THQ MX vs.ATV Untamed: First Look

by: Dave -
I spent my first few hours learning my way around Rainbow Studio's MX Vs. ATV Untamed tonight, and all I can say is that I still have a lot left to learn.  What I don't have a lot left of, though, is unbroken bones.  I doubt if there is a crash animation in this game that I haven't already experienced at least a dozen times, and the very, very painful looking ones will no doubt plague me in my dreams tonight.  I've landed on every conceivable kind of surface in every conceivable position, and been run over by every conceivable off road conveyance.  None of this is particularly surprising, of course, but what is surprising is that it was quite a bit of fun and I'm anxious to get back into it and try some more.

There's a lot of breadth in this game, and I have to confess that my exploration of some of it is going to take awhile.  I lost count of how many different vehicle types there are, but I tried out at least half a dozen and there were more on the waiting list.  They range from the cutest little 50 cc motorcycles to monster trucks that dwarfed everything else in the arena.  An equal number of different types of racing, ranging from straight forward motocross arena racing to a nearly sadistic obstacle course type of track, allows for more permutations that I can mathematically compute.  Throw in that you can mix and match various classes of vehicles in a race, and you can see that there is definitely something for everyone in this game.

I figured that the best way to get a look at some of the variety available was to use the Quick Race mode.  This selection has a Randomizer that will pick a vehicle class, race type, and track for you.  I tried both single player and split screen multiplayer at various skill levels to try to get a good early impression of everything the game could do.  My first impression was that the controls were mighty touchy, and I found it hard to even stay on the track.  It only took a couple of races for the feel for the controls to come to me, though, and by the third race I was running with the leaders, albeit at one of the easier skill levels.  At those skill levels, it's fairly easy to keep up because the AI players wipe out a lot too.  The time penalty for drifting off the track or having a spectacular wreck is pretty much equally small, so even horrendous bone-breaking face plants don't drop you too far off the pace.  As I advanced the difficulty level, it became much harder to remain in contact with the race leaders, and at the higher settings I wasn't even in the same league as the back markers.  This is a good thing in that it indicates that there will be room to grow into the game and that I won't get bored with racing imbecilic opponents, assuming that I ever get to the point where I can land jumps.

Yes, as you would expect, there is a LOT of jumping.  In the race events, the idea is to get over the jumps as quickly as possible, which in some cases will mean trying to maximize the length of the jump, while in others you might want to fly some distance less than you could flat out because it's quicker.  It's obvious, of course, but the fact is that you can't brake or steer in midair.  Hitting every jump as hard as you can is a recipe for spending quite a bit of time flying along puckering your seat cushion as a solid, immovable surface inexorably flies at your head. The old adage that says that you sometimes have to slow down to go faster is proven true during some of these races.

The in-race jumps are pretty similar whether you are racing two-wheel or four-wheel vehicles in that the goal is to minimize the time cost of getting through them while not letting them cause you to crash.  It's when you move into trick riding on the motorcycles and ATVs that the jumps change focus from merely getting through them to getting through them with style.  Some of the race types score the number and complexity of the tricks you can do successfully in a given amount of time, rather than who can get around the track the fastest.  These types are giving me fits.  It's not that I can't do tricks, because those are pretty easy.  The problem is that I can't land them any better than maybe one out of ten times.  If you crash on the landing, you get no points.  This is an area that's going to require a lot of patient practice.

The race tracks themselves are also quite varied, from indoor arena tracks to vast outdoor tracks that seem to go on for miles.  The scenery varies from desert mountains that left me craving a cold beer to muddy roads and river crossings that left me craving a hot shower.  The scenery is adequate, and the effects of tire smoke, thrown dirt, and clouds of dust were good.  What I really liked was the action of the suspension on some of the four-wheel vehicles.  I've always like watching the huge range of motion of the suspension of off road race trucks, and that visual is very well done here.  You can almost feel the spine crushing slam of misjudging a jump and landing right on the upslope face of the next one from the way the suspension bottoms out.

I'm looking forward to digging into some of the less obvious race types and vehicles over the next few days, and I want to check out some of the mini-games that I saw listed in the split-screen multi-player mode. There are also hints (I keep seeing something about Money Earned = $0) that there may be a career mode, and I want to look into that. Stay tuned!

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