Genre: Action Racing
Publisher : THQ
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date : February 2005
We recently had the opportunity to spend a little quality time with THQ to get an advanced peek at MX vs. ATV Unleashed, the newest offering in development at Rainbow Studios. That's right, Rainbow Studios decided to take two of their successful titles and mash them into one big game. Although both titles were pretty successful, it is often difficult to get excited about sequels, as many end up being an uncreative rehash of the original game(s). With a hands-on last night, we got the chance to find out what Rainbow was doing with this game, and whether it would be something to look forward to in early 2005.
Essentially, MX vs. ATV mashes the Motocross and ATV circuits into one game, allowing the opportunity to not only race other bikes, but mix-and-match ATVs and bikes in the same race. In the eternal pursuit of the fun factor, Rainbow has not only incorporated dirt bikes and four-wheelers, but also playable monster trucks, dune buggies, and all-terrain golf carts to mix things up a bit. So, if you've got a friend who thinks racing Bigfoot around the track against your puny motorcycle, finally you have a chance to see if the big loser can really take you with that noisy chunk of steel.
The game incorporates the standard race types: Supercross, Nationals, Short-track, Hill Climb, Supermoto, and Machine Challenge gets you the free-for-all race against the craziest combination of vehicle types one race has seen in a long time. This leaves a bit of a nagging question, "If the vehicle types can effectively compete against each other on many types of tracks, how can it feel realistic at all?"
For the answer, we look to Rainbow's continued emphasis on the fun factor. Attributes like top speed, quickness, and stability, cornering and braking are manipulated to level the playing field between vehicles, but most important is the concept Rainbow's Executive Producer Rob Baumsteiger explained as "rhythm racing." As a consistent style in their games, Baumsteiger demonstrated that a gamer's adaptation to the track environment can actually carry greater weight than the performance of the vehicle. Essentially, this means challenging Jeremy McGrath's superior bike and skills may not seem as impossible as it sounds.
Jeremy McGrath, eh? That's right, MX vs. ATV is sporting 24 licensed riders from both circuits, and over 50 licensed vehicles to play on over 50 courses. Take on the pros, beat them, and you get their jersey to hang on your wall as a trophy. Better yet, you unlock their vehicle and character in the game, delivering superior performance. But don't get to cocky – remember that the fastest bike isn't always going to win.
MX vs. ATV Unleashed supports up to eight racers on the course, making for plenty of competitive bumping and crashing throughout the races, but online is slightly more limited with both Xbox and PS2 hi-band support for six. The PS2 version will also support lo-band connections, where four players will be able to play each other, or take part in a six-player match hosted by a hi-band player.
Visually speaking, the game is already quite an improvement over MX Unleashed. We played MX vs. ATV on a PS2, and the environment was already quite crisp. Good news for owners of wide-screen or HDTVs: MX vs. ATV is 16 X 9 compatible, and supports up to 480p for the PS2. If that isn't enough, the Xbox version will even be sporting display capability for the 1080i format – which we feel may be a true feast for the eyes.
Finally, the soundtrack sounds to be another great piece of work from Rainbow. THQ is being a bit tight-lipped about the contracts signed, but we were able to get them to reveal that MX vs. ATV Unleashed includes an unreleased track from the Black Eyed Peas with Papa Roach called "Anxiety," and Arizona's Phunk Junkies contributed "Magnetic Mic Control."
Overall, the game looks to be coming along well, and Rainbow's continued focus on maximizing the fun factor appears to be paying off. With a goal of 90% of the game playable online, MX vs. ATV Unleashed will surely be part of the rising tide of console titles making online match-play more of a necessity than a novelty. Of course, THQ and Rainbow will be sporting the standard online career modes, but with their quirky sense of humor, we fully expect some fresh creativity to make their online experience unique.
For sure, MX vs. ATV Unleashed looks good, and it will sound good too. We know it will be fun to play, but will the game be good, and will it keep you in for the long haul?
Rainbow's off to a good start, but the staying power is going to be in the multiplayer competition both on- and off-line. When the multiplayer is ready and we get to knock heads, we'll be back to let you know if Rainbow's fun factor really has been … unleashed!
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