With nice weather comes the smell of exhaust, signaling the beginning of months of adrenaline-fueled mayhem on back road pathways, manicured dirt tracks and country roads. Those who own motorized contraptions like dirt bikes and ATVs live for this time of the year, and it’s understandable. After all, there aren’t many feelings like the thrill of speed. However, living on the edge comes with risks, which many people are not willing to take on. For those folks, off-road video games are an available secondary option, providing a safe adrenaline rush that lacks any of the dire consequences associated with the real deal.
Developed in Poland, Techland‘s brand new downloadable effort, Mad Riders, is the latest game to provide armchair thrill seekers with the chance to throw caution into the wind. An affordable and over-the-top all-terrain experience, it can be described as the spiritual successor to the company’s previous genre release, Nail’d. That 2010 full retail release introduced mechanics which focused on speed and aerial steering, pitting players against a lot more than just other riders. Environmental hazards dotted its mountainous digital landscapes, which ranged from large northern forests to the Grecian coast, giving many jumps crash potential. That obstacle-focused design has been continued with this successor.
When Mad Riders was first announced, it caught my attention. Why, you ask? Well, a review of Nail’d was the first thing I wrote and published onto my video game review blog, which I wrote for before moving on to We Got This Covered. I spent hours playing through the game, analyzing its pros and cons. There were things that I liked about it, such as its abundance of creative tracks, outrageous sense of speed and viscerally expansive vistas. However, those positives came with an equal amount of negatives, such as a blinding blur effect, regular crashes and mediocre game design. Those mixed feelings made me wonder how much Mad Riders would improve on its predecessor, or if it would at all, considering how its pre-release media made the two games look similar. Thankfully, some of the issues which marred Nail’d have been corrected, though other areas still need some work.
At its core, Mad Riders is all about speed. In order to succeed, one must fly around each of its 45 courses with insane speed, finding the quickest path from start to finish, while avoiding varied obstacles that dot the digitally crafted landscapes. In theory, this design sounds like a complete blast, and exactly what a genre enthusiast would want. However, the supercharged speed factor ends up negatively affecting the experience, because it clashes with the flawless, finesse-filled laps that players will need to complete in order to become victorious. Even on the game’s lowest difficulty level, making a mistake can cost you the race, meaning that hitting obstacles is something that must become a seldom occurring event if you hope to become a crowned champion. Blasting around blind corners and over incredible jumps is something that doesn’t exactly gel with that need for meticulous and crash free racing, which is a flaw that will result in forced restarts.
Compounding the above-mentioned issue, event victories hinge on the player’s ability to maintain control while pulling off death defying tricks. That’s because tricks earn you turbo, which is something all champions must become deft at using. Every course is littered with red tokens, which help fill the asset’s meter, but the perfect run will require more than what they have on offer. You’ll need to flip, slide and rotate, in order to get that much needed extra nitrous, taking advantage of a traditional system that works pretty well here. Though, as you’d expect, using turbo adds kilometres onto the breakneck speeds which both help and hinder this game. Not only that; it also creates a slight blur effect that may bother some armchair drivers. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as bad as the one that marred its predecessor, resulting in a frustrating amount of poor visibility crashes.
Pulling off tricks is rather easy. Some are earned through progression-based accomplishments, while others are available right from the get-go. Regardless, each one requires rather natural and easy to memorize button commands, with the toughest moves asking for two buttons and a held joystick. Newcomers to the genre will find earning boost and level-up allowing experience points through tricking to be accessible, especially since both can be earned through basic movements like two second-long slides and flawless, or target-based, landings.
Complementing the red turbo tokens are blue tokens, which can be used to unlock time-saving shortcuts. Additionally, they can also be used to create recharge sections, where extra boost tokens can be picked up, helping you pad your lead or get closer to a race’s leading pack. In a game where finding the fastest route is the key to victory, using one of those blue circle assets can end up being the difference between a victory or a second place finish.
Those who lack racing game experience will want to go in expecting a challenge, though it’s important to note that coming in first in every race is not a requirement. Like most current arcade racers, the end goal is to earn enough stars to progress from one tournament series to another. There are eight of those in total, with each one featuring five individual events and fifteen potential stars. Just about every listed event, including regular, trick and beacon races, has ten riders competing for the pole position, but there are two other single player variations. Those two focus on lap times more than anything, asking players to complete a certain amount of laps before a timer runs out, or having them compete against pro racers’ ghosts on challenging tracks. Compared to the others, I found the timed challenges to be quite a bit more challenging, creating difficulty spikes. However, revisiting them with superior machines (unlocked by leveling up), made them become less daunting.
On top of its forty core events, Mad Riders offers up eight additional (timed) elite races, as well as a separate online multiplayer mode. While the unlockable elite events offer added challenge, it’s the multiplayer mode which most will focus on. It allows up to twelve players to compete against each other in events selected by the host. Many of the the options made available are traditional races, but lap time gauntlets also appear on the list, providing a great test of skill. Though, regardless of its type, performing well in any online match will present you with mode-specific experience points and related bonuses like new bikes.
Being able to play online against real opponents will certainly add variety and replay value to the Mad Riders experience. That is, if enough people purchase the game and then head online. The game’s longevity depends on that factor, and it’s certainly affordable enough to appeal to those who are looking for a solid and competitive off-road racing game. However, the mode could have offered more to entice people to fill its servers, such as more game mode variety, better unlocks or more of a community aspect than basic leaderboards. Plus, I wish they would have thought of a better way to let people know that online matches are available. It’s currently done through the use of a flashing message that blocks a part of the screen, though that can be turned off through the options menu.
When it comes to presentation in a racing game, the most important thing to discuss is track design. Mad Riders‘ website and press releases state that it includes forty-five different tracks, which are set in different parts of the world. That is only partially true, because many of them are variations, meaning you’ll often see pathways repeated throughout its tournament mode. There are several different environments, though they don’t feel as unique as they could have, failing to deliver on the developers’ global tour promise. Included in that list are multiple forest routes, a trip through ancient ruins and a coastal region, though none of them really stand out as being memorable due to a lack of unique gameplay qualities. With that being said, Techland did do a pretty good job of creating large tracks with multiple routes and varied degrees of challenge, though Nail’d had superior courses.
To bring its dirt and mud-covered digital world to life, Mad Riders employs a visual style that mixes cel shading with slightly more realistic textures, creating a relatively unique style that looks pretty good. Its detail looks better on tracks that feature relatively bright sunlight, as some of the game’s darker paths don’t do its drawn in riders or their bikes justice. Conversely, too much sunlight can also have an adverse effect, softening the image from its ideal look.
As expected, users can select the ATV they’d like based on varied skill sets, with the option to change how their chosen ride looks. Additionally, riders can be selected based on what they’re wearing, ranging from more traditional attire to gorilla, native, ninja and skeleton costumes. Although it’s a basic customization system, it does the job. Then again, it would have been nice if there was a more in-depth decal creation system, or an option to mix and match part models.
Being a smaller game, Mad Riders lacks the triple A budget that some of its genre peers have previously possessed. The result is a lack of licensed music, but the original tunes that they included are pretty good overall. The problem is that they’re over played, and repetition sets in quickly. The same can be said about the announcer’s lines, as he only chimes in to state the obvious. Hearing the same trick names over and over again may force some folks to mute the game and turn on an alternative source of music.
Launching at a ten-dollar price point, Mad Riders offers quite a bit of exhaust-filled content for an affordable price. Fans of the off-road racing genre will find at least several hours worth of motorized competition within its nearly one and a half gigabyte download file, though the noted downsides will add some frustration into what could have been a more enjoyable experience. Those who are able to overlook those deficiencies will get the most out of this above-average release.
This article is based on a copy of the game which was provided to us for review purposes.