Developer: Rainbow Studios / Publisher: THQ / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence] / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $39.99
Nice isn’t it – getting a new game for $40 when you’re used to forking out $60? But, surprising though it may be, hell hasn’t frozen over. This is some newfangled idea by THQ in which you get the foundations of a game at a lower price and customize the package with downloadable content.
THQ says it will release new DLC at regular intervals for several months after launch, including new vehicles, modes, tracks and more, allowing the publisher to release the game sooner and letting you pick and choose the parts you wish to purchase. It’s the open buffet of game buying.
Here’s the problem; aside from a few bikes and helmets, there’s not a great deal of DLC currently available and what you get on the disc for your initial $40 buy-in isn’t nearly enough to warrant even that price.
The biggest downer is the complete lack of a career mode. The mind boggles. I thought I had carelessly skipped past it in the menus when I speedily hit the single-player mode. I backed out and had another look around. Nope, nothing there. So all you have are two single-player options; a single race or a roaming Free Ride mode. That’s it.
The Free Ride mode lets you head out into one of a couple of open environments that you explore while completing challenges. It’s an intriguing proposition, but the environments unfortunately aren’t. They’re dull and uninspiring. And many of the challenges involve performing stunts, which don’t work too well at all.
Stunts are performed by holding a button and moving the analogue stick in a combination of directions while in mid-air. But you need quite a chunk of air time to land the stunt successfully and the courses just aren’t designed well enough for you to gain adequate height very regularly. The result; frequent face plants. It’s almost like the stunts were designed for another game and don’t fit properly into this one. It also doesn’t help that the rider animations are stiffer than an old man in a freezer.
The Single Race mode is just that; you pick your vehicle – a limited choice between a 125cc motocross bike and a 250cc ATV – your rider and your course and you blast around in the mud against 11 opponents. When the race is done you’re kicked back to the menu screen and… you do it again.
You’re rewarded with experience points for your performance during races, which level up your rider and vehicle. As you progress through this RPG-like system you unlock performance improvements such as the ability to recover from crashes faster and corner better, and extra customization options for your vehicle and rider.
You also unlock more courses because, at first, there are only two available. That sucks to begin with, but it’s even worse that the leveling-up system is so slow that you’re forced to repeat races over and over again to raise your levels. Unlocking the game you paid for is total chore, and even those with enough patience to do it won’t be happy with the final result – a measly 12 full courses, four other short tracks, and no variety in vehicles.
The saving grace, and somewhat a shame at the same time, is that the gameplay at the core of this lightweight package isn’t too bad. Like its predecessor, steering is performed with the left analogue stick while you use the right stick to control the lean of your rider. This can (and must) be used to angle better, sharper turns, line up perfect landings and balance your vehicle under acceleration and braking.
It’s not the easiest of systems, but it does add a little depth and realism to what is otherwise a pure arcade experience. It also has a clutch button, which can be used to get better starts off the line and improved speed out of sharp turns, but we bid you good luck explaining how to use it properly to someone who doesn’t drive a manual car in real life (funnily enough the game doesn’t even bother trying).
The series’ staple terrain deformation is also back, with the tires of vehicles cutting visible and tangible grooves into the mud, slowly changing the texture of the courses as races progress. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the way you ride a course – it’s not that realistic – but it certainly looks nice.
With 12 racers on the track at once and AI that’s fairly aggressive on any of the four difficulty levels, the racing is a decent arcade romp, if a little unrefined. Glitches aren’t uncommon (racers clipping through scenery) and the engine doesn’t bestow the bikes with any believable weight behind them. Fans of the real sport will be disappointed if they’re looking for a virtual reimagining of their hobby. But those who don’t care for simulation and enjoy straight arcade racing won’t complain.
Another redeeming factor is the game’s online multiplayer offering which, for the most part, is good fun. Again, it lacks options, but the carnage of 12 human players on a course can be a good laugh. The matchmaking in smooth and gameplay is relatively lag-free. Even better, you still earn experience points for playing multiplayer races, which makes grinding through the levels less of a chore.
The game can be played in two-player split-screen mode too, with the AI making up the rest of the field, although we noticed a drop in detail with the environments popping into scene in this mode.
There’s a decent game hidden in here somewhere. The gameplay is fast and chaotic, and the twin analogue control system, while tricky, adds depth. Twelve-player racing has its thrills both with the CPU and human players online, and a persistent RPG-like leveling-up system has the potential to work really well in a racing game. It does in Gran Turismo 5.
But its hugely let down by this DLC idea of THQ’s which, executed in the way it has been, has left the game lacking in any real content to justify laying down the initial $40. The omission of a proper career mode (and missing a crucial mode that its predecessor does provide) is unforgivable and should have surely been one of the most basic modes included on the disc.
It’s even worse that the game seeks to make up for its lack of a career by restricting you to a ridiculously small fraction of its already limited content and forcing you to grind races to unlock it (or cheekily offering to unlock it all for you for an additional fee). Significant DLC may be on the way, but right now there’s nothing available that will make this the game it should be.
THQ’s built-it-yourself DLC idea is an interesting one, but in its current state MX vs. ATV Alive is unfinished and, while fun at times, will be a disappointment to series fans expecting a proper sequel to Reflex.