reviews\ May 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm

MX vs. ATV: Alive Review


MX vs. ATV: Alive is THQ's first venture in the hybrid pricing model, setting games at a lower price with less content while giving gamers the option to purchase additional modes and features later on. It's an intriguing business direction that doesn't tarnish the actual product too much. Right out of the box, MX vs. ATV is an enjoyable, competent off-road racer that succeeds due to its impressive style but struggles from some glaring limitations.

MX vs. ATV plays a lot like a complicated kart racer. The mechanics and controls are intuitive and easy to grasp, but it does take a few rounds to get the hang of them. You steer your dirt bike or ATV using the left analog stick and shift your rider's weight with the right. For first-time players, the thought of using both sticks to commandeer your off-road vehicle may seem menacing, but it quickly becomes second nature. Because motocross sports have seemingly limitless hairpin turns and jumps, players have to constantly shift their rider's weight from side to side, back, and forward. Doing so makes turning easier, while shifting back while clicking down on the right analog stick allows for higher leaps off dirt jumps. And if you take a nasty hit from another rider or lose your balance during a sharp turn, you can recover by quickly shifting to whichever side the on-screen prompt indicates.

Players are likely to master the game's techniques rather quickly, and it shouldn't take too long to fully enjoy the thrill of off-road racing in MX vs. ATV. As you compete in races, you earn experience points for both your profile and vehicles. Leveling up gives you access to snazzier gear for your custom racer, while repeatedly using the same vehicle increases its rating. Earn a one-star rating to gain access to cooler decals and some additional gear. Reach a two-star rating, and you can maximize the effectiveness of your bike or quad with better brakes and tires. Lastly, leveling up to a three-star rating provides better chassis and suspension, which rounds out the vehicle's power.

Modifying your vehicle is necessary to win races, and eventually, you gain access to a higher class of vehicles. It's pivotal that you switch over to these, even if you dig your original's paint job, because as you unlock more courses, the competition gets tougher and the track design gets crazier. These new rides probably won't seem like much at first, but once you start leveling them up and accessorizing them with updated equipment, you can literally feel the increase in quality and the higher level of precision over sharp turns.

Unfortunately, as cool as the actual racing is, you're forced to spend a lot of time on the same tracks as you try to obtain newer ones. Players unlock the second set of stages at level 10 and the third at level 25. Leveling up doesn't require too much time, but because there aren't many tracks in the game, you constantly have to play through them to earn different courses. This is where THQ's hybrid pricing strategy comes into play. Had the original amount of tracks been included in the game, it's highly unlikely that things would get repetitive as early as they do. Although it may take you a few tries to get the gold in some tracks, you're bound to find yourself racing through the usual stages even after you've obtained the highest honors in each--all so you can unlock more race courses.

Luckily, MX vs. ATV features an enjoyable online multiplayer component, and players can easily jump into races to take on worthy competitors. Most of the racers you'll encounter online are serious players, so be prepared for a challenge. It definitely beats taking on the predictable AI opponents, who start out tough but quickly lose their mean streak once you boost your vehicles' stats. Up to 12 players can compete online, and this feature is definitely one of the game's strongest. The mode does, however, suffer from the same flaws that hamper the single-player game. With a limited number of tracks out of the box, prepare to race through the same locales ad nauseam.

Although you may grow bored of playing through the same stages, you probably won't tire of the scenery. Early stages look decent, with nice lighting and blur effects to help create a sense of speed, but later stages offer a better glimpse into the world of off-road racing. Speeding through canyons and valleys is a sight to behold, and viewing the spectacular scenery off in the distance is a sheer joy. Calmer areas such as Sous le Pont and Maison de MotoX provide a more atmospheric yet hectic racing environment.

In terms of sound design, MX vs. ATV is a loud game. Bikes and ATVs make a lot of noise. This is a noisy motorsport, after all, and it comes across realistically here. The game's soundtrack consists of Rise Against's generic rock as well other generic Rise Against-esque bands. Players who dig that type of music can leave the soundtrack on during races, while those who don't will be grateful for the "music off" option.

As good as MX vs. ATV looks and sounds (aside for the music), there are a few flaws in the game's presentation. Shadows sometimes blink, water sometimes suffers from anti-aliasing issues (though this is a rare occurrence), and the game's physics aren't always perfect. While playing online, I experienced two strange glitches. The first, which I dubbed the "ghost MX" glitch, appeared when I bailed off my bike. When my racer respawned, all competitors including my character were invisible. Seeing bikes ride around without a driver was equally humorous and insane, and though it was pretty cool watching a bunch of bikes race on their own, the glitch continued until I reset the game. During another online play session, the sound of my bike suddenly ceased. I could hear other players' bikes, but mine made absolutely no noise.

MX vs. ATV: Alive is an easy title to recommend to fans of motocross games and off-road event aficionados. And because the game doesn't take itself too seriously and avoids the simulation route, gamers with an affinity for solid arcade or kart racing games are sure to enjoy it, too. The racing is fast, satisfying, and chaotic. Ultimately, THQ's hybrid pricing hinders the package more than it helps it, and players are forced to play the same tracks all too often. If you're a fan of the series or just want a good racing game and don't mind downloading the rest of the content at a later date, be sure to check out MX vs. ATV: Alive.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]


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