MX vs ATV Alive review

I’ve already reviewed one game featuring MX and ATV’s this year, it was called Nail’d and I awarded it 7 out of 10. Nail’d was a fun yet over the top racer which concentrated more on stunts and speed boosts, than any sort of simulation.

MX vs ATV Alive for Xbox 360 on the other hand is a brand new racer that once again pits the off-road motorcycle and the quadbike against each-other (sort of). Unlike Nail’d, this game doesn’t have any of the Mario Kart special moves or crazy ass tracks – but does that make it a better game?

Let me be clear up front, when it comes to racing games I’m a bit fussy. Favourites of mine include Mario Kart Wii, Live For Speed, F1 2010 and arcade style racers such as OutRun and Blur. As you can probably tell from that list; motocross games don’t really tickle me, but maybe that’s because I’ve not played the right game yet. This could be the one!

MX vs ATV Alive is a full contact motocross sim which means it’s not all about speed. Racing around dirt tracks is a tough business and it takes a lot of strength and skill to just drive around the track – let alone win. Typically motocross races are ridden on low grip circuits that are muddy and quite slippery; constant correction with the arms and legs is needed to stay upright and it’s an exhausting business unless you’re very fit. But how does that transfer into a game played by fatties on a couch?

As it happens…surprisingly well. I’m no expert on motorcycle realism, (the most powerful thing I’ve had between my legs is a mechanical horse ride at Canvey Island seafront) but MX vs ATV Alive feels more realistic that I expected it would. Racing is for the most part slow and stodgy, if you’re not riding over bumps and jumps every couple of seconds, then you’re about to take a corner. Imagine trying to run around a muddy field whilst wearing skiis – that’s what motocross feels like. Cornering requires good throttle control, and use of the right analogue stick to lean your driver into and out of the corner. Supposedly the game features authentic track deformation which changes how the game feels after every lap – I can’t really say I felt much of a difference but you will notice a lot of tire marks appear in the mud.

The racing is focused much more on dexterity than pure speed, as you race you’ll constantly be correcting your position in a bid to keep yourself in the right direction and getting what grip you can. Every bump can slow you down and throttle control is essential if you don’t want to lose speed or worse, wreck your ride. There isn’t much funnier than watching your driver smash into the ground and break all of the bones in his body with the excellent ragdoll physics, however it won’t win you any races. To give you a fighting chance the game gives you a warning just a split second before you’re about to crash out. A giant orange arrow appears above your racer and if you can push the right stick in the correct direction, you’ll save yourself from a nasty accident and a tedious wait for a respawn.

Whilst it’s certainly possible to perform Whips and Wheelies to your hearts content, there isn’t really much point and if anything it could potentially harm your race. Get a stunt wrong and you could end up wrecking just as you would by crashing into a wall.

You have a choice of driving against the CPU in single player, on your own in freeride and online with others in multiplayer. The good news is that XP progression for both the driver and vehicle works across all modes and means you don’t need to put hours into all of them unless you want to. Don’t you just hate games that have separate ranking systems for different game modes? I know I do.

First thing is to decide whether to jump right in to the racing or customize your vehicle and create your own driver, almost everything you’d think should be customizable on both your ride and your body, is. I gave my driver a snazzy black and red color scheme but got bored adjusting my bike, I don’t need go faster stripes on my machine baby. I chose to start racing on two wheels and dived straight into small number of tracks that are available from the start. And hence came the start of my issues.

It’s all very well having a fun and tough racer, but sealing off the game until you get enough XP to unlock new tracks is a right bummer. It feels like you have to ride the same four courses twenty or thirty times each before you reach levels 10 and 25. This is when you’re rewarded with another set of tracks to race around. I respect the designers trying to make you put a lot of time into all areas of the game but I don’t like more than half of the game being locked away for hours. You can’t even go online and experience the locked tracks until you’ve unlocked them in the single-player. That’s not to say I think an XP reward system is bad, certainly not – I’ve played Black Ops for months just to get my first prestige, but levelling up is quick and there’s plenty of content every step of the way.

Of course you can switch to the quad bike which does spice things up a bit, even if you are still waiting for new tracks to unlock. The ATV does feel quite different and tends to oversteer more frequently than the MX; unless my driving is the issue of course. On the flip side the ATV is more stable and you’re less likely to wreck by landing badly.

Despite me not being very good at the game I did have more fun playing online than in single-player, CPU controlled bots just don’t cut it in the 21st century. If you were worried about the servers being full of noobs then don’t worry, there are plenty of experienced MX and ATV racers here. Because of my lack of motocross skills I had to call upon the black arts I learned back in the 16bit days on a game called Road Rash. As the saying goes; if you can’t beat ‘em, smash into ‘em and make them wreck.

Normally stunt modes turn me off, I find something sad about riding around all on your own pulling flips. Perhaps it reminds me too much of my childhood, riding around my neighbourhood with no friends. So I was quite surprised to find that I enjoyed the free-ride game mode; the simple act of riding around a very pretty location with no stress of a timer interrupting my flow. Here you can pull of stunts on sand dunes, mounds of coal and the odd piece of heavy machinery – fun.

One thing to note is that MX vs ATV Alive uses a single use online code, so if you buy the game second hand you’ll need to purchase a motoclub pro license to get all of the goodies. Something a bit controversial and potentially false is the claim that you can customize the game to your liking via DLC.

The developers say that by deliberately including less content on the disc, they can bring you the game quicker, and that you will only need to buy stuff you’re interested in. If you don’t want more tracks, game modes and clothing for your rider – then you don’t need to buy them. One can’t help but wonder how much of the DLC could have been put on the disc rather than kept to make extra cash on the side. Whatever your point of view, there is plenty of stuff in the motoclub store and more is promised to follow soon.

The game does the job graphically, I wasn’t really wowed by anything I saw but on the other hand it’s not ugly either. The locations are pretty and there is enough detail everywhere – perhaps my complaint is more that everything feels a bit bland and lacking in personality. Textures sometimes load in late and there is an occasional bit of pop up, but apart from that I didn’t spot any real issues. At least MX vs ATV Alive runs in full 1080p – so many 360 games push the console so hard nowadays which forces the creators to only use 720p.

The games soundtrack is full of the heavy rock you’d expect, if you like this sort of music then you’ll be at home here. For the rest of us the option to just hear the sound effects is most welcome. There’s no voice over or commentary – certainly not a deal breaker for me but it could be for you.

If you’re new to motocross I’m not so sure if you’ll find this game inviting so be warned. For those that love the series / sport / genre I am quite confident that MX vs ATV Alive will please you so it gets 7 out of 10.

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Related: Nail’d, Pure review

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