It’s been a little while since the last MX vs. ATV game came out, with Alive hitting the shelves back in 2011. However, the series brought to a close by THQ and the developers shut down, even before THQ were entering administration. With Nordic Games acquiring the rights and resurrecting the team of Rainbow Studios, there was fresh hope for the series, and MX vs. ATV Supercross will be the end result, when it lands on PS3, 360 and PC in September.
Picking up the pad to play is initially quite a strange experience for a newcomer, thanks to the rather unique control scheme. While you naturally have the two triggers on hand to accelerate and brake, actually controlling a bike is made trickier by the use of both sticks on the controller, with the left controlling the rider and the right the bike. In some ways it’s almost like a flight sim, with roll and yaw on separate sticks and used in tandem to help you turn tighter.
Even with this barrier, it’s still quite intuitive to just pick up and play, simplistically pushing both sticks into the turn to get the tightest angle. However, this is just the base layer to the control system, and you’ll soon want to try to augment your jumps and travel further through the air by pushing the right stick back then forwards to add the rider’s weight and momentum. The L1 button then allows you to pop the clutch, increasing the engine’s revs and launching the bike forward should you have landed on an upward slope and lost momentum or want to burst out of the corners quickly.
When I asked about how much this had in common with the previous games in the series, David Knudsen, Licensing Manager for the game, explained that “The dual stick controls came out in MX vs. ATV Reflex, which was in 2009, and before that we had single stick controls. For this game [Supercross], we actually brought the option back to the controller settings, so you can do single stick or dual stick controls. Something new for this game, that we haven’t done before, is that we have a manual transmission, for people that really want to get into the event settings.”
It’s a lot to think about, and I did find myself struggling to get to grips with everything I needed to do in a jump or a corner, but at the same time it lends the controls a lot of depth. It doesn’t feel like it’s vital to master all of the nuances to still get by, and it’s actually much more important to learn the tracks and try to keep yourself straight when jumping.
“That’s the rhythm racing part of it,” opined Philipp Brock, PR Manager at Nordic Games, “so as soon as you know a track a bit better, you start to realise when to pre-load or when to clutch. Maybe you change your racing line because there might be a higher jump on the left side and a lower one or no jump at all on the right. So you can adjust accordingly to how you want to race on it, because there isn’t just one optimal line.”
This is especially true when you take the live track deformation into account. Over the course of a few laps, with a full 12 racers hurling themselves over jumps and round corners, deeper and deeper grooves start to appear, and it’s easy to find yourself stuck in someone else’s rut, rather than following your own line.
Getting your line right is doubly, if not triply important when on an ATV, which in this build felt rather unwieldy at best, and I lost control and fell off the ATV a lot more compared to the bike. Even the AI seemed to be struggling with them, but this was an older build and this is something that’s still being tuned.
In that regard, it’s quite remarkable how quickly the game has come together, but this has been at the cost of making the jump to the new generation of console, though it does come in at a budget friendly price point. Philipp explained, “If we went for the new consoles, it would have meant rebuilding a new game. I think we all agreed that it was important that if the guys start working, they want to see some fruit for their labour in the short term, if you consider that production started in January of 2014.
“After the excess fat had been trimmed, in terms of the toolset that has been used and I think Chris, one of the tech gurus, spent a month cleaning all the toolsets, so that now it’s really quite efficient to work on.”
Within the game there are 17 tracks and these all tie quite neatly into the career mode. There’s an east/west divide, with tracks named after US cities, and so some championships feature eight tracks, while others then bring all 17 together. You’ll be going through each track a few times, then, but the difference comes from having a new bike underneath you, scaling up from 250cc to 450cc and then 600cc, before letting you lose on the ATVs and culminating in the eponymous MX vs. ATV championship.
Along the way, you’ll also be getting new parts for your bikes, upgrading it piece by piece and seeking out an extra bit of performance that helps you get round corners or make further jumps and shorten your time on the ground. Though the championships are fictional, there’s a pleasing authenticity and ties to the real world elsewhere.
David explained, “We have quite the following in the Supercross community, so we have over 60 professional riders that signed up for the game this time around. So you can either customise yourself with a number of named brand items, or you can pick one of the 60 riders to ride as.
“It’s the same thing for the vehicles, where you can go through and custom equip them. As you progress through the career, you unlock different parts, and those are all real world aftermarket parts. A lot of those companies send them out to us at the studio, where the modellers and artists make them as true to life as possible.”
With the rise from the ashes of THQ, it was lovely to hear about the rekindling of some relationships and ties back to the sport. “We’ve been gone for 3 years,” relayed David, “so I went through my list and started calling people, and they were like, ‘We were wondering what happened to you! Of course we want to be in!’ […] I probably could have gotten through the list of manufacturers a lot quicker if I wasn’t catching up with so many people!”
For all of the old hands, that time away meant there were also plenty of new faces too. “We had a couple of younger riders who we were talking to in the pits, when their dads come over and said, ‘You know, MX vs. ATV was father-son time for us with him growing up.'”
It’s a heartwarming backdrop to a game that wants to jumpstart the franchise anew. The circumstances of its resurrection may have put the latest consoles out of reach for the time being, but Supercross builds upon some solid foundations from what came before and tries to refine them further.