Replay Value: 7
Rainbow Studios has often provided racers with solid and entertaining experiences over the years, which is why we were excited to check out their latest offering. MX vs. ATV Reflex gives us the option of racing with MX dirt bikes, ATVs, and even dune buggies and trophy trucks. Furthermore, the team went out of their way to present us with more of a dynamic atmosphere; our vehicles have a visible effect on the tracks, we have a new system for tricks, and there’s the unique feature of controlling both the vehicle and the rider. Then you have multiple events, including the oddly addictive Free Ride that allows you to zing around in a wide open area, exploring and practicing to your heart’s content. There are individual Challenges to be find scattered about the landscape and not all races force you to stick to a certain path. So, there are plenty of positives about the game, but I found the control to be a bit too loose, and some of these additions and features just don’t have the profound impact I expected them to have. It can still be fun, but it just feels incomplete.
The graphics aren’t a highlight of this one, although there’s a good bit of impressive detail applied to some of the vehicles and certain aspects of the environment. For instance, while Rainbow clearly went out of their way to create very realistic dirt and mud, the trees and other environmental elements suffer from bad textures and less-than-refined visual polish. The backdrops could’ve used a lot more work in this respect. However, as you’ll spend most of your time concentrating on the task at hand, you’ll typically have the game’s best visual efforts right before your eyes. As I said, the detail applied to the riders, vehicles and most racetracks is more than satisfactory, although I would’ve liked to have seen more in the way of particle effects. With all that mud and dirt, shouldn’t we see at least some natural debris flying around? And if you’re turned off by the dirty, dark exterior, you clearly aren’t a fan of the sport in question; the atmosphere really does appear just about right, despite its flaws.
The sound is a blend of mediocre sound effects, decent voice acting and a kick-ass soundtrack. The effects are really disappointing to my ears, as the ATVs really don’t sound right, and when the engine revs in mid-air with just about any vehicle, it sounds muted, unclear and very last-generation. There’s also very little in the way of impact effects, like when you smack against opponents or slam into obstacles. It often sounds as if nothing happened at all, even when another vehicle lands on your head. But the soundtrack is totally bad-ass although I realize that if you’re not a fan of hard rock or heavy metal, you likely won’t find it as appealing. It kicks in at different times when racing, there’s some decent diversity in terms of available tracks, and overall, it really helps to amplify the experience. A deep, gritty voice accompanies your early exploits and explains some tutorials, and although I don’t know who he is, the voice is pretty impressive. It’s just too bad that the effects are so far below the standards other racers have met and even surpassed.
In regards to the gameplay, let’s just get this out of the way now: if you’ve played other titles from this developer, you’re already familiar with the controls and features in MX vs. ATV Reflex. They still strive for some authenticity when out on the track, as you’ll need to lean, brake, and balance yourself appropriately in all situations. As mentioned in the intro, there are plenty of different events and challenges, and a fairly in-depth trick system that requires timing and accuracy. The competition can be as stiff as you like – there are several difficulty levels – and the career mode lets you buy new rides, tweak your racer, and participate in dozens upon dozens of events in many different environments. It can be a little frustrating at times, primarily due to a control scheme that may often feel a little loose and wonky, but determination and patience will usually win the day. You can fool around in the Arcade mode and experiment with many of the available vehicles, or you can earn them by diving into the Career. All in all, it’s a relatively robust, enjoyable off-road racer.
But I just have to harp on a few areas that just scream “unrealized potential.” First of all, there’s the combination of leaning and steering; if your rider is in a position to lean (like when’s riding an MX bike or an ATV), you can do so with the right analog stick. This is supposed to help you get into the exact right position for taking a turn, as you negotiate the turns with the left analog. The only problem is, it doesn’t appear to be all that necessary and when you’re in mid-air, it doesn’t work perfectly. The loose controls can easily make you slide off the track and sometimes, it just doesn’t seem as if the combination of steering and riding offers a positive assist. Then there’s the idea of pressing the right analog in the right direction the instant before falling. In precarious situations, an arrow will flash on the screen, indicating an up, down, left or right movement; if you hit in time, you’ll stick. If not, down you go. It’s just that this can pop up during strange situations, like when everything appears to be just fine.
Then there’s the trick system, which actually works quite well, despite the differences in past off-road titles. This time around, you’ll need to think of multiple elements when attempting a trick and judges will score you based on more than a few categories. Therefore, how you execute in the air and how you land will all be taken into account. It’s a pretty decent mechanic but it can get a bit touchy… If you don’t land almost exactly right, you’ll typically take a spill. And while this is certainly realistic, it can get a little frustrating for the especially tough tricks. Still, it’s a lot of fun and allows the player to get some serious air. Another highlight of the game is the free-roaming aspect of the Free Ride and certain events, where you basically have to pick your own path. This was really my favorite feature of the whole game and it really helped me to overlook some of the iffy controls. Last but not least is the changing environments on the racetracks, which is cool but a little underwhelming.
Flying through the dirt and mud will leave tracks but that’s not all. In addition to being a cosmetic alteration, this also has a direct impact on your stability as the race continues. The more vehicles cross over the same stretch of track, the more churned up it’s going to get, and the more unreliable your steering will be when driving through that section. In addition to the free roaming, I liked this feature as well; it just didn’t seem to have much of an impact on certain tracks. It appeared to have a semi-realistic effect on the vehicle but while it makes sense for MX bikes, I’m not sure it would have such a significant effect on the trophy trucks. Nevertheless, it’s an appreciate feature and if Rainbow wants to implement it again, I’m sure they can build on this basic foundation. The multiplayer tends to lag and the frame rate tends to suffer, though, and the latter can actually cause outright full-second freezes, which is definitely a drawback. Add in the minor control issues and the gameplay does falter at times.
In the end, MX vs. ATV Reflex is an okay effort that may resonate with fans of off-road racing, and it’s worth your time if you want some high-flying, high-octane fun. However, the sound effects needed to be revamped and brought out more, the new features don’t have quite the impact they could’ve had, the technical aspects can drag, and the trick system – while mostly well done – isn’t perfect. Perhaps it’s best to wait until it’s a bargain bit purchase.