When it comes to racing games, there are basically two schools. One is the super-realistic, sim racer, a subgenre most closely represented by Gran Turismo, Forza Moterspot, and MotoGP, and then there is the arcade racer, with titles like Burnout and Flatout holding that banner high. The MX vs. ATV series has most always fallen into the latter camp, bringing high-speed, off-road racing right into your living room, sans all the mud. Rainbow Studios was constantly being heralded for creating racing games everyone could enjoy, and it seemed like they always knew just what to do to deliver a truly fun experience. It looks like the studio has lost its magic touch, however, as MX vs. ATV: Untamed is a frustrating, unappealing game.
First, the good news: This game is chock-full of play modes and vehicles. In addition to the title's namesake vehicles, you'll also get to race in sand rails, monster trucks and trophy trucks, among others. There is also a variety of game modes running the gamut from indoor Supercross tracks to outdoor, wide-open Waypoint races. With Freestyle, Supermoto and Endurocross races also thrown in, players will never be left without something to do.
The game combines all the various race modes in the overarching X-Cross Tournament. This branching event series gives you a little taste of everything, and you can instantly jump from MX Freestyle to Monster Truck rallies. I would love to give a detailed, thorough evaluation of this mode, but I couldn't get past the third MX race. While I was winning all of the other races by large margins, I never even came close to conquering the bikes. Normally, I hate to review a game without finishing it, but if I had waited until I got through all of these races, this review would have been delayed for another three months.
The reason for this problem, as you may have guessed, is wildly inconsistent difficulty. You see, in most races, the tracks are long enough that if you crash or deviate from the course, there's plenty of time to regain the lead. However, the MX courses are all fast and furious, and it rarely takes more than one or two crashes to knock you completely out of contention. Even on the lowest difficulty level, it's exceptionally hard to win consistently, and good luck on the later events when the computer riders take perfect lines and run at near-constant top speed.
The difficulty level is the least of the gameplay issues, as rider AI is also abysmal. Basically, the computer is determined to take a certain line, and it doesn't matter if you or any other rider is in the way. If they need to run you over to get into position, they will, even if they crash in the process. I understand that aggressive driving is part of the sport, but I don't know of many drivers who make it a point to seek and destroy at every turn, as it kind of makes it hard to, you know, win.
Perhaps Untamed's biggest failing is the inconsistent application of physics. The title asks you to "preload" jumps by pulling the control stick back and then flicking it forward in order to get big air. The only problem is that the team at Rainbow Studios decided that landing a trick should be impossible. I played the game for three weeks trying to perfect getting all of my wheels back on the ground after launching myself into the sky, only to find that I spent most of my time flying over my handlebars. This sensitivity would be understandable in a sim-based racing game, but seeing as the developers are going for the arcade feel, it just doesn't fit.
Given all of the gameplay issues, you would at least hope that this is a good-looking game. Well, the opening movie is gorgeous, but after that, things go terribly wrong. When you get into an actual race, all of the environments look flat and washed out, and the idea of detailing textures seems to have slipped the minds of everyone involved in creating the title. Also, with the off-road environments, one would expect for the tracks to deform and mud to splatter the clothes and vehicles of everyone involved. I mean, Motorstorm did it, and it was practically a launch title. However, there's no such detail to be found here; there's actually almost no detail to be found anywhere. I can summarize the graphics simply by saying that this game looks like a PS2 title. Visually, this may quite possibly be the most disappointing next-gen game on the market.
Untamed's soundtrack is heavy on pop rock, with Nickelback and Disturbed leading the charge. This lineup would make sense, but for the sake of diversity, the title also includes a number of punk tracks and even one hip-hop number. Now, I don't claim to understand the musical tastes of your average off-road video game racing fan, but last time I went to Warped Tour, I didn't see any Fox Racing shirts, and I'm pretty sure Kanye won't be discussing gear box ratios on his next album. I don't really know who the songs are trying to please, and it's hard to concentrate on a race when you're trying to determine who thought it would be a good idea to include Christian punk band Relient K on the track list.
Aside from the eclectic soundtrack, the in-game sound effects seem designed to annoy. The first thing you're going to want to do is go into the options menu and turn down the engine sound effects all the way, unless of course you really love to hear what sounds like a giant swarm of very angry bees at all times. While I may need earplugs for an actual race, I shouldn't need them when playing a racing game.
At the heart of things MX vs. ATV: Untamed is an ambitious title whose execution fails to live up to the lofty standard set by previous entries in the series. I really can't recommend this game, not even to fans of the previous titles in the series. If you're looking for an off-road racer, go play Motorstorm. If you've already played Motorstorm, then go back and play it some more. If you've done everything there is to do in Motorstorm, I suppose you can buy this game, but don't say I didn't warn you.
More articles about MX vs. ATV Untamed