Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date: March 24, 2005
Buy 'MX VS. ATV: Unleashed': Xbox
Rainbow Studios has built a fairly strong reputation in the field of offroad racing games. Their games include Motocross Madness, ATV Offroad Fury, MX Unleashed, and now MX vs. ATV Unleashed. If you've liked the series in the past, you'll most likely enjoy this iteration, although it feels a bit like "been there, done that" at times. For racing fans that haven't picked up one of Rainbow's offroad racing games, Vs. is the one to own, because it combines all of the great aspects of their past efforts onto one disc.
Fans will be glad know that the series has retained Rainbow's "Rhythm Racing" physics model, which strikes a great balance between arcade and realistic racing. No matter which land roving vehicle you use in the game, you are able to perform big, floaty jumps, which can be immensely satisfying. However, speed is found through the rhythm of a course, which means that although you can make huge leaps on even small hills, you'll want to anticipate the terrain ahead to make sure you don't get hung up on the wrong side of a hill. In effect, you get satisfaction from adrenaline-inducing leaps as well as running a smart race. Not a bad combination, eh?
You have a lot of control over how much air you grab, as once again you have the ability to preload your suspension at the bottom of a jump, and launch yourself at the top. Another racing trick involves popping the clutch for speed boosts, which becomes very helpful as you race against increasingly difficult A.I. and human players. Learning the basics of these techniques is easy, but learning their subtleties will keep you from getting smoked on Xbox Live.
Vs. shares the same tight turning that has been present since the original ATV Offroad Fury. You are able to turn on a dime when using the MX bikes and ATVs, which allows you to pretty much lay on the gas the whole way around a course. The sense of speed is good, although the vehicles featured in this game aren't exactly speed demons. The A.I. uses catch-up liberally, letting you catch-up to them and vice versa, allowing for closer races.
Merely combining dirt bikes and ATVs apparently wasn't enough for Rainbow Studios, because now you can race with anything from golf carts to airplanes. Available vehicles also include offroad trophy trucks, buggies, and helicopters. The land vehicles control nicely, but the choppers and planes tend to be frustrating to control. Rainbow may have been stretching their reach in this regard, and should probably stick to offroading.
Speaking of flying machines, you may wonder how exactly you race them. On an air course, you take off from a landing strip, and follow a map and arrow to a waypoint, which may be a solid ring or pair of posts. If you crash, you are sent back to the landing strip at the beginning, but you can go straight to the checkpoint that you missed. Things get really interesting when you take part in a land and air race, where vehicles race below as you go from checkpoint to checkpoint. While open races like this can be enjoyable, they're a novelty compared to the more balanced races of similar vehicles. And yes, you can pit any available vehicle head-to-head in this game. For you sadistic folks, taking out dirt bikers with a monster truck is not only amusing, but spiritually fulfilling.
Once again, you are rewarded for being able to pull off mid-air poses, flips, and spins. You can chain tricks together in order to score maximum player points, which are spent at the game's store to buy new vehicles and riding gear, among other things. While most people can't appreciate the licensed material, it's good to see that Rainbow took the effort to throw these goodies in for more devoted offroad fans.
If there are two things that Vs. undeniably nails, it's variation and scope. There are modes aplenty, from the aforementioned land and air races to uphill climbs to freestyle competitions. Indoor and outdoor tracks are covered, and once you unlock supercross, you'll race on tracks made up of both pavement and asphalt. There's really something for everyone in Vs., as far as offroading is concerned.
Fans of the real-life sports of ATV and MX racing will recognize names such as Tim Farr and Jeremy McGrath. There are over 20 actual riders in Vs., as well as a large selection of authentic, brand-name gear and vehicles. You can change up the look of your riders and vehicles, but the options aren't so extensive that you'll want to stay away from racing for too long.
On medium difficulty, experienced players should be able to breeze through game fairly easily. You can crank up the difficulty setting, but the real challenge will be found against worthy players via Xbox Live. Everything runs smoothly without a hitch, as expected. Vs. also offers split-screen racing for head-to-head bouts, which will have to do for those without Live.
Vs. boasts very nice visuals. Textures are sharp, especially if you can take advantage of component cables. Rider animations during tricks are still cool looking, with tricks like the Superman and Nothings. It appears that Rainbow used some rag doll-style physics for the crash animations. Most of the ATV and MX crashes look absolutely painful, with the riders folding over themselves like limp bologna. The framerate stays solid for the large majority of the time, although there is the very rare occurrence of dropped frames during random turns. Draw distance is sometimes awe-inspiring. For example, you may jump over a big hill and see a large section of track rippled out before you for quite a ways. There is no pop-up to be spoken of, except if you take a plane or chopper up as high as you can go. Environments, however, begin to look the same after a while, and it would have been nice to see some more exotic, maybe even fantasy locales as opposed to the typical desert wasteland.
The sound effects get the job done, although there is nothing really spectacular about them. There is a distinct aural difference between each vehicle type, and engines rev happily when you engage the clutch. There is also the occasional "yelp" from riders as they are flung from their vehicles. It's a subjective topic, but the soundtrack just isn't up to snuff, especially when compared to the original ATV Offroad Fury. Where the earlier game had Alice in Chains ("Them Bones") and Bender ("Isolate"), Vs. takes an EA Trax approach and includes songs like "So Cold" by Crossfade and "Getting Away With Murder" by Papa Roach. Once it begins to feel like an 'xtreme Mountain Dew commercial, go ahead and flip on your custom soundtrack.
Vs. has a lot more going for it than against it. Admittedly, series followers may find the gameplay a little too familiar. Because Vs. builds upon a solid foundation that's a few years old, maybe this slight sense of "oldness" was unavoidable. Don't be completely turned off by this shortcoming. This game takes absolutely everything fans have enjoyed from the previous installments (control, tracks, etc.), lumps them together on an easily accessible disc, then adds golf carts. Although many of the unlockable vehicles are mostly just for novelty, there is a solid basis for gameplay all-around. In a year chock-full of simulation racers, it's refreshing to have a game like Vs. that just sets you on the track and lets you have a great racing/freestyle/flying experience right off the bat.
More articles about MX vs. ATV Unleashed