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August 1, 2011
MX Vs ATV Alive - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
12/5/2011THQTHQDigital Studios Phoenix1-22-12
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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MX Vs ATV Alive is out now on PS3.
From what I can tell the MX vs ATV series has been around for a while, with MX vs ATV Alive marking the fourth title in the series. Before that, going all the way back to 2001 on the PS2, THQ had released three other 'MX' branded games. The developer behind the MX vs ATV series, Digital Studios Phoenix (formerly Rainbow Studios), has apparently been making motorcross games since at least 1998 (I tried looking for more information but my lack of google expertise foiled me) when they released Motorcross Madness. So you may be wondering why I'm giving you a history lesson behind the two companies responsible for putting this game on our shelves; the answer is simple – I'm looking for some reason behind some of the strange design decisions they've made with MX vs ATV Alive. What strange design designs? Read on...

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.

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Racing some motorcross bikes.
Once your race is over, or you exit free ride, you'll earn both rider and vehicle experience points based on your performance. With regards to rider XP, the better you finish the more points you receive, along with a bonus based on the difficulty level you used. There are also a number of race objectives to strive for, such as finishing on the podium, finishing a race without crashing and overtaking opponents x number of times. These objectives are earned across all races, not in a specific race. Each goal has a bronze, silver and gold award with the better awards earning you more experience. Leveling up your rider is important because it unlocks more tracks as well as different gear, such as goggles, helmets and butt patches.

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.

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MX Vs ATV Alive is visually solid.
On the track the racing is generally fun, though there are a few frustrations. Off-road racing, and off-road tracks, are different from other racetracks. One of the primary differences is the number of bumps and jumps on the track. A key to recording fast lap times is to get the jumps just right; landing on the down-slope of a hill lets you maintain good speed, whereas landing half-way up a hill will obviously slow you down. You are able to launch yourself off jumps by pulling down on the right-stick, and you can go even further through a technique known as seat-bouncing, by clicking R3 at just the right moment. Both of these techniques will give you more air-time but don't guarantee you will land where you want to. Once you're in the air you have little control over where you land, though you should always land with all wheels hitting the ground at the same time for the smoothest possible landing.

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.

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One of the massive indoor tracks.
So, going back to the design decisions mentioned in the intro – the game is full of them. The strangest decision of them all is to do away with career mode entirely, and not even supplement it with the ability to race in cups, championships or any other multi-race events. Honestly, a racing game without multi-race events is like a sports game without a season to play. It kills the longevity of the game, and makes no sense seeing as previous games in the series did have a career mode.

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.

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Getting some air in an ATV.
Graphically the game looks alright, but certainly not up to the standard set by other racing games. Objects in the distance seem slightly cartoony rather than realistic, and they're not always clearly defined. With that said most of your focus is going to be on your driver and those around you, and they all look decent enough. The different racing gear and vehicle parts may not make a big difference to performance but they do add great variety to the people on the track. One slight disappointment is that despite racing on mud throughout, you don't see mud go flying, nor watch the drivers get progressively dirtier as the race progresses.

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

GRAPHICSThe different gear and vehicle parts add variety between the drivers and vehicles. The environments are plain though, and it would have been nice to see more mud flying around.
SOUNDRocking tunes, though they repeat too often, and solid sound effects.
GAMEPLAYOn the track this game isn't too bad. A tutorial to help learn the finer art of launching, seat bouncing and stunt combinations would have been welcome.
VALUENo career mode is galling, and the lack of useful things to do with stunts is an issue too. Online play is ok, but unlikely to keep you coming back too long.
OVERALLSome strange design decisions have made this game a step back for the series. With a bit more love (career mode, more tracks, some value to stunts and a tutorial) this would have been much better. In its current form though, it's one to avoid.

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