Reviewed: May 13, 2005
Released: March 24, 2005
Anyone who knows me or has read my reviews here at GCM knows I love racing. Heck, you could make a game with two rats in a maze racing for a piece of cheese and I would play and probably like it. Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing MX Unleashed, an outstanding MX racing title from THQ and Rainbow Studios, and this year they are following it up with the obligatory sequel, only this time around things are a bit different.
MX vs. ATV Unleashed, as the name might imply, adds the lucrative ATV license to the series, picking up the baton from recently bankrupt Acclaim and their Quad Power Racing. Orphaned developer Climax moved to Sonyís camp thus alienating Rainbow who then joined forces with THQ and the rest reads like Elizabeth Taylorís family tree.
MX vs. ATV also adds online support, something that was sorely missed in the previous installment, so now you can test your crazy racing skills against other motor-heads around the globe. Oddly enough, for everything thing that was added to this latest version, a lot seems to have been left out and Iím not sure why.
This time around MX vs. ATV is pretty much your barebones racer. You have the ďjump right inĒ single player mode, the champion ship mode divided into Supercross (indoor) and Nationals (outdoor) races, and multiplayer for split-screen or online via Xbox Live.
About now you should be asking, ďWhat about the Free World Mode?Ē Yes, THQ, What about it? Perhaps the single most inventive and fulfilling game mode of the previous title is gone. You no longer have these massive worlds to explore and colorful waypoints to indicate various challenges. Instead, we are back to the generic menu-driven race menus of a pre-Unleashed era.
While we no longer have those awesome Hit, Run, and Stunt challenges the Machine Races are left partially intact with the inclusion of a Challenge race that appears after every two weeks into the 16 week championship series. This puts you in the seat (or cockpit) of a variety of buggies, trucks, airplanes, and even a helicopter.
The land-based races are pretty fun, although the physics is way to slippery for my liking, while the air races are incredibly difficult considering the aircraft controls have no relation to anything else you do in the game. Imagine driving a car or motorcycle for several hours then all of the sudden being thrust into the cockpit of a plane or helicopter with your same controls, only a whole new set of physics are at work.
The same precise controls of the original Unleashed are back, perhaps slightly refined as I found the preloading and weight shifting a lot more precise and integral to the gameplay. The trick system is basically the same and the tracks are designed so that you rarely have enough time or air to do any major stunt combo. At least in the Free World mode of the previous game they designed the landscape to promote stunt lines. With the exception of stunt bonus points there is no real incentive to ever do tricks in MX vs. ATV and I usually didnít.
Bike and ATV physics are perfectly modeled, a fact you will quickly realize as your rider flies from his bike and skids and flops around the landscape. Itís comical and horrific at the same time. Bike physics are obviously exaggerated Ė I mean some of the air you catch is just crazy-insane, but at least itís predictably accurate so you can eventually master the rhythm sections of all the tracks.
Conversely, truck and buggy physics are way out of synch and itís pretty much like racing on ice. Youíll be fishtailing and counter steering most of the race. Flight physics are so whacked it could easily take you up to two hours to complete the first air challenge. Perhaps if you come from a Freaky Flyers or Crimson Skies background you might fare better.
I was hoping that since we no longer have the massive levels of the Free World that more attention would have gone into the individual tracks. Not so. But things havenít gotten any worse so you still have the excellent track designs that span snow, sand, and dirt, along with plenty of trackside vegetation and objects.
There are some really interesting track designs with alternate paths that offer rewards for risks. Example; you can take the safe path down and across the stream or you can risk a jump off the rickety bridge and save four seconds off your lap time, if you make the jump. The supercross stadiums are detailed with cardboard crowds and flashing cameras plus plenty of authentic advertisements hanging around the walls.
My main complaint from last year is still valid and the tracks still donít look bumpy. Artistically, you can see deep, dark grooves and ruts in the texture but its ďflatĒ. There is no bump mapping or lighting effects to make these ruts pop off the screen. Frankly, the pitted asphalt in any recent Xbox street racing game looks bumpier than these offroad tracks.
The dirt and splash effects are also a bit substandard by todayís expectations. You might see a poof of dust where tire meets track and a 2D sprite of some water splashing when you go through water but nothing near the quality of the competition. ATV Blazin' Trails on the PSP has more dust than this game.
Rider animation is topnotch and the rag doll physics for the frequent spills are painfully realistic. The bikes are perfectly animated with realistic physics that keep the wheels in contact with the surface. You will see that back wheel and uni-strut suspension rapidly vibrating over the moguls and braking hard will cause the front forks to realistically dive.
MX vs. ATV Unleashed supports HDTV 1080i which definitely give the game a sharp images that rivals a PC game, but it also accentuates the texture problems Iíve already mentioned. The widescreen support is nice for split-screen two-player racing.
Sound effects are just as good as last year and the sound of a two-stroke versus a four-stroke is perfectly recreated. As your bike skips across the track you can hear each subtle increase in RPM as the bike looses and regains traction. The engine noises for the trucks, biplane, and helicopter are also convincing but not entirely realistic.
MX Unleashed comes with 20+ tracks of traditional rock you would expect from the extreme sports genre. If you play enough of these racing games youíre likely to start hearing the same songs and there are several duplicates in this offering. Most songs are long enough to last an entire 5-lap race, but if you get frustrated and restart a race the same song also repeats.
You can manually change the song from the options menu at anytime and thankfully, the Xbox version supports custom soundtracks so my current library of 12-15 ripped CDís extended my musical enjoyment well into my 30th hour of gameplay.
I am puzzled however at the lack of Dolby Digital support; a feature that was offered last year but apparently was skipped over for this second installment. The sound mix is still good and I can still hear racers sneaking up on my six but it just doesnít open up as much as I remember from last year.
My major complaint with last yearís game was the lack of online support. Perhaps itís cruel fate or just developer spite that they give me online play and remove a huge component of the single player game.
Sure, you have two sections of career mode, each 16 weeks long, each event lasting two races of five laps each, so you are somewhat forced into a 30+ hour game. Then you have the added bonus of doing it all over again in whatever type of bike you didnít ride the first time.
Unfortunately, the ATV and MX races use the same tracks in the same order, and while tactics might vary slightly when on four wheels versus two, there really isnít that much difference. If anything, the ATV races are easier since landing jumps is a lot more forgiving. Recycling the tracks just seems like a blatant attempt at content padding.
To further pad the gameplay, the game offers you a chance to qualify. Qualifying higher means you get a better pick of which starting gate you launch from, but Iím here to tell you, ďIt doesnít matterĒ. And once you win (and come in first) you will automatically have honors and get first pick of the gate for the next event, so skip the qualifying unless you want to turn a 30 hour game into a 60 hour game for no good reason.
The online component of MX vs. ATV is solid with all of the traditional race modes and a solid framerate, even with six racers of various ping times. All of the Xbox Live features are supported including voice chat and scoreboards so you can check yourself against the rest of the world. A month after release there seems to be a thriving group of racers out there, so finding a race shouldn't be a problem.
If youíve played the rest you arenít going to find anything here that will reinvent the genre. Aside from some finely tuned physics and a library of new tracks, this is not much more than an expansion pack and definitely a step backward in game design. I canít fault Rainbow for giving the public what they want, especially when I was the one screaming for online play last year, but MX vs. ATV Unleashed sacrifices too much in its single-player game. The removal of the Free World mode is criminal and I canít think of a single reason why it logistically had to be removed.
Bring back my Hit, Run, and Stunt challenges and you would have had a flawless game. What we are left with is just another MX racing game to throw on the stack of all the other ones that have come before it. The inclusion of ATVís is more content padding that actual original content, but at least itís cheaper than buying two standalone titles.