MX vs. ATV Alive Review
The MX vs. ATV series is taking a departure from the norm with MX vs. ATV Alive. Its price point is set somewhere between a budget title and a full priced game, and is designed to let you expand the game as much as you’d like, or not at all, through a large catalog of DLC that ranges from gear for your racer to new vehicles and tracks. The game is certainly fully playable without ever downloading a single thing, but there’s an “impatience tax” built into the game. If you don’t have the patience to slowly build-up your rider and vehicle levels, you’re going to be sorely tempted to go the DLC route and buy yourself a better vehicle or two or more likely the “Unlock Pack” to make all of the tracks and events instantly available.
Let’s put all of that pricing strategy stuff aside for a moment and start by looking at the game itself. Developer Rainbow Studios has been at this MX and ATV racing thing for a while now and it certainly shows in the quality of the game’s racing simulation. The two-stick control scheme – the right stick steers the vehicle and the left the rider’s lean – works very well and makes it feel more like you’re on an ATV or bike instead of racing something that looks like a bike but drives like a car. The lean and center-of-mass control is important for control both in turns and on jumps, but it also gives you the chance to avoid a spill after a mistake or collision with another rider by allowing you to try to right yourself by throwing your weight around.
The real-time track deformation also adds to the realism. As the races progress, the vehicles chew up the track just as they do in a real race. As you get deeper into a race you’ll have to contend with ruts and bumps in the track that weren’t there when you started.
I like the way that the game lets you know when another rider is very close to you and where he is relative you by popping-up arcs around your rider. It works in much the same way as first-person shooters indicate which direction that you're being shot from. It's a good system for recreating the kind of awareness a professional rider has for the other racers around him, and it does so without being a distraction.
One thing that doesn’t work quite as well is the game’s trick system. The controls for initiating a trick are a little awkward and this coupled with the fact that the trick animations are slow to develop makes it difficult to pull off anything unless you’ve caught an impressive amount of air on your jump. This is a non-issue in the races which are based entirely on time and order of finish, but in the game’s free ride mode which is designed for fun and playing around the trick system is more of a hindrance than anything else.
The game’s discount price comes at the cost of a manual and tutorial, so if you haven’t played an MX vs ATV game before. I highly recommend going to the MX vs. ATV site and downloading a PDF version of the manual or you won’t have any idea of how and when to use the clutch, preload your jumps, and a host of other tidbits that will impact your success in the game.
The career and multiplayer modes, as well as the free world playgrounds, are all blended together in the game. You don’t have separate offline and online personas and there’s no separate career mode - everything that you do in any mode will build both your rider’s and vehicle’s experience. Experience will increase your rider’s and vehicle’s level, which in turn will give you access to more driver skills, tracks and events, and better equipment. However, leveling is a relatively slow process (and one can’t help but think that it’s tied into the game’s DLC-focused design), so you’ll be spending a lot of time with the first round of tracks before more open to you. There’s no career mode forcing you to move through the tracks in a set order, but you’ll have only a small set of tracks available to you for a while – unless you pony up some MS Points to unlock them all instantly.
The free world levels give you the chance to play around on an MX bike or ATV without the constraints of a track or event. The game will track your best jumps, tricks, and the like as you explore the levels, but the awkward trick system takes some of the fun out of this. The real allure of the free world levels is that they give you a chance to put your best stats up against those of your friends. You can compare things like longest jump or hang time, and if your best score is bested you can see exactly where your friend was when he/she set the record. This mode also has an advantage in that you can earn experience while goofing around, something that’s welcome early on in the game when you grow tired of the limited track selection available to you.
On the positive side, the game features a strong racing engine, good graphics, and competent AI racers, and the multiplayer races are exciting. On the negative, the presentation is pretty basic, the event selection is limited, severely so for a while into the game, and the DLC available at the time of this writing is a bit on the sparse side. With more content it would be a stellar game, but for now it’s more for fans of the sport than anyone else.
Final Rating: 76%. The short track of MX racing games.