If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Besides a trip to the local sand dunes of Southern California now and again when I was in Jr. High, I have absolutely no experience with ATV's or Motocross. In fact, the last game that I played that had anything to do with ATV's was 'ATV Off-road Fury 2' which came out for the PS2 so sue me if I'm a little out of date when it comes to off-road racing games. Needless to say, my inexperience made me a little nervous when THQ's 'MX vs ATV Alive' fell into my lap to review.
I was a little confused with the title of the game because there is no real competition between the two vehicles. Come to think of it, there is no storyline at all. I would assume that you could make a great story about one group of MX riders trying to prove how great they are compared to some ATV riders. Unfortunately, we don't get that at all. Instead, you just choose freely between the two and enjoy the race. There are no pros or cons between the two choices; most vehicles ride about the same with the only difference being how well you customize each ATV or bike.
The look of the game was surprisingly great. Players jerseys blow in the wind and dirt kicks up from under tires. Overall, there is a decent look to the environments and players that adds to the joy of playing. The course is affected by every bike that's in the race, leaving behind tire marks and shifted divider blocks. I'm reminded of those trips to watch my cousins ride their ATV's; the sand clouds forming with each turn, the jarring bumpiness of driving in a truck up and down sand dunes, the smell of gasoline and beer everywhere. Good times. The free roam maps in particular are very reminiscent of those big open sandy beaches or quarries where my friends would go riding. The race tracks all have similar appeal. Each course is unique and forces players to rethink their customization and riding style. One event might have you going up and down a mountain in the snow while another might be more twists and turns in the sand.
The only issue that I have with the maps is that you only get four (two short and two long) to begin with. It's not until you reach level 10 that you unlock enough content to really make the game worth playing. I had to race those same four tracks, and occasionally the free roam maps, so often that I'm confident that I could go to California right now and beat any sucker that tried to race me...or maybe I'll just challenge them to a race online.
I've read a lot of really good things about the soundtrack from other people online, unfortunately it's not for me. It seemed like the same five songs that just kept repeating over and over again...or maybe it was one long Rise Against song that never ended. Either way I wasn't a fan, but that's just my taste in music. I was more than happy to turn down the volume of the music and enjoy the sweet hum of engines, which sounded a lot like an angry pack of bees after a few hours of gameplay.
After a few races, or in my case a few dozen, the controls seem really easy. The key to a fast race is balancing the rider as well as directing the vehicle. I'm a naturally clumsy and unbalanced person (probably why I wasn't allowed on any ATV's back then) so it was hard for me to work the two joystick driving system at first. But once I figured out the system the gameplay became way more enjoyable. I found myself leaning into the turns and punching the gas just soon enough before a jump that I was passing my opponents left and right, shaking my fist and taunting the game all the way to the finish line.The only thing that really cost me any races was the reset system for when you landed off course during a race. It seemed to have a random sensitivity so sometimes it would leave you stuck off course while you lose valuable seconds, while other times it cost you a position or two because it was so quick to reset you back on the map.
Despite anything negative I have to say about the game, at $40 it's hard to argue against the purchase. The first half of 'MX vs ATV Alive' is spent without a lot of content, but THQ is offering à la carte style DLC releases all year, so there is way more content available if you're willing to shell out the extra dough. Personally I'm a cheapskate, so I don't buy DLC and therefore I had to level grind like a mo fo before I got enough tracks to enjoy the whole game experience.
In the end, I would give this game a low purchase. If you're really into Motocross or ATVs then this is totally a game for you because it creates a fairly realistic experience for racing. If you're not into it, the game still offers some potential fun and the low price tag means you wont really be breaking the bank for it. And hey, if you want to race and you have an Xbox 360 just add me: my gamer tag is Metalvirgin.
'MX vs ATV Alive' can be purchased for $40 for the Xbox 360 or PS3.