MX vs ATV is a brave game. It eschews the industry standard price tag, with its recommended retail price of just £30/$40. The idea is that further content can be purchased later in the form of DLC. Unfortunately, this leaves the out-of-box experience feeling a little less than complete and players might be put off by the scant options available.
The game offers two types of vehicle, as the title suggests. There are two slight variations on the 125CC MX bike and the 250CC ATV quad at the game’s beginnings and you should get used to how these vehicles run on the two available tracks, two short tracks and two Free Ride areas, because, for the first few hours, that’s all you’ve got to play with. Further vehicular options are unlocked as you progress but at the beginning you’re restricted to these limited offerings, albeit with some degree of customisation.[drop]The tracks are well designed and offer plenty of replay value, especially with the difficulty setting available before each race and an option to race against opponents on two wheels, four or a mixed field of motorcyclists and ATV riders. Even with those considerations, two full sized tracks for the first few hours becomes very tedious. You’re grinding for XP, of course, but in quite a clumsy way that holds no pretence of fun or progression. You must repeat the same tasks over and over until you level up your rider enough to unlock more tracks. Couple this with the unfortunate fact that there are only two game modes, Race and Free Ride, and you might be forgiven for thinking that, cut price or not, this game is shallow in its options.
In addition to the stark offerings at the beginning of the game, there is little in the way of tutorials to help you get to grips with the imaginative handling system. Fans of the previous MX vs ATV offerings will know the drill here but for newcomers, the twin stick control method will feel awkward for a few races and the advanced controls are hinted at but never explained fully.
The left stick controls the steering of your vehicle, as you might expect. The right stick controls your rider’s weight distribution which is instrumental in handling well through corners and over jumps. Both sticks can be used independently of each other so the degree of control is very impressive. As for advanced controls, there is the ability to pre-load your jumps by locking your suspension and use of the clutch allows you to keep your speed up through corners as well as get a jump at the start. However, these elements are never explained to the player so you’re left to work them out for yourself using trial and error.
The four difficulty settings allow a certain degree of variation to the races with opponent AI ranging from dreadfully slow to scarily fast. At all difficulty levels, the rest of the field is not afraid of a bit of aggression. Riders will crash into you in an effort to displace you and you’re encouraged to do the same, if not openly. Often an opponent can be bustled out of line or even out of his seat with little penalty for yourself but this principle works both ways and opponents are just as keen to shunt you out the way as they are to outrace you.
If you collide badly or suffer an unbalanced jump you will often be able to re-seat your rider with a quick flick of the right stick in whatever direction is displayed on screen. It’s almost like a quicktime event but it goes by so quickly and is integrated so smoothly that it feels perfectly natural.
At the end of each race, you earn XP points for your rider and for the vehicle you were using. These points are used to unlock tracks later in the game, but in the meantime they’re unlocking customisation options for the vehicle and rider including everything from paint jobs to special abilities which can be assigned to the rider. There are an impressive amount of options available and the rate at which things open up is brisk enough that you can tinker with your appearance and abilities a little bit while pushing on to level ten and that first track bundle unlock you will be yearning for. Alternatively, and this is key to the low initial price strategy that THQ are trialling, you can pay for the unlock as DLC.[drop2]DLC is a big part of this game’s strategy and there is sure to be plenty more in the near future as THQ endeavours to make up for the low entry point. There is also the added bonus for the publishers that pre-owned sales will only ever consist of what’s on the disc so there’s the possibility that the add-on DLC will be purchased several times for each new disc sold. It’s an imaginative way to combat the pressures from the pre-owned market while giving your customers a discounted game with the option to add value rather than a full price game with penalties for buying pre-owned.
There are a good selection of well designed tracks (and a download code for a couple more with new discs) out of the box but the laborious task of unlocking them is likely to be unforgivable for some. Forcing your users to replay the same track repeatedly just to grind for XP is simply bad design and feels all the more out of place because of the intelligence that has gone into designing the tracks.
Free Ride mode offers a little more variation, giving you an area to ride around exploring and completing challenges. Ultimately, Free Ride feels more like a reward for putting up with the grinding rather than a complete game mode in itself but it is enjoyable and the addition of new areas should give players plenty to enjoy. Unfortunately, the tricks that are relied upon in this mode are difficult to pull off and involve animations that last a touch too long, meaning that you have to get the trick command out of the way as early as possible in a huge jump or you will wipe out half way through an animation.
Your XP levels are persistent, too. So anything you earn in the split screen (2-player) or online (up to 12 players) multiplayer modes is funnelled back into unlocking content for your single player game and customisation options for all modes. The split screen mode is as fun as ever with higher instances of texture pop-in that are easily forgivable. Online is mostly free of lag and can be enjoyable if you find yourself in a well-matched field of riders. Each lobby votes on the next track so there is potential for some enjoyable meetings with friends or strangers alike.
- Low price for entry.
- Plays well during races and large Free Ride areas.
- Plenty of customisation options.
- Not enough content available from the start.
- Grinding for XP can become frustrating.
- Limited vehicle types and game modes makes the game feel empty at the start.
MX vs ATV Alive is a bold proposition and it hits its targets in many areas. It certainly presents a fun racing experience and the online modes can be hugely enjoyable. Unfortunately, the cut price initial cost still feels expensive for the content that you can play when you put the disc in your machine. The need to grind before you can unlock more, admittedly well designed, tracks and areas is bothersome but the rewards for doing so are ample enough that it is certainly worth sticking it out if you’re ready for your next mud-spattered racer.