It’s been a while since Rainbow Studios released an MX vs. ATV game. They took a two year break after MX vs, ATV Untamed back in 2008 but are back in the saddle with a brand new engine and a huge expansion of gameplay. Untamed was a broad multi-console affair that tried to update the mechanics of the last console generation with current gen visuals. For better or worse, Reflex is a bold new direction for the series with a strictly current gen, HD mentality, with all the graphics and physics that come with it.
Rainbow has been doing MX vs. ATV games for a while so they have the basic structure down to a science. There are career and arcade modes, both comprised of indoor and outdoor races and freestyle trick competitions. One new addition is the open world segments where you can explore a large patch of terrain for flags that start challenges and races. This mode added a bit of freedom to the typically linear gameplay, but it isn’t the game’s biggest new feature.
The titular reflex is Rainbow’s way of shaking up the series. They’ve completely overhauled the controls by implementing a unique balance system called rider reflex. In previous games you steered your vehicle with the left analog stick and your rider controlled his balance pretty much on his own. Reflex maps total control of weight and balance to the right analog stick.
This means that you steer with the left stick and shift your balance with the right stick. You need good control of both to maneuver and corner well, and the scheme has a pretty rugged learning curve. Reflex does offer some advantages, though. In addition to allowing finer control, it makes it easier to recover from bad landings. If you plant at a bad angle and are skewing into a crash, an arrow will flash on the screen, indicated the direction you need to shift your weight in to regain balance. It won’t save you from a catastrophically skewed landing but it’s a lot better than guessing.
The right stick isn’t just for balancing, though; once you’ve ramped into the air it’s used for tricks. When airborne you can hold down one of the 360’s bumpers and twirl in a quick sequence of directions on the right stick. This will initiate a midair trick, and as long as you time it right you should hit the ground running, so to speak. Each trick corresponds to a different sequence of stick directions so it’s a lot like memorizing combos in a fighting game. Unfortunately the detection can be a little flaky and recognize a different trick than the one you entered or more tricks than you intended to pull off, leading to occasional crashes. This gameplay is imperative to the freestyle challenge mode so the inconsistencies can get frustrating.
The second big change to the MX vs. ATV formula is that the game isn’t exclusively about bikes and ATVs anymore—Reflex throws trucks and buggies into the mix too. These bruisers lack a lot of the subtlety fans of the series have come to expect from the smaller, less stables vehicles. They are also a lot more straightforward, and racing them feels a lot more like a standard racing game, just with a lot more mud and off-road action. These vehicles are a fun twist on the established series but they aren’t as varied or customizable as the bikes and ATVs.
Each vehicle type has its own career track but there is also an omnicross mode that mixes them all together into a single race. This idea is good on paper but in practice it gets a bit crazy. The big solid trucks and buggies can positively steamroll through the bikes and ATVs so on a whole omnicross feels pretty unbalanced. Its fun for a taste of chaos once in a while but don’t expect to treat omnicross with the same level of dedication and seriousness as you would the individual career paths.
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