One of the most frustrating aspects of current racing games is civilization. Don't misunderstand; without civilization, we couldn't have the machines themselves, but at the same time, it has become both a boon and a curse to the genre. Most racing games now take place in polished cities or circular tracks that look great, but the scenery get rather boring after a while. Even when a game offers "off-road" tracks, they tend to be on simple paved roads or well-worn dirt paths that don't really give the full sensation of exploring and racing cross-country. That's what makes MX vs. ATV: Untamed such a refreshing breath of fresh air. It puts the "off-road" back into off-road racing and finally lets gamers use their all-terrain vehicles to actually go through the terrains. However, fans of stadium races shouldn't worry, as good, old-fashioned track-based racing is also available to those who desire it.
Much of Untamed's basic gameplay is going to feel familiar to fans of the franchise. The excellent arcade racing controls that were present in prior iterations make their return here, but newcomers to the franchise should be forewarned: Untamed's basic controls are simple to learn, but very difficult to master. Between learning how to master the clutch to gain a boost of speed, how to handle jumps to avoid flying off into the ocean, and how to keep your balance when landing so your unfortunate rider doesn't go headfirst into a tree, you'll probably spend more time on the ground than on your bike. However, once you've mastered Untamed's controls, you'll find that they serve their purpose exceptionally well and do a good job of not "hand-holding" the gamers so much that they lose the satisfaction of their victories.
As mentioned above, off-road is the name of the game in Untamed. Each of the stages is significantly larger and far more open to exploration than ones found in previous MX vs. ATV titles. Gamers who just want to drive around these stages can fool around in the Free Ride mode, which lets one choose a vehicle and simply roam the wide-open areas, searching for hidden items or learning the lay of the land. Those eager for a more competitive way to race can try the Waypoint match, which challenges racers to get through a series of gates in whatever way they want. Of course, while a straight path may seem like the obvious way to go, veteran off-road racers know that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. Waypoint levels involve finding the smoothest and easiest terrain for your vehicle of choice.
Gamers who prefer their racing a bit more restrained can choose to go for National, Supermoto, Supercross or Opencross events. While some of these events take place on the same stages as the free-roaming areas, they're not quite the same, with each one having a fenced-off path that the racers have to follow. Of course, each race has its own twists and quirks as well, with some being inside stadiums, on dirt roads or on dangerous, obstacle-strewn courses. While admittedly the racing is good, it doesn't quite have the same appeal as the more unusual events offered in Untamed's other game modes, although it certainly isn't bad. The opponents are challenging, the courses interesting and the races can become very tense. One thing of which gamers may want to be wary is that at higher levels, the game's AI can become pretty unforgiving, and inexperienced drives may found themselves left in the dust surprisingly quickly if they're not careful.
Beyond the free-roaming and racing modes, Untamed also offers a few unique game types, some new to the franchise and some returning favorites. Freestyle, for example, involves having your racer perform Tony Hawk-style combinations of tricks in a competition to outrank your opponent, while the new Endurocross mode is a race like no other. You're technically driving across a stadium arena, but the arena itself is packed wall-to-wall with broken rocks, logs, huge puddles of water, massive speed bumps and any other nasty thing the developers could think of to get in your way. Playing through Endurocross can, unsurprisingly, be a real test of endurance, requiring both the skill and patience to last through the gauntlet. These sorts of modes are what really set Untamed apart from the crowd — the off-road and extreme events that would make sports cars explode just by driving past them.
One of the most interesting and unique features in Untamed is the vehicle selection. As veterans of the franchise know, although it's called MX vs. ATV, you have many more vehicle options. Racers can jump in everything from motocross bikes to monster trucks to dune buggies, each of which handles significantly different from the other vehicles in the game. Just because you've mastered how to tool around in an ATV doesn't mean you'll be able to directly transfer those skills to a motocross bike; similar vehicles, like the motocross bikes and the minimoto pit bikes, sometimes require very different skills to control. This variety means that for gamers who want to master it, Untamed will keep them busy for a very long time; gamers who just want to play online will be able to focus on a favorite vehicle and still stand a chance.
The flying vehicles that were found in Unleashed are gone, but that absence actually serves to improve the overall balance and really allowed the developers to focus on the ground-based machines.
The biggest appeal of Untamed is the veritable bonanza of online modes available to gamers. Every single one of the single-player game modes can be run online, and they all run smoothly, with up to 12 different players at one time. The real fun, however, comes in the form of the four exclusive online-only game types. Graffiti should be familiar to fans of the Tony Hawk games; in it, a series of "stunt markers" are placed all over a wide-open arena, and players have to compete to see who can get the higher trick combo while going through these markers. The highest score "tags" the markers, turning them into your color, and the winner is the competitor with the most tags in his or her color.
Section Race is similar to Graffiti, but it's done by racing between two segments, rather than performing tricks, in order to achieve the best time. Tag is … well, tag. One player gets the "tag ball" and has to hold onto it while the other players try to take it from him by force. However, while these three modes are appealing, the big kahuna, and the one that certainly is going to keep gamers coming back again and again, is Snake. It's Tron. To be more precise, it's Tron's infamous light cycles. Each player is assigned a color and flies along on his or her vehicle of choice, creating a long, glowing barrier of light in an attempt to trap the other players and force them to slam into a wall. It's exactly as fun as it sounds, and of all the online modes, Snake is the one that seems destined to become the most popular.
Untamed is a solid-looking game, although it's not particularly spectacular in any regard. The environments are huge and varied, but sometimes feel a bit barren; the vehicles look fine, but they're not particularly polished. Everything looks all right, but nothing is going to drop any jaws, either. There were a few occasions when the frame rate dipped, but they were few and far between. Likewise, the sound work is all quite good, with each vehicle having a different, and rather unique, set of sounds associated with it. From the quiet putter of the slower dune buggy to the absolute roar of the high-performance motocross bikes, the audio component really enhances the overall experience. The soundtrack is made up of the usual collection of licensed songs, coming from sources like My Chemical Romance and Zebrahead. How good or bad that is comes down to each gamer's individual tastes.
MX vs. ATV: Untamed isn't a perfect game, but it's certainly a lot of fun. The immense variety in different game modes really helps to keep the game fresh, and the excellent arcade controls mean that when you end up falling behind the pack, smashing into a wall or screwing up a trick, you rarely feel like it is the game's fault, but your own for not hitting the clutch at the right moment, or for holding the stunt too long. The online mode is just excellent, and the mini-games like Snake really ensure that even gamers who don't usually enjoy off-road adventures will find something to have fun with. The graphics may be a bit on the average side, but don't let that dissuade you: MX vs. ATV: Untamed has the gameplay to make up for it, and that's what is really important.
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