Racing games aren't famous for their storytelling so it's no surprise that there's no story here. From the opening menu you're given the option to dive into single player, local or online multiplayer or the MotoClub Depot (a store to buy additional content). You can also change your vehicle, customize the vehicle and driver, equip rider skills and check out your records. Obviously those last few options will be more useful once you've hit the road for a few races, so let's focus there first.
The game features three single player racing modes nationals, short-track and free ride. Nationals are a single race on racetracks of normal size, while the short-track events are the same, but on tiny courses where laps can take as little at ten seconds. Prior to racing you get to choose the difficulty level (there are four options), the number of laps (as few as three, as many as thirty) and the vehicles you'll face off against (you can handicap your rivals by giving them slower vehicles if you like, as well as having a mix of MX and ATV vehicles in any race). Free ride is just that; you're given a wide expanse of land to ride around on, performing stunts, hydroplaning, getting massive air and anything else you can find to amuse yourself.
Vehicle experience works in much the same way and you'll earn it for each race or free ride event you complete. Each vehicle starts at level zero and can go as high as level three. As the vehicles level up more parts become available and you can customize it however you see fit. Disappointingly, almost all, if not all, of the different parts have the same stats, so aside from changing the look of your vehicle there is no reason to customize them. The stock items you start with are the notable exception, but once you move up from them all parts are the same.
There is support for local multiplayer as well as online play, but unfortunately you can't play multiplayer online online is for one player only. Your track and vehicle selections are limited to what you've unlocked in the single player game unfortunately. In local multiplayer each player gets to choose their vehicle, rider gear and rider skills the first and last of which allow you to handicap races yourself. The screen is split vertically, with no option to change it to a horizontal split. The vertical split works well enough, though the screen is small enough that you can't always see the whole track, which can make cornering a bit tricky. One gripe with online play is that you can't quit while match-making is in progress. A couple of times I tried to set up my own session, but found the match-making was taking too long (over five minutes). Unfortunately the only way to exit this was to quit the game, which is archaic by any standard.
One advantage to MX and ATV vehicles is that you can use your weight to make them turn more sharply. You can do this in the game by pushing the right-stick as you go around corners. This is referred to as reflex turning and it's quite effective. During the hustle and bustle of races you're going to bump into your rivals often. Any particularly hard contact (with a rival or obstacle, including the ground on landing a jump) has the potential to throw you from your vehicle. At these times you're given a small window of time to hit the right-stick in the direction shown onscreen to save yourself from falling. It's a neat feature and before long it becomes second nature.
To help you out with jumping and cornering the game has, by default, corner and jump assist turned on. They're helpful at first, but it won't be long before you turn them off and wing it on your own. You also have the ability to perform stunts like 360-spins, backflips and other tricks by holding down the R1 button and moving the right-stick in various ways. This feature is massively under-developed though, and served little purpose beyond some fun in free ride events.
This problem is made worse by the fact that you start with just two national events, two short-track races and two free ride environments to explore. You don't get more until you hit level ten, and that's going to take thirty-odd races to get close to. At level ten you only unlock four more national events and one short-track race and you won't get more until level twenty-five. Ugh. The lack of content truly is bewildering.
It's not just career mode that has bitten the dust, but prior games in the series had more race types to play and more vehicles to choose from, while customizing your vehicle actually added some benefit. The developers have left stunts in the game, but provided very little reason beyond sixty-second jam sessions' in free ride events, to explore them.
On the track there are some problems with MX vs ATV Alive too. If you go off the track the game will restart you back on the track, but the way this is handled seems completely arbitrary sometimes they're militant and restart you after mere milliseconds off the track, while at other times you're given a lot of leeway. You're supposed to have the option to reset your car to the track once you go out of bounds, but in truth the option appears only sporadically. You can bail at any time by pushing the finger-twisting combo of L1+R1+L3+R3, but the animation takes so long that this has next to no viable use. You'll also find line-markers such as small posts, tyres and boxes, have the ability to stop you dead in your tracks. There's nothing like being out in first-place only to nudge a tyre and find yourself stuck. It's frustrating and made worse by the fact that these objects can be knocked onto the track so you can hit them while driving up the middle of the road Ugh.
The music is solid, with plenty of hard rock (ok, not really that hard) songs getting you in the mood for racing. There's not much in the way of speech in the game, though your driver will yell some indecipherable things at opponents as he goes flying past. You may not understand him, but it is kinda cool. The sound effects are fine engines sound like they should, and heavy impact between vehicles sounds beefy enough. There's nothing to knock your socks off here, but it's one of the better aspects of the game.
MX vs ATV Alive is a step back for the franchise, and racing games in general. No multi-race events in a racing game? Outrageous! There is not much content here, and what's worse, you only have access to portions of it until you level up. The racing itself isn't too bad actually, but as a package this has little to offer even the most ardent off-road racing fan.
Review By: Mike Allison