It's been a couple of years since MX vs. ATV Untamed hit the shelves, and while I'm sure the game had its fans, it was generally received by mixed reviews, including our own. Many of the criticisms leveled against the game were simply that the gameplay was getting stale; visually the game needed an upgrade, that the freestyle tricks system was far too complicated, and frankly not a whole lot of fun. Reflex promised to introduce a new control and physics model, and address many of the criticisms of past releases.
Fortunately, Reflex delivers on that promise. And having an additional year to refine the gameplay and rework the physics has definitely paid off. Quite frankly, this is the best racing game Rainbow has ever developed.
Upon starting the game, you're instantly thrown into a tutorial to introduce you to the gameplay changes, and allow you to try out a few techniques before ever hitting the track in an event. These tutorials are excellent and do a great job of introducing the new control elements, and the freestyle tricks system. Given the scope of the changes, they'll also help to get long-term fans of the series up to speed and break some of the habits of old.
Reflex offers three primary modes of play, arcade, MotoCareer, and multiplayer supporting Xbox Live and PSN, split-screen, or system link. Most of the tracks and event types are locked at the beginning, so you'll quickly want to jump into the MotoCareer to unlock them for play in arcade mode.
Reflex offers seven different classes of vehicles, MX, MX Lite, ATV, Sport Buggy, UTV, Sport Truck, and Sport 2 Truck, used across various events (and some mixed events, like Omnicross). One of the big strengths of Reflex is the wealth of event types, each supporting a different set of vehicle classes and tracks. Nationals are races on large outdoor tracks, where winning is both a combination of luck and skill. The tracks tend to composed of fairly rough and mixed terrain, with little margin for error. Supercross is much more technical, indoor arenas with huge jumps, where timing and precision are everything. Omnicross are races with mixed vehicle classes, you'll find vehicles of all classes competing on more open-world tracks, to be the first to cross the finish line. Champion Sport Track are closed track races with the larger vehicle offerings, that tend to be more like the traditional racing you're used to seeing. As well, Reflex offers waypoint races, which are huge open-world tracks where race from point-to-point and try to be the first to make it to the final flag. My personal favourite, freestyle mode where you push your bike or ATV to the limits and perform huge stunts in large crowd-packed stadiums, and finally a free ride mode that allows you to explore the large outdoor tracks at your leisure.
You'll likely spend most of your time in either the MotoCareer or Multiplayer modes of Reflex. In MotoCareer, you'll create a rider and work through a series of championship events, earning money along the way to purchase new rides, as well as unlocking tracks and new vehicle classes. These championship events are typically divided down into three to five races each. For example, in a Supercross championship, you may have two Supercross races, and then a "special event" for the finale. Oddly enough, this final event may or may not be Supercross (perhaps a heavy sport truck race), and generally has a variation, like elimination or beat the clock. My personal favorite has to be the freestyle championships. I find the new tricks system to be both very precise and simply a lot of fun (which isn't something I could say about the freestyle in Untamed).
For the multiplayer offerings, you'll find all of the previously mentioned modes, as well as two others, tag and snake. In the tag mode, players explore a large open-world looking for a giant ball, the first player to find the ball becomes "it", with the goal of holding into it for sixty seconds. Any time another player hits the ball, they become "it". Snake on the other hand has similarities to the classic game Tron, starting out with one barrier that, as soon as you touch it are eliminated. The game gets increasingly difficult (and more fun) as more players lines are added into the mix. Each of the multiplayer modes are available over Xbox Live and PlayStation Network for up to twelve players, as well as split-screen and system link.
Regardless of how many modes a game offers, the real question is how does it play? In this respect, Reflex nails it. With the two-year development window, Rainbow has drastically modified the gameplay and physics model, which may come with a bit of a learning curve for long-term fans of the series. For the first time in the MX vs. ATV series you have independent rider control on the bikes and ATVs. Using your right thumbstick, you can shift their weight around, allowing you to better handle tight corners and nail those perfect landings. The left thumbstick controls the handle bars, and the triggers provide acceleration and braking respectively. Finally, you can enable freestyle mode by holding down the left bumper, and moving the right thumbstick in a pattern to perform a trick or combination of tricks. All in all, the controls feel very intuitive, and Rainbow has really nailed the gameplay this time around.
Another introduction to the series is the addition of deformable terrain. As you kick up mud and dirt, you'll carve grooves out of the track and create bumps that'll force you to tweak your line as a race progresses. This is particularly noticeable in the Supercross events, where positioning and speed out of a corner can determine whether or not you have enough height to clear a jump. In fact, the bumps, turns, and jumps feel spot on, the best the series has ever offered. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the collision detection between riders and trackside obstacles.
Mid-air and ground collisions between bikes and ATVs are common, in most cases you'd expect both riders to wipe out. In Reflex, while this is often the case, there's a bit of random luck involved. As well, coming into contact with soft bails at the side of each track seem to cause a strange interaction with the bikes and ATVs, you'll usually go flying with even a minor collision at low speed. It's even worse with the larger vehicles and walls, simply brush up against a wall or another buggy and you'll often flip uncontrollably. Colliding with another truck results in somewhat unpredictable results, sometimes you'll continue, while other times you'll fly off the track. Even the traditional maneuvers to spin out or push around an opponent don't work very well. A few rough spots in the gameplay we can hope get refined with a patch down the road, and fortunately it's about the only flaws I was able to find with the game. For the most part, these are an annoyance but not a game-breaker, ideally in a very technical sport like motocross you should spend most of your time on the track and not lying in the dirt. Still, it's an area that needs polish and some additional tweaking.
Rainbow has also addressed a huge criticism of past games, and that is simply, it's no fun to wipe out, regardless of how realistic it makes the game feel. In Reflex, if you land a jump poorly or start to loose your balance, you'll be given a brief window to save your rider from a nasty spill. A small arrow will appear on screen, and if you're quick enough in flicking your right control stick in the direction of the arrow, you'll recover with only a small penalty of having to steady yourself, rather then cleaning out your wounds post-race. An excellent addition that simply makes the game a lot more enjoyable.
Visually, Reflex is stunning. The huge open-world environments are densely populated, and look spectacular. The game offers a wealth of varying environments as well, be it slinging mud and sand, racing through a backcountry forest, or edging along a snowy peak on an ice and snow covered trail. Rider and vehicle models are nicely detailed, and the rider animations are very good. This time around, Rainbow has made an effort to bring the excitement of live Supercross and freestyle events to Reflex. Whether it's the crowd cheering in a massive stadium as you nail a trick, the fireworks exploding as you take the checkered flag in a Supercross race, or the motion-captured thirty second girls shaking their hips prior to the drop of the gates, Reflex does a great job of bringing a few of the elements of the live experience into the game.
Reflex is the best game in the MX vs. ATV series to date, and is an all around great racer. The physics and gameplay enhancements really improve this release over past iterations, and the introduction of deformable terrain is a nice touch. A wealth of vehicle classes and gameplay modes, a freestyle tricks system that's both simplistic and a lot of fun, and graphics that really brings the sport to life. In all, Reflex is a great racer and is a must have for any fan of the Nationals or Supercross circuit.