Engines revving, dirt flying in the air and a pungent smell of gasoline exhaust. It’s that time of the year again. The time where avid dirt-bike and ATV riders get their prized motorized contraptions out of the garage and race them on dirt tracks and back paths. It’s also coming up to the start of racing season, where daring drivers take on their competition on muddy and dirty tracks with all types of elevations, terrain types and jumps.
For those who love to engage in or watch these types of races and their hobby riding fans, THQ has released MX vs. ATV: Alive – the third game in its relatively popular racing series. Armchair racers and bike enthusiasts, read on, as we discuss whether this game makes it to the podium or stalls at the starting gate.
During a press conference last year, THQ unveiled their ideas for a new pricing structure for some of their upcoming video games. MX vs. ATV: Alive was specifically mentioned as being the first test for this idea, though You Don’t Know Jack beat it to the punch, earlier this year. What they’ve decided to do is release some games at a budget price point ($39.99 in this game’s case,) with downloadable content being released on a regular basis afterwards.
It allows gamers to customize their experience by buying the content they desire, as opposed to stuff that may not interest them. Not to mention the fact, by setting their suggested retail price at a budget title price, THQ can set its products apart from other more expensive retail titles, perhaps enticing more consumers than before to bite the bullet and spend their money. It’s a smart idea in principle, but some gamers may be turned off by the idea.
Whereas previous titles in the series have featured a full career mode with tons of events and a lot of content, MX vs. ATV: Alive is quite a bit more scarce in its events and racing options. This iteration doesn’t feature as many events as its predecessors did – due to the new pricing structure.
Also, instead of podium finishes leading to acceptance into the next race or series, players must earn certain racing ranks to unlock new events. Several events are available from the start, with the next set unlocking at level 10, and the last ones unlocking a level 25. It’s not something new to gaming, but the way it works is certainly different from the norm.
You see – it takes a little while to get to level 10, so that means that you either have to replay some of the inaugural races, download new ones, or play online for a while. It’s an interesting way to make the game seem longer, but can also make it a bit frustrating – especially for those who cannot game online or those who are on a strict budget. Though, nicest thing about it is that the extra content isn’t a requirement – allowing for customers to buy it or pass, choosing which content they would like to purchase, to customize their experience.
Those who purchase a new copy of the game get a download voucher which allows them to unlock rider James Stewart’s compound, which contains some additional events. Stewart plays a major role in the game, as he’s not only its spokesperson but is also the main man who must be defeated at its conclusion. These events still are not enough to get you to level 10 with a first place finish, but they help you progress without having to replay the other events over and over again. Of course, the idea at launch is to have players race each other online in order to rank up, but that isn’t available to all. New (downloadable) events are scheduled to be released shortly, for a set price.
Included in the game’s career mode are three different event types: traditional/lengthy races on regular tracks, chaotic short track events and free ride maps. The latter type allows you to drive around in two large areas (a quarry and a beach) without the fear of having to race other competitors. Your goal is to accomplish tasks such as trying to get the longest jump or attempting the best trick sequence possible. It’s relaxing, but doesn’t really feature much staying power, unless you have friends who you can compare your scores with.
However, each free ride map features a hidden secret vehicle, which you can use once you find. An achievement (or trophy) will unlock if you find both. Free ride is the least interesting or engaging of the three, whereas the very chaotic short track events (which sees you jumping over oncoming racers) are the best of the three event types. However, there’s a large discrepancy within the races’ difficulty levels, as rookie is far too easy allowing for very easy wins with large differentials while the next difficulty level (amateur) is quite difficult. It’s a bit annoying seeing that there’s no median between the two.
Online play actually works in a very similar way as the career. When you start competing against the world, you’re only able to select rookie events for each of the two vehicle types: dirt-bikes and all-terrain vehicles. It isn’t until level ten that you can play more advanced game modes with higher ranked players, though a lot of them seem to like to play against the rookies in the default modes. It’s more fun to play against real people, but it’s also a lot more challenging, so it’s recommended that you get some practice before you take on the online competition. Generally speaking, the online portion of the game works quite well, with just the odd hiccup or issue. It’s fun, competitive and challenging.
Those who are familiar with the series will notice that THQ has not only made changes to the game’s structure – they’ve also altered the racing mechanics to make them feel more realistic. The new control scheme makes sense, as it tasks you with using the right stick to lean into corners and to adjust your weight as you go over jumps.
However, it takes a while to get used to and isn’t necessarily perfect. The game’s physics can sometimes lead to questionable crashes, but it works relatively well for the most part. In order to avoid crashes, you must press the right joystick in the shown direction, which works pretty well. Though it was noticeably tough to use the right stick to pre-load the bikes’ suspension systems for some jumps, which made consecutive bumps hard to go over with speed at times.
MX vs. ATV: Alive’s new in-game leveling mechanic is similar to what you’ll find in a lot of other games. You gain experience points for making it to the podium or completing other goals. Through the menu, players will find a list of challenges which award medals once you reach certain plateaus, referred to as 1, 2 and 3. Examples of these include getting the hole shot in three consecutive races or earning a certain amount of length during a jump attempt, though there are many, many more to work at. It’s quite straight forward. Though it’s very time consuming, meaning that those who rent the game are unlikely to finish it in a week. The level cap is 50, though level 25 is the last plateau required to unlock all of the final events, as mentioned previously. Achievements/trophies are awarded for achieving certain level milestones, such as levels 6, 10, 25 and 50.
This new level system adds a lot of length to the both of its game modes because it’ll take quite a bit of play time to even unlock the final events. Some gamers will enjoy that, while others will be annoyed at the fact that they have to replay the same events over and over again, or play online more than they’d like, just to be able to progress in the career mode. Separate leveling systems are available for each vehicle you drive/unlock, allowing you to unlock new parts that beef up your steel warrior’s abilities.
Visually speaking, MX vs. ATV: Alive is probably the best looking iteration of the series. It’s colourful, more realistic and features a nice amount of detail, with noticeable bloom enhancements. Tracks show wear and tear, with new ruts created as each rider rips through the top layer of sand, which eventually leads to some bumpy areas. Each track/area looks unique, with some nice snow effects, though weather unfortunately doesn’t factor into track conditions.
Its visuals aren’t going to blow you away like some other games, but it’s pretty colourful and detailed for a motorbike racer. Though the riders and track girls tend to look somewhat unrealistic, due to overly skinny proportions that leave them having next to no hips. This goes for the track girls especially. Each of the many rider clothing types and vehicle decals look pretty good, with some nice detail, though female character models were lacking.
Like most frenetic semi-arcade racers, Alive features a mix of loud engine sounds, metal on metal sound effects and some loud rock music. Bands such as Rise Against and Anberlin make an appearance on a soundtrack that works well with the game’s content. Overall, the game’s audio quality is quite impressive, other than two issues: the first being that James Stewart’s dialogue was noticeably quieter than the rest of the game’s audio (making it hard to hear him during his brief appearances) and the second being that the engine sounds tend to be a bit too loud at times. Luckily, you can alter the audio level for engine noises separately, though it didn’t seem like they were always at consistent levels.
Though there will be people who sit on each side of the fence regarding THQ’s new pricing structure, it makes sense for this type of game. Those who are interested in extra content can buy it, whereas those who are fine with the core game can be happy with a cheap price tag. Each camp will receive a decent game that is more polished than its predecessors, but still features some weird physics at times.
There is some more room for improvement, polish and creativity, but MX vs. ATV: Alive is a pretty good game overall, which is worth checking out. It’s just too bad that it’s structured the way that it is, because that will frustrate quite a few people who aren’t expecting the amount of necessary time that they will have to invest into this interactive experience. Armchair racers, rev your engines. Though MX vs. ATV: Alive doesn’t necessarily place first, it definitely crosses the finish line, receiving a respectable third place position. Relatively impressive overall, but there’s room for improvement.
Colourful visuals, competitive gameplay and a full online mode make this one worth playing.