MX vs. ATV has quickly become the go-to franchise for motocross fans looking to get their race on. With this year's iteration, MX vs. ATV Alive, THQ decided to change things up a bit. Instead of releasing a fully-loaded, and fully-priced, game at launch, they opted to offer the "core game" at a reduced price of $40, and supplement it with downloadable content after launch. While the idea sounds promising, the reality is that right now, Alive just doesn't have enough content to justify even the reduced price tag.
As the game's title suggests, players can race an assortment of MX bikes and ATVs in Alive. Unlike traditional racing games, players have to use both thumb sticks in order to race, with the left stick controlling the vehicle, and the right stick controlling the rider. It takes a few races to get used to the game's control scheme, but once you do, you'll be hooked. Shifting your weight to lean into corners feels natural and is extremely satisfying. There are rider assists to help newer players who have never played a motocross racing game before, which certainly helps those who are looking to branch into the genre. Overall, the racing action in Alive is fantastic, for newcomers and series veterans alike.
Collisions play a much larger role in Alive than they did in the previous title, Reflex. The physics of how players crash into each other has been completely reworked, and is much more realistic this time around. Instead of simply crashing to the ground when you hit other racers, you can save your bike through the wreck avoidance system. If it looks like you're about to take a spill, an arrow prompt will appear on screen. Move the right thumb stick in same direction as the arrow in time, and you won't wreck. The wreck avoidance system definitely rewards those with quick reflexes, and is very well implemented. Arrows thankfully don't appear on screen every time someone lightly brushes up against you, and some wrecks are so devastating that they simply can't be avoided just as it should be.
Right now, there are only three game modes in Alive: National (which are standard races), Short Track, and Free Ride. As you race (no matter the mode), you gain experience points which increases your overall level. As your level increases, you unlock more content. While the idea sounds cool, the system for unlocking new stuff is downright bad. At the beginning of the game, there are only two National courses to race on. At level 10, four more are unlocked, and then at level 25, six more are unlocked. In total, there are 50 levels.
Alternatively, if you don't want to spend the time unlocking new tracks the old fashioned way, you can just break out your credit card and pay to have them unlocked. Wanting players to do this is the only reason I can think of why THQ would decide to have all of the courses unlocked at two specific points instead of staggering them throughout the levels. And it's not just the National courses either the two additional Short Tracks are unlocked at levels 10 and 25 as well, as are the higher classes of vehicles. Thankfully, experience points can be gained in any mode you play, both offline and online, so no matter what you end up doing, you'll be working towards those two specific milestones. Still, the unlock system is awfully repetitive and poorly designed.
The only things not unlocked at levels 10 and 25 are new parts and other items used to customize your rides. Fans of motocross will get the most out of the customization options in Alive, and thankfully there is a lot of it. Virtually everything about your bike can be customized, from the handlebars, to the exhaust, to the suspension. And real world sponsors, like Fox Racing, can be branded over just about everything.
A big letdown in Alive is the absence of any kind of structured career mode. If you don't have a friend to play split screen with, the only things to do are race against the AI in what is essentially a "quick race" or against other people online. This makes gaining experience points a real chore after a while, as you're doing the same exact few races over and over again. For gamers who need a little bit of motivation to keep playing a game, Alive might not be for you.
Although there aren't enough of them, the courses in Alive are varied and look great. In fact, the overall graphics in Alive are stunningly beautiful. The lighting effects are particularly great, creating an assortment of shadows throughout the massive courses. Like in Reflex, the terrain is deformable in Alive, meaning that as the race goes on, the dirt tracks will become more and more worn out. Not only does the terrain look great, but it also affects your driving, as you can feel the grooves carved from other racers. Other subtle graphical touches, such as your racer's jersey fluttering in the wind, help make Alive look outstanding.
As a racing game, MX vs. ATV Alive is fantastic. The controls are near perfect, the action is always intense, and it's just a fun game to play. Unfortunately, a bad system for unlocking new stuff and a severe lack of content really hold Alive back from reaching its full potential. Hopefully THQ delivers some quality downloadable content in the coming months, because if any game deserves it, it's MX vs. ATV Alive.