While there are plenty of racing games out there, from detailed simulators to over-the-top arcade racers, since 2005 THQâ€™s MX vs. ATV has been waving the flag for fans of motocross. This year sees the release of MX vs. ATV: Alive, and while we still get full-on racing, plenty of dirt, big air tricks, speed wobbles and epic bails, we also get a few things that are more annoying then just getting bumped off your bike and landing face first in a pool of stinking mud.
When you first start playing MX vs. ATV: Alive, you get four bikes, four tracks and a couple of free ride areas. While other bikes and riders are unlocked as you gain experience, you donâ€™t get any new tracks until level five. So, for hours you get to race, and re-race, the same tracks over and over, slowly gaining experience points to unlock new areas. Itâ€™s an annoying introduction to the game, and with no story or career mode, all the fun and excitement is sucked out of the game fairly quickly. Itâ€™s one of those decisions that leaves you scratching your head and wondering, â€śWhat where they thinking?â€ť
To be fair, if youâ€™re happy with just racing, MX vs. ATV: Alive has plenty of that. Along with the single player mode, there is online and split-screen multiplayer action to keep your revs high and your timing, in and out of the corners, down. The races are easy to win when matched up against the rookies and seriously manic and intense against the pros. From the front menu you can choose to race on short courses, that take about twenty seconds to get around, or long courses that are about four times as long. While the short courses are crowded sprints where you have to fight through opponents, the longer tracks give you more room and if you get a good jump at the start, once out of the traffic, you can usually hold your lead for a nice prize of experience points.
Essentially, the game hangs around the accumulation of experience points. All the points you gather, in either single or multiplayer mode, not only go to your profile, but also upgrade whatever bike or rider youâ€™re using. You get points for finishing well in races, multipliers for racing against more difficult riders, and extra experience for tricking during races and meeting various accomplishments like best lap times. Every time you go up a level you unlock bikes as well as performance mods and decals. You also get riders, gear sets and special skills. Of course, out of all the unlockable stuff, after twenty times around the Kinoko short track course, all you really want is somewhere different to race.
But then racing is the whole point of the game. And MX vs. ATV handles the racing very well. To control your bike you steer with the left stick while acceleration and breaking is handled with R2 and L2 buttons. Itâ€™s all pretty straightforward. However, the right sick is where the magic happens. This controls your rider, shifting his weight to help with cornering, to perform ticks and to save the situation if it looks like youâ€™re about to fall. If you get bumped or land a jump badly then an arrow appears on screen. Flicking the right stick in the correct direction will get your rider to regain his balance and carry on. Itâ€™s quick, instinctive, well animated and adds nicely to the whole racing experience.
But if you want a change from racing around the same tracks, and you will, you can also gather experience points riding around the pretty awesome free ride areas. In these wide open areas, like the dune-filled Devilâ€™s Playground, you can trick to your heartâ€™s content. When you get some big air you hold down the R1 button and then itâ€™s a matter of experimenting with the right stick to perform all the backflips, shaolins and flatliners you could want.
Judged purely on its racing, MX vs. ATV: Alive is a good game. But thatâ€™s not what most people will judge it on. THQ have decided to use the game as a bit of an experiment in marketing. The way it works is that when you buy the game you get sixteen tracks, a couple of free ride areas, some riders, and a few bikes, and then you have to buy all the rest from the online MotoClub Depot Store. Extra tracks, licensed bikes, graphic packs, and helmets and goggles, will all cost you extra if you want them. There is racing online; however, once again there is just the standard race mode and a limited number of tracks to choose from. Again, more is promised in the future as purchasable DLC.
Thatâ€™s not to say the game is bad or boring. While there are no stadium courses, from dunes to deep mud the locations are both lush and vibrant. The tracks cut up during a race and the thumping soundtrack gets the blood pumping and cuts nicely through the sound of screaming engines. The two-wheeled bikes handle differently to the quads, giving the game some range, but in the end, if you look at what you get on the disk, the whole package feels disappointingly light. Who knows what it will be like a year, and sixty more dollars of DLC, into the future. But one thingâ€™s for sure: it will only be the die-hard fans of motocross who will stick around to find out.