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MX vs. ATV Alive

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: THQ
Developer: THQ
Release Date: May 10, 2011 (US), May 13, 2011 (EU)

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


PS3 Review - 'MX vs. ATV Alive'

by Brad Hilderbrand on June 27, 2011 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

MX vs. ATV Alive will take the original franchise to exhilarating new heights with Bar-to-Bar racing, enhanced physics and the next step in downloadable content distribution.

THQ decided to take a bold risk with MX vs. ATV Alive, its latest entry into the world of motocross and off-road racing. Instead of making the game a full-priced title, THQ opted to retail it at $40, with the promise of DLC and extra content for those who wanted to further expand their experience. The grand idea was that this would usher in a new paradigm for game pricing, where Triple A titles would still debut for top dollar, while well-made but less popular fare would come in cheaper in order to appeal more readily to niche audiences. While it's a noble idea, it seems that THQ forgot one simple thing: providing enough content to even justify a reduced price tag.

Upon starting up the game, many players will quickly take note of just how little content is available. First off, there's no career or season mode, so don't even think about engaging in a series of events and unlocking new content along the way. Instead, players get two Nationals tracks, two short tracks and two Free Ride areas ... and that's it. Short track races can be completed in roughly two minutes, while Nationals clock in at less than 10. Even if you spend a while tooling around in the Free Ride arenas, you'll probably see everything the game has to offer in the first hour or two. Those who buy the game new or pay an extra $10 can gain access to a handful of additional content in the James Stewart pack, but thanks to a combination of PSN issues and a redeem code that never wanted to work right for this review, we never got to see those tracks.

The result of this paucity of content is that players are forced to grind the same races over and over again for experience points to unlock new content. More stuff becomes available when you reach rider levels of 10 and 25, but that takes a long while. Rerunning the same courses again and again is just about as boring as level-grinding in an RPG, and the setup seems to be little more than a thinly veiled attempt to get you to pony up the cash for the unlock keys for all those courses you can see but can't touch yet. The whole system works very much like the Facebook games that are free to play, but in order to achieve anything with any sense of speed, you have to pay up. The difference is that those games are free; this one still costs $40 upfront.

It's too bad that the leveling system is associated with such a poor unlock structure because taken by itself, it's actually kind of cool. Each single-player event you participate in nets experience for both your rider and chosen vehicle, with some tangible rewards along the way. Leveling up a MX bike, for instance, nets cosmetic features like new paint jobs, vehicle parts, etc., and while they don't really change the performance of your machine, there's still a lot of room for customization.

Riders level up in a similar way, but in addition to superficial rewards such as new helmets, you also earn new skills that can make a big difference in your race performance. For instance, one skill gives you more time to react and correct when you're in danger of crashing, or boosting your clutch effectiveness. You can select up to two unlocked skills at any time, and these added abilities really make a big difference in how you play. The developers are on to something pretty cool here, and we're hoping they'll continue to expand it down the line.

Though THQ dropped the ball in terms of how content is unlocked, it managed to nail the actual racing aspects perfectly. Tracks are nicely varied and feature plenty of elevation changes and different terrains. Also, the terrain deformation system that we saw in previous games like Reflex is back, and it's more impressive than ever. Riding through all the ruts and troughs dug up by the various vehicles' tires adds a nice sense of realism to the experience. Adding to all this is a very intuitive rider lean system, where you use the right analog stick to shift your rider's weight around to achieve the best possible results. Leaning into a turn will allow you to take super-sharp corners, while leaning away will improve stability and help hold the line through longer, sweeping corners. By the same token, you can put all your weight forward while heading downhilll to build speed, and then throw your mass to the back of the bike or ATV when you hit a jump to get more air. Once you get the hang of things, it's incredibly smooth and fun.

The flip side is that nailing down all the intricacies of racing can be a bit tricky, mostly because the game never bothers to explain anything to you. There is no manual to speak of, just a fold-out in the case with a controller layout and a few general hints on gameplay. The title also lacks any sort of tutorial, so you're on your own figuring out some of the trickier mechanics, like how to effectively use the clutch. Though the "manual" includes a Web site you can visit for a full rundown of how the game works, that means you'll need a laptop propped open next to you as you learn to play, constantly pausing to glance over and scroll through the info until you find what you need. I understand publishers' desire to move away from traditional printed manuals, but if that's the direction we're headed, then you'd better include some extremely helpful in-game tutorials instead.

Though MX vs. ATV Alive manages to take the checkered flag in the actual racing department, it crashes and burns on almost everything else. While the experience system is a neat idea, it's tied to a painful content unlock process that keeps way too much out of the player's hands for far too long. There's shockingly little content available in the game, particularly for new players, and that's simply unacceptable. We were hoping that THQ's new pricing model would be a harbinger of great things, but if this is the amount of content we get for $40, then matters are still headed in the completely wrong direction.

Score: 6.0/10

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