A title I saw briefly at E3 was MX vs. ATV Reflex at THQ’s booth. At the time, I didn’t get enough information to really have an opinion on the game but the one thing that was cool was seeing how the terrain deformed when riding an ATV. THQ recently hosted an event where I got a closer look at the game as well as participating in the first ever multiplayer portion of the game in a public setting.
MX vs. ATV Reflex features a brand now, built from the ground up physics engine. Rainbow Studios has completely revamped the physics to be more accurate and realistic with how vehicles react to surfaces and other vehicles during collisions.
What really sets the game apart though in terms of visuals and gameplay is the real time dynamic terrain deformation that I saw at E3. Since then, the game’s actually done more to improve on this feature. As you drive over various softer surfaces such as mud, snow, or loose dirt you’ll see your tires dig in and push the dirt to the side. Different circumstances will create deeper or shallower ruts as you drive along.
Now, what’s really cool is the dirt gets pushed and moved to an area and just doesn’t disappear. The engine reconfigures the track so to speak with the new loose dirt and it does have some affect as you drive along it on future laps of the race. The ruts and bumps created as well offer up a different driving experience multiple times through as your vehicle well handle differently as you go over them.
Because it’s dynamic on how the ruts get created, you’ll get different results and a different race each time. Each lap creates a different makeup of the terrain as more and more vehicles drive over it. This isn’t just a great visual effect as the engine allows for really deep ruts to be created thereby affecting your driving performance immensely.
It was pretty impressive how well the engine handled all the drivers and the terrain deformation in real time without any hint of slowdown on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. As I was playing, anytime I was behind I would plan on where to position my vehicle based on how the road has changed. Again, it was different each time I raced through the track as the track wouldn’t be carved up the same on subsequent races and laps. It’s almost comparable to the AI Director in Left 4 Dead such that in that game, the Director changes each play through up a little to offer a slightly different experience even though you are playing the same map. The dynamic terrain deformation does the same thing as you’ll get a slightly different experience in the race due to how the drivers take the course ahead of you if you are not in the lead and after the first lap.
Also new the series and what seems to be this genre of racing is you have a separate control scheme for the rider itself. Now, riding an ATV you find out that you don’t just really sit there and turn the steering wheel as you shift your weight on turns or stand up during certain types of situations. Rainbow Studios mimicked this by placing control of the rider on the right stick.
As you turn your vehicle, you can generate a tighter turn by making your rider lean into it by pushing the right stick into the direction of the turn. You’ll see your rider on the screen shift his body around and also see the MX bike or ATV generate a sharper turn in the process. You can also use the right stick to lean the rider forward or backwards as well. You’ll want to do this, for example, when going over the tiny succession of bumps on the ground. If you lean the rider back, you can lift the wheel up a little and just skip along these bumps without breaking a sweat.
There’s also this new feature to help prevent crashing that the right stick uses. During some potential crashes, you’ll see a green arrow appear pointing at where you need to push the right stick. Pushing it time will cause your rider to save himself and continue on. Not doing it in time will earn yourself a nice tumble off your vehicle. Depending on the severity of the potential crash, you’ll get either a shorter or longer time to correct yourself from the fall. It’s a great way to alleviate some frustration as crashing doesn’t make the game fun if you’re doing it a lot and this feature allows you to recover from some types of crashes.
You can also yourself by position your vehicle at an angle that’s suitable for a good landing. If you see you’re coming down on a hill you can either brake or accelerate to tilt your vehicle to the desired angle you want to land in order to race on with all the wheels touching the ground. Think of the old Excitebike on the NES where you would move the bike left or ride to match the angle of the landing so you don’t bounce around. The same is done here where you can keep holding on the accelerator to rotate backwards or press on the break to rotate forwards. I used this technique a lot in subsequent test plays on areas where there are multiple subsequent jumps so that I can land in the optimal position to take the next jumpAnother improvement over past games is just the presentation before and during races. This was pretty evident on Supercross events where you get the build up to the race with panning camera shots of the riders, the video of the girl holding up the 30 second sign, and crowd reaction shots. Even during the race you’ll see things such as flash bulbs randomly going off as the crowd takes pictures and random crowd reactions as you race by. It really helps improve on the experience of the race and offers up another level in immersing you into the race besides just the track and racers themselves flying around.
Visually, the game looks outstanding with improved graphical detail and a lot of nice little subtle touches. As mentioned earlier, the dynamic terrain deformation helps create interesting looking roads as you race over them again on the next go around. All the textures and models have been pushed up a few notches to take advantage of the increased horse power in the 360 and the PS3. I was told they had up to 10X more resolution over the previous game in the graphical department.
Besides the improved visual representation of the environments around the race itself, I noticed some little things the rider does that really make the person seem more real. As you are changing speeds, you’ll see your rider rotate his hand on the accelerator. When going backwards, the rider will turn his head around to check what’s behind him. The clothes on the rider flutter in the wind as you go faster on an ATV or MX bike. There’s dynamic damage on cars as well as you’ll see panels loosen up and fall off as your car is hit more. As mentioned earlier, the crowd reactions are also some small and subtle that add to the overall graphical improvement in the game. These little things and many others not mentioned add up to give you a truly improved looking racing game over Unleashed.
Some old favorites from the past game also make their way into Reflex. Free ride is a feature that was popular and it returns here where you can just go online and ride around with others finding jumps and performing stunts without any restrictions. Online games such as Tag and Snake are also here as well along with other online mini games. I never played the previous game but I had a lot of fun with Snake. If you’re seen the movie Tron and watched the light cycle sequence, this is the same thing only in a 3D environment. Well, I guess it’s more modeled after Tron Legacy with 90 degree restrictions on your light path removed. As you race around, you’ll draw a colored wall behind you and any rider hitting that wall will be eliminated from the round. If you crash you’ll also be eliminated and the last person standing wins. Along with the races, these mini games add a little variety to the online gameplay available in MX vs. ATV Reflex
I am a little disappointed to hear that there’s no PC version planned unlike past titles as I would like to see the community offer up user created tracks for the game since the engine’s capable of much more. I was told by another editor that the online community is still flourishing with user made tracks for the past title.
While I’m not an ATV or Supercross fan, I did enjoy my time with MX vs. ATV Reflex that I could find myself picking this title up for some of the online gameplay and replayability offered bys the dynamic terrain deformation. I spoke with a few of the editors at the event and the ones that weren’t really into the sport enjoyed it as well. I used to play a lot of dirt bike racing games when I was younger and MX vs. ATV Reflex brought back some of the great memories I had with the genre. I’d like to thank THQ for the opportunity to check the game out in person as I had a lot of fun with the title.