MX vs ATV Alive
Developer: THQ Digital Studios Phoenix
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2, 2-12 online, DLC
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MX vs ATV Alive is an off-road racing game developed by THQ. The game was the fourth in the 10 Million-selling MX vs ATV series following Untamed, Unleashed and Reflex and features the two-stick control method pioneered in Reflex, as well as real time terrain deformation and a new “hybrid” pricing model which basically means a lower initial purchase price, followed by a variety of optional downloadable content.

The controls are a mixture of what you might expect and a combination of innovation and weirdness. I’ll explain both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 controls as we played both, 360 first PS3 in brackets; The throttle is on R trigger (R2), brakes on L trigger (L2) and steering set to the left stick, all in a standard fashion, The difference to most bike games comes with the way the rider’s weight is shifted; “Rider Reflex” is mapped to the right stick, meaning that rather than simply shifting the rider around whilst simultaneously steering with the left stick as in every other game that features bikes (from GTA through early MX games to Moto GP and SBK) you now won’t get round a track without using both sticks. I must admit that at first I hated the idea and didn’t think it worked very well, but it soon becomes instinctive as you move the sticks, mostly in unison to perform tight turns and keep the bike balanced going up or down slopes. Getting huge air off a jump is a simple matter of using the ‘seat bounce lock’ feature; you simply click the right stick in and hold the right stick back to unload the suspension at the optimum moment and leap much further and higher than a standard jump.

Problems arise when your biker gets unseated, either from a dodgy landing or by the realistically uneven terrain; you get a momentary chance to “save” a fall, and it’ll often mean moving the right (Rider Reflex) stick in the opposite direction to the way you need to steer the bike, and this is a lot harder than it sounds. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t work every time regardless of how quickly you react, and your rider will also “wreck” sometimes even if you land a jump perfectly which leads to frustration. ‘Jump Assist’ (feels like the hand of God grabs your bike and straightens it out if a jump is taken crooked) and ‘Cornering Assist’ (gives you a lot more traction and removes a lot of the inertia and momentum from the handling model) are on by default and really make things easier, but kind of emasculate the handling and physics. Rider Skills can be unlocked as you progress and you can select any 2 from the list to enhance your rider’s abilities like; ‘Save it’ (easier to avoid wrecking), ‘Quick get up’ (get reset to the track after a wreck quicker), ‘Wrecking ball’ (makes it easier to push opponents around), ‘Tank’ (makes you harder to push around), ‘Holeshot boost’ (start boost), ‘XP bonus’ (20% extra per race), ‘Stealth passing’ (shortens the distance warning to other players.) and ‘Scrub Master’ (makes scrubs more effective to lower your jump trajectory)

You may have gathered that the R-stick is kind of busy so rear view and left & right views are mapped to the D-pad, which means you’ll only be grabbing a quick glance on straights or when high in the air on a long jump.

The game isn’t really about tricking and stunts but there are 30 or more possible, however you’ll have to download a .pdf file to get the full list in the full version of the instruction manual, as THQ don’t supply the whole thing in paper form. I must say I think the controls are counter-intuitive - you have to hold ‘RB’ (R1) plus 3 movements of the right stick to perform a trick. Taking your right index finger off the throttle in a jump feels weird, and I found myself holding the throttle down with my middle finger so I could hold RB (R1) with my index finger. Combine this with a general dearth of ramps lined up for stunt-packed runs and a lack of forgiveness on landing and this makes tricking challenging, but about as much fun as going to the dentist.

The bikes and riders look superb; your rider’s shirt ripples in the airflow and the way he moves to try and stay aboard the bike/quad is very impressive to watch. The scenery is pretty too, although you don’t want to examine any of the landscape textures too closely (you hopefully be whizzing by it too quickly to notice.) The lighting effects when you plunge from bright sunlight into a wooded area are particularly atmospheric, and the landscapes and tracks are very convincing. The new terrain deformation (it means the bikes leave tracks in the mud or sand) looks good too, although the occasional scaling glitch and the way muddy furrows appear to settle as you approach them kind of spoils the effect.
The bikes and rider’s gear “dirties-up” nicely during races although a bit more mud build-up around the mudguards after wet races would have been a lot more realistic. There are nice touches like the girl who holds up the ‘30 seconds to go’ board at the start of a race; she doesn’t just disappear but runs like hell to get out of the way! Another thing you’ll notice is that there are also marker poles, hay bales, tyres and turquoise boxes that mark the perimeter of the track, and these can get knocked onto the track and form extra obstacles—annoying if you’re the one who hits one, hilarious if they impede your competitors, but it all adds to the realism. The game features rider “gestures” that see your rider randomly gesticulating as he passes competitors or knocks them off. This would be okay if this was an option that you could do with the press of a button but as it’s random it’s just plain annoying, distracting and let’s face it, highly unprofessional and probably unrealistic. There are 3 views available; a standard chase cam, a tweakable free cam and a first-person on-bike view, that works surprisingly well. Sadly the game has no replay mode, which is a shame as chilling out after some of the more intense races and checking out your skillz (or lack of) would have been a great feature.

The handling and physics are realistic enough that sometimes a combination of the terrain and the way the bike handles will arbitrarily make you fall (for me it’s usually a front wheel nosedive that pulling back on the right stick won’t recover no matter what), despite you having done the same jump perfectly in previous laps. I’m going to give the game a pass on this and say that it just makes it realistic, and further enforces the point that you can’t relax for a millisecond during an MX vs ATV Alive race. The bar-to-bar racing doesn’t quite work as advertised and collisions seem to favour the AI riders nearly every time, but presumably this allows for the couple of “Rider Skills” enhancements that improve your chances of coming out best when contact is made. Personally I’d rather the game always favoured me by default and presumably you will too as you probably paid for it.
Now I did a bit of Motocross riding in my dim and dirty past and I can genuinely say that MX vs ATV Alive is the most realistic handling MX/ATV game I have ever played. Modulating the throttle and dipping the clutch (to regain traction when the engine bogs down) is really key to quick lap times and getting jump sequences right. Judging jumps and how much bounce to use has never been more instinctive, although I feel the preloading in some MX games of the past possibly felt more instinctive.

Playing with Jump Assist ‘off’ (it’s ‘on’ by default remember), you can see that some crooked jumps are going to turn into time-consuming accidents and because you’re flying through the air (with the greatest of ease) there’s nothing you can do to stop it turning into a horrendous crash. A nice feature here is that pressing ‘RB’ (R1) ‘LB’ (L1) and clicking both sticks will make you bail, saving some valuable time and resetting you to the track quicker-you can of course see the crash through to its inevitable bone-crunching conclusion if you like.

The race corridor on nearly every track is unforgivingly narrow, which doesn’t make much sense and you’ll sometimes have the “OFF TRACK” message stuck in your face and get reset just as you’re actually about to return to the track; this has been a recurring, intensely irritating flaw in car rally games over the years and I’m shocked and disappointed to see it so annoyingly, consistently present here.

Online multiplayer allows you to set up or search for races in whatever class you like, or search for free ride or ‘versus’ games that throw every class in together. You’ll appear online with the last bike/ATV and gameplay options you used and there’s no option to change in-lobby so beware. Disappointingly most people seem to race with “assists on”, and if you join a game everyone seems to use the to default 5 laps-and you should probably be forewarned that these can take from about 4 minutes to about 11 minutes to complete depending on the circuit.

In nearly every race I played there was a noticeable dropout rate (maybe the doorbell rang, the baby cried or they just lost interest because they were losing and the race went on too long.) The game seems to randomly select 2 locations which the lobby can vote on, but occasionally one may pop up that you haven’t downloaded and if this is the case you’ll be unceremoniously dumped out of the game. If you set up your own game you can define the number of laps from 3 up to a giddying 30, and select up to 5 preset locations to form a mini-championship, but there’s no option to lock out assist users, which is a shame. The split-screen 2-player works really well and you can compete in races (with AI opponents) or on the free roam maps as you wish.

A variety of in-game videos feature two-time AMA Supercross Champion James "Bubba" Stewart, I haven’t watched any MX for a few years so I have NO IDEA who he is but he seems like a jolly nice bloke and he’ll congratulate you when you hit a certain level or unlock a new class. James appears in the game eventually and you’ll be sick of the sight of him winning nearly every 450cc holeshot and disappearing faultlessly into the distance, which all seems a bit sycophantic on the AI programmer’s part and given James’s recent form certainly isn’t realistic.

Our game came with a card and an alphanumeric code on it that allowed us access to “MotoClub Pro.” This includes “Exclusive DLC” in the form of “The Stewart Compound” (a Free Ride map and two ‘National’ tracks, presumably set in James Stewart’s back yard), some KTM branded gear for your rider and two THQ Helmets. Online forums are full of complaints about the access codes not working, despite the game saying the DLC unlock has been successfully downloaded. However, this is because the gamers don’t realise that once they have entered the code they need to go to the “Motoclub Pro” interface and download the content from there, which makes it unnecessarily complicated.

If you want to do Supercross then you’ll have to buy the Lexington and Williamsburg stadium track events as DLC and there are also 2 quarry tracks available in a similarly priced pack. Also available are extra bikes or ATV by real manufacturers like KTM and Yamaha, branded gear, graphic kits and helmets. You probably think this hybrid game idea sucks and, in principle, I agree with you. However, if you shop around you can pick MX vs ATV Alive for under £20, which makes it a very attractive proposition.

I’ve got to say that the general progression of the game seems a bit messed up- there’s no championship structure, you just compete on tracks as you unlock them. This can leave you racing the same tracks over and over again just to gain XP to level both you and your bike up, because a good proportion of the core game’s tracks (there are 14 “National” tracks in all, 4 mental short tracks with suicide crossovers and 3 large free roam areas) aren’t available till level 25!

Like I said earlier this is probably one of the most realistic motorsport games I’ve ever played – the problem is the ‘Rider Reflex’ (2 stick) control system is one of those things you’ll either love or hate-it might have been wise to include a single stick steering system as an option, not only for casual gamers who don’t want to have to concentrate too hard or simply can’t because they play in a family setting, but also for stick-in-the-muds and even people who suffer from dexterity problems. The realistic design of the tracks also means that sometimes if you mess up the first in a sequence of jumps you’ll be struggling to build up speed again while a whole stream of riders pass you, and some people are going to hate that, even though it’s just the game being realistic. By the same token you will however notice that the AI riders suffer from the same sort of problems and in every race, and in every race you’ll see at least one AI rider fall off and make a bigger fool of himself than you ever did, which will make you feel better.

The fact that MX vs ATV has now “gone all realistic” and concentrates solely on its 2-stick method for the MX (Motocross) bikes and ATVs (quad bikes) means that the wide expanses, trucks and buggies from the old games have gone, and for me at least, that’s a shame as it gives the game too narrow a focus. The low price point and the hybrid content idea is interesting but regardless of how much you end up paying for MX vs ATV Alive the game’s unforgiving realism and demanding gameplay will surely alienate as many gamers as it captivates.

Best Bits

- Looks good and has a smooth frame rate.
- Very realistic track layouts.
- Feels just like riding a real bike/ATV – without the broken bones and testicular trauma.
Worst Bits

- No replays.
- No trucks or buggies.
- Terrain deformation graphical glitches.
- Some odd physics and control demands.
- How about a single-stick control option?

by: Jensen Buttons

Copyright © Gamecell 2011