Over the years, the MX vs. ATV games have delivered a solid, if unspectacular experience and its current-gen installments have also been good, but also felt like last-gen games with a visual tune-up. Rainbow Studios has attempted to address this concern by overhauling it from the ground up with an all-new engine, terrain deformation, and a new control setup that completely changes the dynamics for both driving and tricks . Terrain deformation also makes its debut in the series and ensures that no two laps are exactly alike, and that races can easily get more difficult as they go on due to its effects. They’ve left nary a trace of the old series intact outside of the traditional pre-race practice area/loading screen and the basic vehicle type A vs. vehicle type B concept.
The new driving control system uses the left stick to the control your vehicle and the right one to control its rider/driver in an applicable vehicle (like ATVs and bikes), resulting in sharper turns, bigger jumps, more accurate movements, and the ability to avoid wrecks if you move your rider at just the right time. While these things are all well and good, this new setup is very time-consuming to learn, and even after you’ve done that, it still makes racing a bit more complicated than it needs to be. Sure, the turns are tighter and more responsive than before, but the rider controls are at times too responsive - resulting in the rider falling off the bike if you move the right stick just a tiny bit too much. There isn’t much of a margin of error with this new setup, which just adds to the frustration. Having to use two sticks simultaneously also makes the races harder, as you‘ve got yet another thing to keep track of amid a sea of rivals. It also kills the “pick up and play” simplification that made earlier entries a breeze to play for newcomers.
After a few hours of play, I grew accustomed to the dual stick method, but still found the inability to go back to a more traditional control setup to be annoying. Having the new one as an option, but not a requirement, would have been much better - especially for casual gamers. Given that there are some vehicle types that allow you to not use it - like trucks and buggies, this seems absurd. I found races with those vehicle types to be far more enjoyable, as they all the intensity that came along with the new game engine ensuring back and forth racing, but without the hassle of having to be concerned about perfect rider placement throughout the race.
Thankfully, the redone controls for tricks fare a little better than the dual stick riding controls. In order to shift control of the right stick from simply moving the rider into enabling tricks, simply press a shoulder button and move the right stick in whichever trick combo you want. You‘ve got dozens of tricks to do using three simple (in theory) presses of the right stick in any direction. These changes are less dramatic and easier to get used to than the ones made to the riding controls. The erratic judging of tricks, however, makes doing them less rewarding than it should be as even if you nail them perfectly, you aren’t guaranteed to get a great rating.
Terrain deformation hasn’t been used much in racing games this gen, so I’m glad to see it in here. The idea behind it is that as the race progresses, the course will get more and more damaged - resulting in a tougher trek for racers. This can be anything from a makeshift hill being formed to a groove in the track that can lead you astray, and it keeps things fresh lap after lap by ensuring that no two are alike. Rainbow Studios did a fantastic job of implementing this feature - it adds a lot of fun to the game, and even makes crashing enjoyable as your rider’s body will even deform the terrain. While it can make things unruly, it also adds to the excitement in the right way as it forces you to learn the tracks and figure out a solution on the fly.
Reflex’s online mode is fantastic and offers up every vehicle and mode type available from the offline game‘s robust assortment of each. Gameplay is mostly lag-free, and I was pleasantly surprised to see very few droppers during games, and no one went out of their way to make others miserable by making a habit of slamming into folks and other assorted jackassery that only serves to frustrate everyone and beg the host to kick the player out of the game.
Visually, this is the best entry in the series, but it still falls short of other genre entries like Pure and Motorstorm. The vehicles and drivers are well-detailed, and the drivers can have their appearance customized with outfit color schemes and jersey renaming and numbering that aren’t seen in most games - allowing for a pretty level of personalization. Rider animation is also surprisingly fluid - especially during crashes, which are some of the funniest parts in the game as you can see your. Unfortunately, the spectator character models look terrible - far below last-gen stuff, and the environments themselves suffer from some horrendous issues, including one that sees them go from looking like N64-level fare from not only far away, but at fairly close range as well, before magically becoming current-gen. It’s incredibly jarring and really takes the player out of the game.
The MX vs. ATV series’ audio has never been stellar, and unfortunately, Reflex continues that trend with a soundtrack full of generic rock music and unspectacular sound effects. While the roar of the engines is satisfying during a crowded race when you‘re surrounded by a slew of vehicles, that isn’t the case when you’re on a barren track. Instead of a loud roar made by many engines, you’re treated to the relatively light whimper of one.
After a slew of all-too similar games, the MX vs. ATV series has been reborn with its new control systems for riding and tricks, however, more work is needed for both of them before the series can truly sit among the top-shelf entries in the genre like Motorstorm and Pure. Longtime fans will probably enjoy this enough to buy it, but casual fans should probably stick with a rental.