Review: MX vs ATV Alive
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 [360 version used for review]
Release Date: May 10th, 2011
In Ten Words Or Less: Repetitive and lacklustre racer saved by competitive multiplayer and generous price.
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To tell the truth, reader, I feel cheated. By no means is this game terrible; with a much gentler learning curve than previous instalments, not to mention one of the more exciting multiplayers in the racing game genre, MX vs ATV Alive does perform. No, the reason I feel cheated is that the game is as good as unfinished. I appreciate the hybrid pricing strategy employed by THQ – an enticing retail price, followed by plenty of premium downloadable content – but it cannot be seen as justification for putting out a half-baked game on day one. Developers, take note.
Moving swiftly on, MX vs ATV Alive does expand on the success of its predecessors in various fields, especially the accessibility and refinement of the controls. They are still complex, as far as racing games go – you have to control the throttle, clutch, brakes, steering and rider position independently – but after a couple of minutes riding around in Free Mode, or even during your first race, you’ll see improvement, and before too long everything will feel natural. For those of you who shrieked at the mention of a clutch, don’t panic; all the vehicles in game are automatic transmission, and the clutch is used for quick starts, as well as moderating corner speed.
The single player consists of two game types – the traditional Race, and the almost-as-traditional Free Mode. There is no career, as such, due to the addition of an XP system, shared between offline and online play. Your rider and vehicle have separate XP levels, and as you race, you’ll gain experience for both. Expectedly, gaining levels unlocks new rewards for both your avatar and your off-roader of choice, ranging from chassis upgrades and new suspension forks through to different patches on the back of your overalls. These come thick and fast throughout the game, and before too long, you’ll have amassed a garage full of customisation options to do with as you will.
This, however, is where the variety ends. The obvious limitations of the two game modes aside, the games reluctance to give you any illusion of choice provides cause for concern. For the first ten levels, you are restricted to four races and two free mode maps, with the addition of two more tracks and one more sandbox level through the DLC code provided with new copies of the game. Yes, the races themselves are never dull, but you’ll end up having to return to the same circuits various times in order to garner the experience needed to advance. After level 10, the next batch become available at 25, and although you also unlock the next tier of vehicles, it just isn’t enough of an incentive to grind away for hours and hours.
Graphically, as you can see by our screenshots, the game begins to falter. Although the general presentation of menus and such is clean and aesthetically pleasing, the general quality can only be really considered good when compared to games almost three years senior. (Check the screenshots for 2008’s Pure, if you need further proof.) I’d argue that late PS2 games such as Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy XII give this game a run for its money, and even with any talk of judging books by covers aside, we’ve come to expect better – especially considering the stiff competition offered by other racers in the genre.
One particular aspect of the game which deserves some praise, however, is the excellent multiplayer. Despite the restrictions on variety already imposed by the game’s lack of play modes, races are close affairs, and never cease to entertain – especially split screen. The encouragement of contact and (apologies in advance for the pun) dirty racing is something the game really benefits from, with races made or broken on the last corner on more than the odd occasion. The presence of leader boards allow those concerned with rank or ability to strive towards topping them, but for the most part, the sheer satisfaction of winning is enough of a reward.
The sound direction in the game is excellently reproduced and very accurate to the vehicles represented. Whether it’s the wail of the two strokes, or the muted bass of the fours, you can definitely hear the amount of effort THQ have put into making this as faithful to the sport as possible, and from a motorcycle enthusiasts perspective, they’ve got it spot on. The soundtrack is the usual punk and modern rock affair, with the likes of Rise Against, CSS and Mayfield providing the riding anthems for this installment. It’ll sit well with fans of the genre, but the truth is the soundtrack provides little in terms of variety for listeners – a feeling that resounds across the entire game.
Although the integrated store front, or MotoClub Depot in this case, is already brimming with premium content for the avid fan, MX vs ATV Alive is a game in desperate need of content on the actual game disc. The worrying lack of game modes and circuits provided means that gamers will find little incentive to splash out on the items necessary to bring the game up to speed. Yes, you may well be picking yourself up a bargain with a reduced retail price, but to tell you the truth, you’re getting barely half a game for your money. It’s a real shame – the controls are responsive and tight, the actual racing is incredible fun, especially in multiplayer, but the game falls so far short of the margin in the content sense that many gamers will turn off after a few hours. Fans willing to put both time and money in the game will find nothing short of the ultimate motocross game, but it’s certainly not a game destined to be enjoyed by all.
Thanks to the occasional rude gesture by fellow riders after overtakes and collisions, and the very occasional profanity, the game sits tight on a PEGI 12+ rating. From what I’ve seen of the game, however, there isn’t really enough to worry parents relentlessly, and it really is a rarity in game to see any of the reasons cited for the rating.