I took a run through both the PS2 and DS iterations of MX vs. ATV Untamed, the latest rhythm racing game from THQ. Franchise veteran Rainbow Studios helmed the 360 and PS3 versions, Tantalus developed the PSP and DS ports, and Incinerator Games was stuck with bringing Untamed to the PS2. I have a feeling that Incinerator wasn’t too experienced with the MX vs. ATV series. I can’t speak for the quality of the PS3, PSP and 360 builds, but the PS2 version certainly falls short of the brief but engaging DS port.
Incinerator seems to have gotten the framework down at least. Untamed has the same two main modes the DS version had, X Cross Tournament and Custom Event, in addition to Quick Race, which lets you enter a race without configuring a ton of options. X Cross is pretty similar to how it worked on the DS, but includes challenge levels where you unlock new items and event types.
Custom has a lot more in the way of game types, from a freestyle stunt mode to waypoint courses to free roaming environments where you hunt for goodies. There’s a good amount to do, but it all focuses around the same general gameplay of rhythm racing. This would be great, if only Untamed for the PS2 got the handling right.
The controls are well organized, but they seem disconnected from the action on the screen. Regardless of whether you’re driving an ATV, MX bike or any of the other vehicles in the game, racing feels loose and floaty. I went careening off jumps and floated in the air for several seconds, and that was without even pre-loading my jump. Unless I fiddled around with the breaks and gas, I’d fly through corners and end up off the course. Gently nudging the control stick usually send my rider jerking wildly in that direction, and then flying off his vehicle as he wiped out. Landing was typically hard; with such loose, hypersensitive handling, most of the time my rider came down on his side. Needless to say, it was pretty hard to get the rhythm of each course when I was constantly fighting with the controls, which kind of defeats the purpose of rhythm racing.
The frustration was long and drawn out too, at least in the X Cross. Each race has two heats with five laps each, and until you finish both heats, the game will not save and record your rank. This means several minutes of spilling out, playing catch-up and smashing through hay bales until you’re ready to snap your controller in half. In the other events it wasn’t such a pain, but it was still a constant annoyance that hindered overall gameplay.
The graphics don’t do a lot to redeem Untamed. The riders and vehicles are actually well rendered, and you can trick them out with cool logos and sponsorships. There was a surprising amount of customization, up to the point where you can write your name on the back of your rider’s jumpsuit. The courses are another story though. The hills of dirt and sandy tracks tend to run together. I know this is an off-road racing game, and it’s supposed to be muddy and dusty, but there just wasn’t enough contrast in the tracks. I found myself running straight off the course many times, mainly because the blurry brown track wasn’t clear in where it curved. The backgrounds of the tracks, outdoors and stadiums are similarly bland and low-tech, even for a PS2 game.
The sound effects are pretty pedestrian, about what you’d expect, but Untamed does have a nice list of licensed music. Thankfully you can change the song from the pause menu in the middle of a race—listening to different songs at least livens up the monotony of the X Cross heats.
The single player mode has a nice selection of extras and party favors to accompany it. There’s an obligatory multiplayer, with online support (if anyone still plays PS2 games online). There are also some cool unlockables, which adds more vehicle variety than the DS version had. You can even drive a monster truck. It’s just a shame that the gameplay is flawed in such a fundamental way, and that ends up souring the rest of the experience. In a way, the PS2 build did the reverse of what the DS version did. On the DS, Untamed was light on extra content but offered tight satisfying controls. The PS2 version has a nice supply of additional goodies but the racing itself is uncomfortable and difficult to control. I have a feeling that the 360 and PS3 versions of Untamed have everything the PS2 one has to offer, but play a lot better too. If you have either of those consoles, you’re much better off playing MX vs. ATV Untamed there.
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