As a casual fan of motorcycle racing games since the original Excitebike on the NES, and someone who has enjoyed more recent fare like Excitebike 64 and ATV Off-Road Fury 4, I approached MX vs. ATV: Untamed optimistically, and hoped that it would supply a trick and race-filled romp with a variety of vehicles. While it did that to a certain degree, it also lacked the polish or memorable design of the Excitebikes that made them classics, and wound up being a well-executed, but ultimately unspectacular game.
One thing I love about Untamed is out intense the racing can be - when the courses are jam-packed with racers, and you’ve got five drivers in a variety of different vehicles jockeying for position at 100+ MPH, things get chaotic and in a good way. Your adrenaline starts pumping, you start envisioning yourself at the front of the pack, and then you finally achieve the goal that seemed lofty just a few short seconds before. Unfortunately, this high level of excitement is a rarity, as the AI isn’t all that aggressive, and at all but the highest difficulty levels, you’ll have long stretches of time where no one’s close to you, resulting in boring, or at least uneventful, races on a regular basis.
After my first few boring races, I decided to look for things to do to keep things interesting. The most effective solution to in-game boredom came from drastically changing my racing style from race to race or lap to lap. Going from an aggressive style that emphasized getting ahead by any means necessary, to a more passive style of using finesse to progress, and then focusing on doing tricks when I had a clear lead helped me quite a bit, as it allowed me to see just how much the game could offer. Unfortunately, that didn’t do much to actually solve the problem of the gameplay getting redundant - it just slightly reduced how noticeable the problem was.
ATV vs. MX racing also spices things up a little, as the different attributes of the vehicle types (motocross bikes are much faster and give you more maneuverability, but can also fly off the track, while ATV’s are slower, but stick to the track easier due to their greater size), but still doesn’t resolve the core problem of the AI not really putting up much of a challenge. Fortunately for Untamed, mixed vehicle races usually result in some spectacular crashes, especially when you’re in mid-jump and either land on an MX racer while riding an ATV, or are on the receiving end of such a collision as the game’s crash animations look either body-mangling or comedically overdone, leading to either winces in pain from the player or laughter due to an absurd landing animation.
Unfortunately, while ATV vs. MX races are usually exciting, races featuring the game’s the other vehicles (various types of buggies, trophy trucks, and monster trucks) don’t fare as well. While they’re fun to use with from time to time, you can’t do tricks in them - nixing part of the fun of the ATV and MX racing. The buggies are also tougher to control during turns, making tight turns needlessly difficult, and leaving you in a jam if you’re knocked off course or into the wrong direction, as you’ll be forced to veer off the road and take the 3 second deduction plus deal with being repositioned on the track as opposed to be being able to drive back onto the course with relative ease in either the ATV or MX vehicles.
In online racing, I’ve found that the non-ATV/MX vehicles are the least-used, and that fairly regular lag is problem. After getting used to the finely-crafted online experiences found in the PGRs and Forzas of the world, it took some time to get used to a racing game with lag, and that’s a good thing, especially since this game’s pace can get pretty quick, and tricks are basically rendered impossible to accurately due to the lag.
The gameplay’s redundancy only becomes more apparent as you play more of the game’s many modes. You can have a variety of tournaments, indoor racing, outdoor racing, off-road racing, and even checkpoint racing. Unfortunately, they only serve to highlight how hollow the core gameplay is, as no matter how many spins are put on it, you end up with a largely boring experience because there simply isn‘t enough depth in the gameplay to keep the modes interesting.
You’d think a game with so many vehicles, racing surfaces, and so much action going on would at least look impressive, especially given the astounding graphics featured in other PS3 offerings like Motorstorm, but Untamed performs under par once again. There’s a serious lack of detail on the bikes, riders, and environments, leading to a generic look to races and a static look to your surroundings. The most impressive graphical effect I noticed was dust accumulating on tires and on your rider’s outfit as it‘s thrown back at you by rivals. That’s about as visually impressive as it gets here, and that’s a shame, as it ends up making the game look like an original PS2 game with slightly smoother textures.
The audio doesn’t fare much better, as engine sound effects basically consist of a variety of generic hums that simply vary in volume and don’t do a good job of conveying the power difference between the various types of vehicles. Collisions also lack much in the way of impact, and aside from a basic “oomph” voice from your rider, they’re sold on the visual impact alone. Musically, Untamed’s soundtrack is full of rock, with Nickelback, Disturbed, and Bad Religion being the most notable acts.
While the music is mostly good, the reliance on rock means that the soundtrack tends to bleed together after a while, leading to it also getting stale. Some variety in the kinds of tunes available would’ve helped that aspect of the game greatly. The biggest problem I have with the game’s music lies in the fact that when a new song starts playing, a large , slightly transparent black graphic pops up on screen to give you information about it, obscuring the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. While you’re navigating menus, this can cause you to select the wrong mode quite easily, but the worst problem it creates is blocking your view during a race - leading to not only your on-screen map being covered up, but also making it impossible to tell where opponents are in relation to your position, causing needless chaos during a crowded part of the race.
Untamed ends up being plagued by far too many seemingly small problems that, on their own, wouldn’t be game-killers, but here, because there are so many and they’re so frequent, end up sucking the fun out of the game. This could’ve been an acceptable low-price buy for fans of the genre, but the end result here is one that I can only recommend for a rental at most. For many, just playing the demo will likely give them all the thrills they seek from the game, and if you’re just a casual fan of the genre, it will certainly suffice.