|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: THQ Digital Studios Phoenix|
|Release: May 10, 2011|
|Players: 1-4 (local) 2-12 (online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Subtitling the newest iteration of MX vs. ATV "Alive" seems a bit disingenuous. I mean, it's not like the series was dead before. In fact, I really liked the previous entry, MX vs. ATV Reflex, and was impressed by the hardcore sim mechanics introduced in a franchise that was so well known for its pulse-pounding arcade feel. However, after playing "Alive" for several hours, I can see how the name fits. Though the core gameplay mechanics are basically the same as they were in Reflex, there are plenty of new features that will give gamers who have gotten a little bit bored with the franchise in the past a little boost. And though I played the game in a room full of people, it was hard not to give a little fist pump when I succeeded at a particular goal. The game certainly elicits emotional responses from players, and in this way is full of vitality. And really, isn't that what the world of motocross and automotive simulation all about?
So, what could be so exciting? As I said before, the core gameplay is essentially the same as you remember from Reflex. The controls are simple to learn, but you'll have to master using both sticks to control your vehicles very early if you want to succeed. That means leaning into turns, easing off when you are hitting a ramp, and bearing down on sloping hills as far as you can. Though the game was certainly challenging, initially you'll be on pretty familiar ground.
However, that quickly changes as the new "bar to bar" system is introduced. This system basically takes the race to a more personal level and lets you get up close and personal with other racers. Honestly, when you are leading the pack on a long circuit, you won't notice this gameplay element much, but Alive introduces a new "short track" mode that encourages aggressive driving. This is where bar to bar comes in. By knocking people out and driving aggressively, you can gain a leg up on the competition and get first place, even if you aren't the most technically proficient driver.
However, even if you are a franchise newbie, you'll be able to learn the ropes pretty quickly and progress in the game. Instead of having a linear career mode and a completely separate free-riding mode, MX vs. ATV Alive has a persistent career mode that levels both your rider and your ride up as you progress through the game's many different modes. Whether you prefer practicing tricks and catching air in the free-riding mode or cruising past the competition in the race mode, you will earn XP that will unlock new skills for your driver, and new parts for your ride. And because the career is persistent, you will earn XP even if you come in second-to-last place, which makes even the smallest victory cause for excitement. Edging out two people to come in fifth rather than seventh in the closing seconds of a circuit feels much more exciting in Alive, and watching your XP climb is definitely a satisfying experience.
There's certainly a lot of meat to the game, and even though our time with it was limited to only a few hours, we were able to get a glimpse of how the game will encourage you to play your own way to unlock everything. If you're just looking to get your feet wet, you can still expect to have a lot of fun with Alive. And if you're a seasoned pro, you can look forward to plenty of unlockables as you hit the top of the leaderboards over and over again.
Though our primary purpose was to see how MX vs. ATV Alive played, we were also able to catch a glimpse of how the game's DLC will work. The folks at THQ are doing something a little different with MX vs. ATV Alive and will be selling the full game at launch for $39.99 and then supporting it with more than 100 pieces of free and paid DLC. This DLC will include new tracks, vehicles, and modes. However, we were assured that the game in its un-augmented form was just as robust an experience as fans have come to expect from the series, and from my short experience, I would have to agree with this sentiment. Of course, we haven't had the chance to play for tens of hours, but our experience was quite immersive, and if you want to supplement the on-disc content with DLC, there will be plenty of extra stuff to keep the experience going. The game has a persistent shop system that integrates with the overarching menu system to make DLC accessible and easy to find, yet not obtrusive.
MX vs. ATV wasn't necessarily a series that needed a huge makeover. And realistically, it doesn't look like you'll find a whole lot of mechanical changes when the game releases next month (with the exception of the bar-to-bar gameplay). However, what you will find is a game that is re-thinking the formula. With a persistent career mode, tons of unlockables, and an interesting scheme for future content, MX vs. ATV: Alive looks like it will certainly be an invigorating title for fans of the franchise and for automotive/motocross fans in general.
Amanda L. Kondolojy
CCC Senior Contributing Writer