement?
Avatar Tricks: Most of the game is about racing your car around an open world, either on tracks or in stunt parks, but you can also perform little tricks with your avatar while driving. It's a neat feature, but a little random when I saw it. I'd like to see the developers tweak it so I can better decide which tricks my avatar performs during a race.

Hidden Costs: This is a free game, but only if you don't download anything. The game will be released as a free download to Xbox Live gold members, but you will have to pay to download new tracks, modes and avatar items. Just how basic the free stuff is will have a big impact on the game's potential success.

What Should Stay The Same?
Absurd Tricks: Racing is fun, but the tricks you can perform in the game are crazy, like shooting across the screen, racing down wooden tracks that look more like roller coasters than raceways and canonballing into hidden areas.

Customization: Everything from the car you're racing, to your avatar to clothing and tricks can be customized in the game. Sure, most of it will come with a cost, but it will make for some pretty colorful and always new races.

Avatar Support: Finally I can do something with my avatar besides grimace and burp.

Tracks: The completely open race tracks set in Wil E. Coyote worlds make for some surprisingly fun races and unexpected shortcuts and delays.

Stunt Parks: More fun than the race tracks are the stunt parks that look like something more fitting for over-sized skateboards than vehicles. Burning down a half-pipe and then twisting in mid air to land on build up speed is a blast.

Final Thoughts
Joy Ride is a slick, easy to play racer that offers a lot more fun than you might expect. It also comes with those hidden costs, but since the basic pack is free it's hard to say it's not worth picking up.