It’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of things that you see on TV that look like they would be really fun to try are actually quite uncomfortable, dangerous, or both. Take, for example, Red Bull Air Racing, Motocross (MX) motorcycle racing, and being married to Angelina Jolie. The Air Racing, while it looks cool and exciting, fits both the dangerous (I think we can safely stipulate that as being self-evident) and the uncomfortable tags. I doubt that many of you have felt the effects of a 9G turn, but having pulled 4Gs or so myself I can assure you that it is anything but comfortable. Being married to Angie? Just ask Brad Pitt. Motocross racing? Well, we’re here to find that out.
Specifically, we’re here to talk about MX vs. ATV: Untamed, a new release from THQ/Rainbow Studios for the Xbox 360. If you’ve ever seen a motocross race, there are a few facets of it that you will certainly remember. Most likely, the first thing that jumps to mind is, well, the jumps. The motorcycles are light and powerful, and the tracks are designed with many hills throughout them. The combination of ‘light, powerful motorcycle’ plus ‘lots of hills’ equals ‘flying motorcycles’. Or, in my case, ‘flying motorcycle rider’, but we’ll get to that. One of the other traits associated with this type of racing is dirt. Plenty of dirt. Copious amounts of dirt. Dirt everywhere. Dirt being thrown in rooster tails from the rear tires of the bikes. Dirt, dirt, and more dirt. Well, unless there’s mud. Or both. Dirt AND mud. Riders so covered in it that all you can see is their eyes behind the visor of their helmets, and even that much only if they have tear-offs left. In a word, MX racing is messy. Finally, you probably remember the sound of the engines. They don’t have the deep, pounding thunder of a street bike. Instead, they have a quick-revving, raspy noise, and when they’re racing in large numbers (which they do), they have the sound of a hive of disturbed hornets.
Now, being as I’m of an age where I view a broken collarbone as more that just a minor inconvenience, it is too late for me to ever ride one of these bikes in the way they’re intended to be ridden. I could probably putter around a parking lot, or even ride a relatively flat trail, but I don’t believe that I will ever leap 30 feet into the air, kick the bike out into a sick nac-nac, and land gracefully (and safely) back on terra firma. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to, of course, but at some point in your life the “common frikking sense” gene is bound to become dominant, and I’m there. Fortunately, I have the benefit of maturing in synch with the maturation of electronic devices that allow me to feel the vicarious thrill of things like this with ever increasing fidelity. Will I ever know the true thrill of landing a big jump? No, of course not, but I will also never know the true feeling of crushing both testicles against the unforgiving seat of an MX bike. A fair trade, that. But, and this is a big butt (heh, worked in another Angelina Jolie reference when you weren’t looking!), I will get to experience some portion of both of those, without incurring any further risk to bodily damage than that which will likely occur when I bring home an Xbox 360 without asking the wife first.
This brings us (finally!) to MX vs. ATV: Untamed, which from here on out, I will refer to as MXvATV. All that stuff that I labored through above? It’s all in there. The jumps (and the falls). The dirt. The apoidea-like (Look it up. I did.) sound of the engines. And it’s all there in glorious 1080i HD. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, there’s one more thing that needs to be defined. I’ve already talked about ‘MX’, or motocross. The ‘ATV’ in the title refers to what are essentially MX bikes with training wheels, or ‘All Terrain Vehicles’. They have four wheels. And, as we all know, if it has wheels, people will race it. The category of ATVs is very broad, going all the way from sporty little quads up to full-size trucks suffering from automotive Elephantiasis, or ‘Monster Trucks’ in the vernacular. The ‘MX vs. ATV’ moniker comes from pretty much what you would infer simply from reading it, which is that in MXvATV you will participate in races in which both classes are entered. As you can imagine, this combination of four-wheel and two-wheel vehicles pitted against each other on tracks that cause personal injury lawyers to salivate more than they do upon the release of a new, as yet non-class action suit pharmaceutical, is very exciting. So exciting, in fact, that participants are encouraged to being a spare femur or two.
With the combination of MX and ATV in the same game, the extent of the list of vehicles included in MXvATV is lengthy. In the motorcycle class, there are three engine sizes running from the diminutive 50cc up to the blustery 250cc. The 50cc bike, or ‘mini-MX’, may sound docile and easy to tame, but you will be surprised. What it lacks in power, it makes up in nimbleness. It’s small, of course, and you will look like a clown in the circus or a Shriner in a parade riding it, but that doesn’t make the racing any less challenging. The big 250cc bike is stronger and will mask riding errors better, but isn’t as quick through the turns. In my limited experience, the 50cc racing seemed closer than that of the larger bikes. In other words, I didn’t lose by quite as much. Falling off of either during a race has the same result: you will probably get run over by another rider. Don’t ask me how I know this, please.
The list of four wheeled vehicles is more extensive, with the differences having far more to do with chassis than engine size. At the lower end, there are the traditional quad runners that you’ll see tearing up the turf at any state park. From there, you can move up to larger vehicles like sand rails, sport trucks, monster trucks, and even a four wheel drive golf cart. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, ranging from power to drivability. It’s pretty intuitive, actually: the little quad runners are not super powerful, but agile enough to battle head-to-head with the MX cycles. At the other end of the spectrum, the Monster Trucks drive like they look: bloated, bulky, and bouncy.
MXvATV does a good job of modeling these differences in performance, and with each change of vehicle you will find that you also have to change your racing style. This is a critical component in the whole ‘versus’ thing, of course. There wouldn’t be much value in having different classes of vehicles race with each other if they all performed exactly the same, would there? (For those if you that don’t understand hypothetical questions, I’ll let you off the hook and give you the answer: No, there wouldn’t.)
Beyond the variety of vehicles, MXvATV also provides an enormous breadth in tracks and racing series. Those are somewhat intertwined, of course, with the standard Motocross races using all-dirt indoor and outdoor tracks, the Supercross series using tracks of both dirt and pavement, and the Endurocross class (which, because of its obvious over-the-top sadistic nature, I had assumed was just made-up by the game developers but does, in fact, exist) using tracks made up of dirt, boulders, logs, and land mines. There are also Opencross tracks which are notable for their sheer length. These tracks meander through miles of open country with bridge crossings, canyons, wide-open deserts, and generous elevation changes, all of which provide a suitable environment for the larger vehicles like the sport and monster trucks. In all cases, the tracks were attractive and detailed. On the tighter MX tracks, I preferred the standard third-person view, but the more open tracks favored the more realistic first-person view. In particular, I liked the realistic way the dirt thrown up by vehicles in front of me (which was most of them, naturally) in the first-person view. It took me awhile to get over my natural inclination to duck when large clumps of mud flew at me. Ah, HD, will you never grow old?
MXvATV gives you the option of customizing your races with various combinations of tracks and vehicles, or for the indecisive it will randomly select races for you. There are various series that you can play in a career mode, and there are a couple of flavors of multiplayer. There is split screen for those that have another player right there with them, and multiplayer for those that can only maintain relationships with people hundreds of miles away. I tried both, and preferred the split screen if only because it was a game I could actually beat my teenager at. I played online multiplayer for an hour or so against the development team, and with that I wasn’t nearly as successful. In fact, if I didn’t finish a race in last place it was only because someone took a bio-break or something. At least with the AI racers, other bikers would fall down or face plant like I do (as it turns out, I did win the award for “furthest distance flown before digging a face divot”), but these guys were really good. Or at least I assume they were; I never saw much of them after the first couple of turns. This is true of the AI riders as well on the higher difficulty levels, but I least I could choose to lobotomize those guys down to a level where I could keep up.
No discussion of MX racing would be complete without at least mentioning tricks. Tricks are the insane, inappropriate, and incredibly foolish things that people that view a ruptured spleen as nothing more annoying that a hang nail do to fill the boring moments at the top of a three-story jump. Nac-nacs, lazy boys, cliffhanger, kickouts, and can-cans are examples of these various forms of idiocy, and they are all built into MXvATV. I learned a few things about tricks while I was playing MXvATV:
• They don’t count unless you can land them. There’s no partial credit here.
• It’s not a good idea to taunt the guys in 2nd and 3rd place in the rare occasions that you’re leading a race; you will sound find yourself in 7th place, wondering how you got there.
• You should probably make sure your jump trajectory is towards open track rather than the expensive seats in the arena before doing a trick. Actually, in that situation you might as well do the trick and go out in style, because you most assuredly are going out.
If the measure of a good game is a wide variety of ways to enjoy the genre, MXvATV delivers with generous amounts of vehicles, tracks, and racing series.
If the measure of a good racing game is that it takes practice to do well and it models real-world go-fast racing tricks, MXvATV also delivers. Learning how to time jumps to ensure that you land on the top or downslope of the next hill is critical – landing on the upslope is not only painful but slllooowww. Learning how to use the ‘preload’ that enables you to extend the length of your jumps is also very important – it can make the difference between clearing three hurdles or having to deal with them the slow, gound-bound way. Knowing when NOT to use the preload can be pretty important too, in that extending a jump beyond the boundaries of a track isn’t all that great of an idea.
If the measure of a good game is a combination of believable and immersive graphics and sound, MXvATV does a very good job. I don’t think this is the strongest part of MXvATV, but I also don’t believe it should be. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with either the graphics or the sound, mind you, but the meat of a game like this should always be the racing and riding mechanics.
With these measurements in mind, I rate MXvATV as a very good game. I enjoyed my time playing it, and it is going to be hard to return the loaner Xbox 360 to its owner. The racing is fun, the jumps are extreme, and the vicarious thrill of a closely contested moto delivers on the promise of an “Untamed World.”
MX vs. ATV: Untamed is a solid performer and offers a broad experience in off-road racing. It's fun in both single- and multi-player and is definitely worth a look if you enjoy getting dirty.