Good Game, Narrow Focus
MX vs ATV Alive promised a brand new RPG-like progression that would be easy to get into for the newbie, but at the same time would provide infinite depth for the hardcore gamer. Well, the game certainly does have an RPG-like progression system, and it can be tons of fun for the hardcore gamer. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to get into for anyone else. I have a feeling that the entire game system was built around the dedicated racer who really doesn’t want to do anything else but race. That doesn’t necessarily make the game bad; it just specially tailors it to an extremely narrow audience.
For the uninitiated, the gameplay is probably going to be intimidating. You’ll find yourself repeatedly wiping out, going off track, getting knocked off your bike by other riders, and generally being humiliated. The terrain is nearly impossible to navigate using just the steering, throttle, and brake, as you would in just about any other racing game. Every single bump in the road will change your direction, and over-steering even a little bit veers you so far off course the game has to reset you. Even the courses themselves seem to work against you. They have no clear boundaries, making it hard to realize when you’re going off course until you’re already out in the middle of nowhere. The fact that you start off with only the crappiest bikes and ATVs to choose from doesn’t help much either.
Then, after ramming your face into the brick-wall difficulty curve for an hour or so, you start to notice the subtle control nuances the game has to offer. You realize you can lean your rider back and forth to make turns sharper, or shift weight to keep from wiping out. You can lock the suspension in place to preload jumps, and pop the clutch in and out of corners to avoid losing speed. You’ll lean down on big jumps to land smoothly, and keep your weight low while climbing up hills. The sheer number of control options the designers fit onto one control pad is quite impressive. On-screen prompts will tell you how to control all these aspects of your vehicle, but you aren’t sure what any of this means until you do some research into how real life motocross works. Unless you’re already a hardcore motocross fan, of course.
Also, the track deforms as you run laps around it, with grooves in the dirt affecting how your vehicle moves. This may seem like an awesome physics simulation that really pushes the limit of realism, but it doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s extremely annoying to have to take each turn differently with nothing but a few pixels to indicate how the track has changed. It’s almost just a “random screw-up” function.
Once you get a little better, you’ll take notice of the game’s progression system. Both vehicles and riders gain XP in Alive, based on how well you place, how many tricks you do, how many achievements you earn, and how many riders you cause to wipe out. As your rider levels up, he learns new abilities, such as increased crash recovery time, heavier leaning, and so on. As your vehicle levels up, you unlock new parts that allow you to tweak its performance down to the very last detail. Heck, you can even be picky about what style of handlebars you want. Both vehicles and riders can be customized in appearance in a variety of ways, including decals, paint jobs, and attire.
This is basically the be-all-end-all of the game: an endless crawl toward racing perfection. It’s like an MMO in dirt bike form. After you choose whether the light-and-fast MX or the stable-but-slow ATV better fits your playing style, you start thinking about your perfect build. You look at the parts you haven’t yet unlocked and their effects on your stats, and consider what rider skills can make up for your vehicle’s shortcomings. Then, after you have a clear goal in mind, it’s time to grind. Oh boy, will you grind.
There just isn’t a whole lot of meat to the game beyond the racing and level-up systems. There’s no campaign or career mode, just individual single player races and track lists, and there aren’t even many of those. There are four “short tracks” and twelve “national tracks” to choose from, but only two of each are unlocked when the game starts. More tracks are unlocked when you hit racer level 10, and even more are unlocked when you hit level 25. Until then, you’re just going to be grinding on the same few tracks over and over again. You can also take your vehicle on a “free ride” track, which allows you to drive through large open world areas and just explore or do tricks. It’s a nice diversion, but there are only two free ride areas, and you’ll see everything there is to see in both in a matter of minutes.
That’s it. There are no trick competitions, alternate race types, multi-race cups, or anything like that. It’s just single races on the same tracks, over and over and over again. You can play the game in local split-screen multiplayer, but your friends will grow tired of the tracks very quickly. You can take your game online, but even now, only a few days after the game released, people have already maxed out their rides and riders. It’s almost useless to play online unless you already have your dream ride, which, may I remind you, requires tons and tons of grinding.
Where are all the extras? Is the game outstandingly pretty to make up for its deficiencies? Nope. The models move stiffly, the vehicles cut into the environment, and almost every animation is awkward. What about the music and sound? There’s nothing to brag about here either. The soundtrack is filled with the rock and punk music you’d expect from titles like these, and the revving engines of the ATVs don’t sound any clearer or more realistic than they have in any other racing title.
At least there is DLC, right? Well, that’s the kicker. There is, in fact, DLC. There’s tons of it, even available right now. There was a reason that the game only cost forty dollars, after all. Purchasing the game new even gets you a download code for a “MotorClub Pro Membership.” Over the next few months, THQ plans to roll out tons of DLC in the form of rides, riders, and tracks. To make a long story short, the full game is all on the online market, and you’ll have to spend at least another twenty dollars or more to get the full game experience.
All things considered, the RPG-like progression system in MX vs ATV Alive is appealing. The sheer wealth of customization options makes it feel as if no two racers are the same. However, outside of that, there just isn’t enough content to satisfy a new player. It’s as if THQ took its fan base for granted, figuring that anyone who picked up this game is going to be a hardcore dirt-racing fan and wouldn’t think twice about dropping a hefty chunk of change on DLC offerings or grinding the same tracks over and over. If that’s not your cup of tea, MX vs ATV Alive is probably not for you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
The graphics are probably the worst part of this game. Everything moves so stiffly that it’s hard to get into the racing experience. 3.7 Control
Though the barrier of entry is high, the sheer amount of stuff you can do with the controls is impressive. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Engine revs and punk rock music; what more do you expect? 3.5 Play Value
This game has a serious lack of gameplay modes. However, the XP system is a lot of fun for anyone who likes to customize their racer down right down to the tiniest detail. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best