Review: What's next for the MX versus series? MX vs. The Mummy? MX vs. Godzilla? MX vs. George Bush for reelection?
You know, there's a tactic used often in the gaming industry. It's a common procedure recognized as undergoing the whole rinse, wash, and repeat of milking a brand name. Companies find the makings of milking a franchise useful to be progressive, rich, and ultimately lazy. THQ is one of the many publishers to bombard gamers year after year with the same standard franchises that further build upon the namesake of a label. With their wrestling and with their off-road racing subjects, THQ is known for their particular niches. Last year for the first time, THQ published a game from Rainbow Studios, the original development team behind Sony's popular ATV Offroad games. This was an odd play for them to do this then, since Rainbow Studios was picked up by THQ two years earlier. The effect of the ownership was obviously to use Rainbow's expertise in the racing arena for establishing an as-of-yet unseen franchise that the company could continue its run of its mill traditions with. That game became MX Unleashed, and now predictably a year later THQ and Rainbow Studios have unleashed another Unleashed for gamers who like their racing dirty. MX vs. ATV Unleashed is here.
Hearing the name of MX vs. ATV Unleashed, it sounds like a game that's primary function is to pit MX motorbikes against ATV quads. Thinking that way wouldn't be totally incorrect; however, that's not really the kind of concept that's fueling the fires behind this sequel to 2004's MX Unleashed. MX vs. ATV Unleashed uses that title not because there is an opportunity made to race two wheels against four, but rather to convey the fact that there is more to the game than just laying your fanny on a single vehicle's seat. Last year's MX Unleashed pioneered the idea to have its players able to ride around with more than their motored bikes. Monster and sport trucks, biplanes, and ATVs could all have been driven around as well. Though, the area in which these non-MX vehicles were able to function was limited to a few portions of the game -- which were excluded from the main racing modules. This year's offering sort of does things a little differently. With the major single player's meat and potatoes of the game excluding anything but the MX bikes last year, now players can complete 16 tracks in total for each of this year's versions of Nationals and THQ SX championships by way of biped or by way of quadruped.
The Nationals league is set in an outdoor motocross territory, where the THQ SX ones are placed in man-made supercross arenas. The type of change happening for both competitions now is to allow players to choose whether they'd like to either complete these sets of 16 unique tracks with one vehicle type or the other. Since there lies a total of just 16 racing tracks composed over both sets of matches (making up 32 in all), there's not much of a major incentive to retread these races aside from getting to drive an ATV instead of a MX bike, and vice versa. How these races are interpreted is pretty much how you'd imagine them as. If you've played one off-road racer for the PlayStation 2, it feels like you've played them all on some level. I mean, there's not a whole lot you can really do with the genre, but still... MX vs. ATV takes its system directly from MX Unleashed (of course), and applies its riders for winding variables of swelled tracks. Physics play the biggest role here for determining how players are going to be ahead in first or be left behind in the dust. Riders are liable to knock their challengers off their bikes if they're to smash into them or land on top of each other from a jump. But most importantly are the hilly surfaces along the way. Pulling back on the left analog stick before a jump is reached preloads the suspension for vehicles and gives them the boost needed to leapfrog ahead to leader positions all the quicker. It's by using your instincts to tell which bumps to jump from that'll save yourself from falling behind here, as sometimes the wrong one can lead to a nasty spill by landing on unsettled raised surfaces down the way. Learning how to balance your bike or ATV in a pitch-perfect position will aid in avoiding such unfortunate circumstances.
Nailing tricks is another aspect that drives the game round and round. Stunts can be performed anywhere in any one of the game's extensive list of modes. Their service is essential for both formulating a good impression out of your rider (well, moderately essential anyway to make the game less boring) and for buying dozens of rider customizations amongst other stuff from a huge laundry list of options out of the game's shop menu. Jerseys, helmets, boots, different vehicle models, and even entire gameplay levels are some of the goodies that can be exchanged for points using the main menu's store vendor (or otherwise given by winning races) if you've acquired a sufficient amount of shop points to do exactly that (by which, shop points are earned every time tricks are established during a race or elsewhere). The number of trick combinations brought on by MX Unleashed last year wasn't vast in anyway, and neither are they this year as MX vs. ATV's combos are each the same all except for one.
Called the 360, this maneuver is said to be one of the toughest feats to pull off in real life where the rider is catapulted into the air and rotates themselves along with their vehicle in a 360? diagonal motion. Just like real life, it's also a tough enough escapade to accomplish, as one must tap R1 and then shift the left analog from left to right or right to left quickly while approaching the base of a jump to demonstrate this miracle vault, and to properly tweak its gyration without fail. As for the rest of the tricks, players will be able to do the types of stuff that they did last year like engaging in backflips and combining the left analog stick with the trick modifier button (R1) to pull off separate directional abilities (such as leaning the rider's legs out to the side or grabbing the handlebars and having them fly to the back end) in conjunction with the two action buttons (triangle and square). The controls of the game, as can be seen, are lifted from last year's edition (aside from a few minor changes here and there). Those who've already played MX Unleashed last year or are familiar with off-road games in general will find MX vs. ATV's configuration tight and easy to adapt to, especially with the return of the intuitive narrated instruction video that covers multiple gameplay aspects and can be viewed over and over again from the main menu.
You've learned about the main modes of single playability in MX vs. ATV Unleashed already, but that's not all there is. There's a lot more to the game than that, with a whole new surprise on top of that: online. In MX Unleashed, players couldn't hightail it online against friends or foes. Now up to six people can do so at once in each of the offline modes that are otherwise available to just one and two players. These playable methods cover some major territory with just about what you'd expect from a racing game of this caliber. Mirrored tracks from each of the Nationals and THQ SX tournaments can be accessed again here once unlocked by completing them in their respective single player outlets. Waypoint races are available, which places competitors into an actual valley of their choosing (again, when unlocked) and directs riders with an arrow in a nonlinear setting through multiples of gateway check points. There are different forms of challenges here, demanding players to go head-to-head with the computer in a chance to gain those non-MX or ATV vehicles such as the trophy trucks or a retooled-in-performance heightened golf cart. You'll get the option to tweak your driving skills in a practice mode, or race others in short distance, upscale hill climbs in these other modes just the same. Truly, there's a whole lot offered in MX vs. ATV. If you're highly susceptible to the genre of off-road racing, you're likely not to have much of a dull moment with this one.
Filthy racing grounds definitely make for an unclean environment. MX vs. ATV doesn't hide that fact, as the game isn't exactly the prettiest one around. However, that's not to say a muddy sport can't still look good. MX vs. ATV Unleashed is extremely identical in appearance to MX Unleashed. In fact, there must have not been alterations of quality in the slightest. This can be both a good thing and a bad one, though. Take for instance the bodies of the environments. Sure there is several variables in racing tracks and backgrounds, from mountain, to ice, to forest and sandy beach-based regions. The ground itself has its hilly mounds, its trees and its bushes. But then there's the blurry meshing of colors that are smooshed across what you're riding on. Of shades like browns and tans, the colors run together forcing the non-textured surroundings around you to come off as mucky, unrefined, and worse of all, boring.
On the other hand, the welcome characteristics of MX vs. ATV's showmanship grows from subtle paths like the game's ability to decorate the landscape with a glorious sunset that illuminates the surface in its visionary glow on one particular mountain top track, or to affect the earth below you by slinging mud and dust from the spinning tires of whatever vehicle you're latched onto. Better yet, riders and their engine-operated chariots still look pretty. You can tell by all the accurate bumpy ridges and metallic bars on the bike's tires that it's modeled to be a fine-looking wheel. You can envision all the parts that makeup those four-wheeled boxy ATVs too, from their grooves to the precise number of four black wheels. The helmeted, faceless riders are even decent in the way their distinctive and active build makes them out as believable motocross racers. From the way they branch out their legs in trick mode, to the way they wear their mismatched colorful jerseys, to the way they lift the bike on its front end and twist around, it's all the more nice and lively with the riders onscreen (considering that they're really the only lively thing ever to see on the screen itself).
Breaking news: Papa Roach is Getting Away With Murder! This along with 19 other popular rock (and a little bit of rap) artists, the kind of music station MX vs. ATV Unleashed has turned on for listeners remains unchanged from last year for its geared audience of motorheads. Included amongst these groups are big names like the already-mentioned Papa Roach, Black Eyed Peas, Trust Company, Powerman 5000, and Nickelback. While there's a decent selection of individual tracks chosen from each one of these groups, the only major problem with the songs is like always in racing games, it's a bit hard to hear the music whilst the chainsaw-humming engines furiously roar over them. If you like your audio pushed up to the loud end of the receiver, get ready for some dirt flinging, dust sliding, off-road rider smashing sounds. As an off-road racer, what's actually infusing the aural noises of the game literally isn't much besides what was already spoken about, and what's there is just some more default material for your ears. Or in other words, good stuff but nothing great.