Motocross racing games are very unique in the sense that not everyone can really appreciate what goes into to racing the two-wheeled beasts, or four wheeled ATV’s, virtually or in real life. When MX vs. ATV Reflex was released about two years ago, I did indeed have a chance to go off roading on an ATV during a preview event, and boy did I learn quickly how much effort it can take to keep a ‘bike’ on the straight and narrow path. It made me appreciate what goes into making the MX vs. ATV series. THQ has once again released a new MX vs. ATV game, aptly titled MX vs. ATV Alive (simply referred to as Alive in this review) and it is on store shelves now.
A key selling point to Alive is that THQ has released a somewhat bare bones version of the game, allowing the user to download DLC in an a la carte fashion, and pay less for the game in-store. This allows the game to be released cheaper while allowing those who buy it to add whatever DLC content they feel they will get the most use out of. So after some time with the game I have to say that this game is not that bad at all.
As I stated in my introduction, Alive comes in at a much cheaper price then those MX vs. ATV games before it. The main reason is that not everything that has been included in previous games returns as you now have the option to download what you want to play. This aspect has a positive and negative side. The most obvious positive is that it is a cheaper game, coming in at about $40 dollars. It also allows gamers new to the series to be able to tailor their MX vs. ATV experience to something that they specifically want to enjoy. On the negative, those who are veterans to the series will notice that many of their favourite modes are gone (e.g. Omnicross, SuperCross, Snake Mode, etc) in favour of the stripped down version. THQ states that they include the most popular modes in Alive and that if gamers want to add even more of a particular mode, they can do so through DLC. I have to be honest; this may turn off some of those diehards of the series in someway as they are not getting the full ingredients of a franchise they have come to love.
In regards to adding DLC, THQ has created the MotoClub Depot where you can download the content you want. As time goes by the plan is to fill it with lots of content for fans to download, such as tracks, modes, racing gear and more. While playing and assessing the game for this review, the store was far from full, but it seems that they are going to offer up some interesting stuff indeed, and of course much of it will be fully licensed with official gear and bikes coming from the big players in the motocross world. I hope the content can truly add to the world of Alive and that the support for it does not dwindle after a short time.
The first thing you will notice when you play is that the career mode really is not what people have to come from many racing games. You will not find any semblance of a narrative, such as the story of a young and up and coming rookie trying to make a name for himself as he races up the ranks. Alive is just all about racing, and the career mode focuses on earning XP in order to improve your racing experience. You will earn XP by racing in freestyle events and performing tricks while doing so. You can also head online over Xbox LIVE or PSN, the latter which was just coming back online during this weekend of writing this review. You’ll find some good racers online already so be prepared for an ass whooping or two over the World Wide Web.
The MX vs. ATV series has always been known for control, and Alive is no different. Back is the very well implemented analog control scheme that has made the game so unique. For those not familiar with what it offers, the left analog thumbstick is used to steer while the right analog thumbstick controls your rider’s body position. Adjusting your rider’s position, which in turn adjusts his weight, allows you to corner and navigate the bumps and jumps with amazing control all the while staying on your bike/ATV. It can take a bit of time to get used to, but once you do the results are satisfying and you can see why the control scheme makes sense. Added to this already well implemented control is the ability to pull off some amazing tricks by simply holding the right bumper down while in the air and moving your analog stick in one of three directions to pull off some great aerial eye candy.
Alive adds a new feature called Bar2Bar. This keeps your racer from falling when bumped, even slightly. It is a great addition for the newbie to the franchise, but veterans may find that this feature adds nothing for them. If anything it allows for those racing to have a bit more freedom to do what they want when in the middle of a pack of racers, without having to worry about bumping off other riders and bailing. It makes the game a little less punishing, especially for those taking their first plunge into the realm of the MX vs. ATV world.
At the end of the day it really comes down to how the game plays though, and how well all the included elements mix, and in Alive they mix quite well. Although the total content is stripped down from previous games, Alive delivers in the fun department. The racing is addictive, and the speed is once again there. The AI can provide quite a challenge and hang in throughout a whole race. Online is pretty good too. I have to admit though that I did not get to play online as much as I would have liked to, and my time online was limited to the Xbox 360 version given the PSN troubles, but when I did get to race was it was pretty smooth indeed. I was able to hold my own now and then, but overall quite a few good players out there did trounce me quite handedly.
Visually, I would have to say that Alive delivers a very solid experience. One of the biggest things I noticed was the draw distance and how you could see so much going on way down the track. As I was first playing, and getting accustomed to the computer AI’s skill, I was able to see rider’s way down the track bumping, grinding, and flying through the air. It was pretty cool to see so much going on so far down the track. Making a return to the series is the highly taunted and well-implemented terrain deformation engine that was first shown off in Reflex. This is just as good as the 2009 entry of the franchise as the ground gets chewed up and affects how your racing experience is on your next lap. Mud, sand, and/or snow looks great as each racers path is represented by the ruts and dings in the ground. Each racer is animated quite well too, from aerial acrobatics to the sight of being knocked all around their seat as they hit the bumps, jumps, and all the ruts on the ground, Alive communicates the riders actions very accurately.
Technically speaking the game is solid. The framerate is locked in and there is little to no slowdown found, even when you get all the racers are vying for position right off the starting line. Interestingly enough, collision detection is pretty accurate and there is almost no clipping. The only occurrence of any clipping I found was when I somehow launched off a jump and ended up in an area where I know the developers did not expect a bike to land. This was far and few between though, and overall the graphics engine helps to make Alive a better game.
Alive’s total sound package does a pretty good job to bringing this game alive (yes, I know that is the title of the game, so pun was intended). From the different sounds of bike classes, to the varying sound of the two wheeled bikes and four wheeled ATV’s, all make the action on the track intense. Of course what would an intense racing game be without some intense music as well? Well, Alive manages to add in some punk rock like music to add to the overall intensity, and I have to say that although it is usually not my type of music, it makes sense in this high adrenalin game. Overall the audio in Alive makes for a more enjoyable experience and I think that most will appreciate what is on the disc.
Overall I am quite satisfied that MX vs. ATV Alive is yet another great entry into the series, but with a new twist. This stripped down game that offers less features for less money makes sense in a strange way, given that those who wanna play with more features can add them for a price. Those who just want to enjoy what is offered can also have fun too, without paying the regular price of a full game. At the end of the day Alive offers up the familiar control and great looking visuals that has made the series so fun in the past while allowing noobs and veterans alike to tailor the game to their exact liking.