Rainbow Studios, the developer of ATV Offroad Fury and MX Unleashed, aims to bring two distinct, "extreme racing" motor sports together in the same off-road arenas with this cross-platform release. MX vs. ATV Unleashed features plenty of dirt bikes and four-wheelers, of course, as well as monster trucks, sand rails, tricked-out golf carts, and even bi-planes, all set loose in large, freely roamed wilderness areas. The game's diverse selection of racing challenges includes SuperMoto competition, hill-climbs and short-track races, waypoint races, freestyle trick competitions, and -- as suggested by the title -- an in-depth career mode that follows a series of head-to-head races between ATVs and MX bikes. As in the developer's earlier efforts, MX vs. ATV is designed to offer accessible, arcade-style action with a realistic rhythm and feel. Online play is supported and the game ships with editing software to let players create their own tracks.
As the title suggests MX vs ATV Unleashed is a racing game, of which I have played many, but it is also an off road racing game, something I've had less experience with. I figured that there couldn't be that much of a learning curve, right? Well..actually, yes, there is.
When you start playing the game you are limited to driving ATV's and dirt bikes. You race these vehicles through several modes of play - Single Player which is broken up into several other play modes itself; Tournament Play, where you race other AI-controlled competitors for glory and the shiny things that come along with it and, finally, Challenge modes. If you win in Challenge mode, you unlock other drivable vehicles such as monster trucks, dune buggies, a helicopter, propeller aircraft, and even a tripped out golf cart. That's right - a golf cart. You want to drive that right now, don't you?
You can drive or fly these vehicles in two different kinds of tracks: an enclosed stadium track and, later, a more wide open track that allows you more variety and, consequently, more challenge. The stadium racing is more of a free form experience where you can get accustomed to the controls, see how the vehicles handle, or just while away some free time when you want something less intense to do. There is even a tutorial mode that will teach you how to perform all the crazy stunts you can do while driving around with equal insanity around the course. Just hold on and imagine you're Tony Hawk.
There are three modes of game play in MX vs ATV: Single player, Tournament, and Multiplayer. The single player mode is broken up into several other categories: Racing, Freestyle, Free Ride, Challenges, and User Tracks. Most of these are self explanatory, but User Tracks refers to riding the courses you have painstakingly designed to confuse and irritate your friends. And, at last, when you finally get tired of all this stuff there is the multiplayer mode that you can use to keep the game fresh. Replay value makes it all better.
The more open track, on the other hand, is where the bulk of the gameplay resides. Here is where you can prove your mettle in tournaments that pit you against other NPC players for "Store points" that you can use to spend on new articles of clothing, vehicles, and race tracks depending on how well you do. The tournament also shares a lot of the same modes at the stadium play such as free play, challenge mode, and the like. The tournament mode also features trial laps before the big race. If you place highly enough, you are allowed to get your pick of the starting position.
And while on the subject of extras, we should mention that there are quite a lot of them. You can detail your ride as soon as you start the game, although the default outfit sets are limited, but you can get more as you earn points. This detailing, by the way, also extends to your vehicle, where you can alter the color, placement of handlebars, and the type of engine you want to use.
Of course, no racing game is complete without music. We all have our music that we love to drive to and the kind people at THQ have given you roughly two dozen songs to play from bands such as Papa Roach, Black Eyed Peas, Powerman 5000, and many more. So, just remember the saying, "when it's too loud, you're too old." Remember that overenthusiastic chair dancing could lead to injury, blindness, and deafness caused by the guffawing of insensitive relatives. You have been warned.
The built-in track builder offers a wide range of options, allowing players to build new race courses, however it's not the most user friendly interface I've ever come across. If anything, it reminds me of my all too brief experience with SimEarth, where I couldn't even cajole plankton into doing it's job, but I digress. I have to admit, though...the part of the program that allowed you to change the sky was really neat. "Hmmm..I want it to be sunny...no, overcast!"
Gamplay - 7
Gamers used to racing games featuring paved courses will be in for a bit of adjustment. In this game, pure speed plays second fiddle to crafty maneuvering; it's seems like the formula is to be as sneaky and underhanded as you can be without violating the in game rules. It can be very frustrating; one moment you're at the top, and then you hit that bumpy part of the track, and everyone else flies ahead of you and you lose. The controls too (at least their default setting) are a bit hard to get used to - you accelerate with the space bar, break with control, and turn with the arrow keys. It's not bad after you play with it for a while, but it is a sharper learning curve then I'd like.
Graphics - 8
The graphics are very solid and well developed. The way the stadiums look, with the tiers of of fans, the bright lines, and the large vid screens that even show your vehicle driving around the course as it moves is top notch. When racing outside, the graphics look just as good, complete with dirt kicked up by your wheels, riders shifting from side to side as they pull into a turn, etc. This all helps make this one of the better-looking racing games I've seen.
Audio - 8
The ambient sound effects are very good. The roar of the engines, that "oof" and "ah!" sounds that occur when you fall off your vehicle, all adds to the game's believability. The soundtrack that the developers choose for the game also helps to set the mood. Very well done.
Curve - 8
I have to give this game a eight because, well..that's what it is. The graphics are good but not eye popping. The audio is good, but not so good that it detracts from the game. The gameplay needs some time to get used to, but it's easy enough once you work into it. Everything just fits together neatly.
People who downloaded MX vs. ATV Unleashed have also downloaded:
MTX Mototrax, Need for Speed, The: Special Edition, Road Rash, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2004, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight, Need for Speed: V-Rally 2, MVP Baseball 2004
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