When I first saw the MX vs. ATV Alive commercial on T.V. with the crappy P.O.D. “Alive” cover song, I thought, “Man this is just another cheap game for a PS1 price.” I’m actually proud and happy to say that I was dead wrong. This racing simulator is probably the best off-road racing experience on the market. Sorry Motorstorm. The gameplay itself is so much fun to enjoy and all the little things are executed just right that MX vs. ATV Alive sets a standard in motocross (and four-wheeler) racing. Sadly, there was one core issue that held this inexpensive game from being a one of the greats of all time.
It’s even worse when you’ll recognize that “game breaking” issue from the very first time you load up the game. Your first stop will most likely be the singleplayer and its three options to choose from. They’re the national circuit, the short circuit, and free ride. In order to level up your rider and vehicle these three options will be the only options you’ll have as a part of your career. But the limited number of different events isn’t the big issue. The real issue is (besides the beginning levels) all the tracks are levelly locked. Meaning you’ll be playing a lot of the same tracks and events before you can move on to some new ones.
Now I understand why Rainbow Studios did this (increase the game’s completion time) but it’s more frustrating than rewarding. Luckily, the gameplay is just so damn fun! Coming from a person who hates repeating themselves, I had no problem playing the same levels over and over again. The core of the gameplay here is racing on either an ATV or essentially a motorcycle. You’re than tasked with (you guessed it) competing against other racers on dirt mounded, sharp turned tracks. The mentioned fun mostly stems from the controls and tracks themselves. Of course having the competitive nature of finishing first certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The controls are simplistic in nature but once you master them you’ll feel that they’re all sorts of complicated. The only time they’ll be complicated is at what exact moments each action should be taken. Obviously you’re going to accelerate on a straightaway but turning and jumping correctly require angling, timing, and pushing the right buttons. Doing so can give you an advantage against your competition by coming out of a turn/jump much faster. This then leads me to the reflex turning or a player’s body movement (R3). This ability allows anyone to move in a realistic fashion and adds a little bit of adrenaline to the gameplay with the sharp turns taken. Needless to say I hope I see this option in every racing game from now on.
Now this reflex turning plays a big part in MX vs. ATV Alive’s physics. The way the tires hit the ground, turning momentum, and jumping are captured to realistic perfection. Never before have I witnessed complete realism in a video game without hating it. However, the crashes and physical contact are far from realistic but that may be the gameplay’s saving grace. When you make contact with another rider or crash yourself, you’ll see that there was no way that outcome could have happened. Although, you won’t mind at all as it adds to the game’s fun factor. It seems that Rainbow Studios has found the sweet point of realism and virtual reality.
As you monotonously level up on the same tracks, you will eventually get tired of plain out racing. Luckily, MX vs. ATV Alive offers something similar to Burnout Paradise. Remember that third option…free ride? That game mode offers a sandbox experience where you can explore the level, perform tricks to your leisure, earn rewards, and complete challenges. In the end though; I didn’t care for any of those things and just enjoyed screwing around in the rather large open environments. Unfortunately it is in this game mode where you’ll realize that the graphics aren’t all that great. They resemble the early times of this current video game generation. It’s nothing to complain about but it’s not something to compliment either.
In the midst of all this you can customize your rider and vehicle in a one stop-shop fashion. You can’t individually choose items for your ride/rider, only choose an outfit/apparel that comes with everything in it. So if you want two different items but the options are in two different “kits”, tough luck. But hey at least you can choose whatever color design you want. Besides this mediocre customization you can edit your riders’ number and name or choose from an already existing motocrosser. Once you get all of this out of the way your regretfully learn that the singleplayer itself has no structure or organization. There is no season, standings, calendars, or interactivity (besides cutscenes that are nothing but a joke). Just arcade style play where you level up and compete on the same tracks.
These tracks are well detailed, not in graphical superiority, but in the real life sense of a motocross arena. There are big jumps, interesting turns, cool straightaway and even some snow! There wasn’t one part of any track that I did not enjoy treading across. The level designer sure deserves a big raise! However, most tracks take place in the same environment. It’s nothing to look too much into but when you’re competing on the same tracks over and over again for a set amount of time, you’ll surely notice.
Once you’re done with the monotonous but entertaining campaign, the game does have a multiplayer. Get this…all the XP you earn is carried over into your overall MX vs. ATV experience. This makes it much easier to endure the repetitive singleplayer’s nature (literally). With the multiplayer you can join a race based on your skill and take part in a free-for-all free ride mode. Disappointingly there is nothing different gameplay wise when facing other gamers. Even the free ride is still just screwing around or completing objectives to your whim. My only gripe with the online is when someone joins or leaves a match the game will suffer a noticeable lag spike. This can make or break you in the fast paced, adrenaline rushing match.
MX vs. ATV Alive is definitely a contender for racing game of the year. I may be so bold to say it’s the ultimate motocross experience. Its gameplay is divine, the physics are surreal, and the adrenaline you’ll feel coursing through your veins is perfectly normal. I’m just saddened that the whole singleplayer experience is playing the same tracks over and over again. The gameplay and tracks should still suffice your run-around but still…it’s the principle that counts. With an online portion that doesn’t really change anything but the people you play with (which is perfectly fine), this rendition of MX vs. ATV is a must own for racing fans. Oh and did I mention there is customizable music! So yea…that pretty much proves that anyone should check out this game.