For fans of motocross, MX vs. ATV has long been the definitive series for dirt-slinging action. With Alive, however, we have a package that is a bit out of the ordinary for the franchise. This iteration will only set you back $40 instead of a fully priced $60 game. This is nice, but the fact is that you’ll only get $40 worth of video game… maybe. What’s here is a blast, but there simply is too drastic a reduction in content that it borders on being overpriced, even at $40.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Alive looks fantastic. The bikes and ATVs are true to form, and the riders on top of them move realistically and smoothly, including head-bobbing and clothes moving in the wind. Lighting effects create sunspots and believable shadow effects across the courses. The best part of the visuals, however, is the courses and dirt themselves. As you race around the track, the ground will wear down and deform as it does on a real course. Your wheels will settle into grooves created by other riders, and corners will become slicker and less banked as the races wear on. This dynamic goes a long way in recreating the factors that influence real dirt-track races.
There is one major component of the controls in Alive that sets it apart from other racing games. To control your rider, you’ll have to use the left and right thumbsticks in conjunction with each other. The left thumbstick controls your bike/ATV, while the right thumbstick controls the rider. This setup certainly takes some getting used to, but once it becomes second-nature, shifting the rider around corners in tandem with the vehicle becomes extremely satisfying, and adds an extra layer of depth to the gameplay. Of course, you’ll have the option to disable this feature, if you’re a beginner, but you’ll want to enable it for the long haul, as it the most enjoyable aspect of the game.
The biggest gameplay feature that THQ is touting this time around is the role of collision and contact physics. In previous games, the best strategy was simply to avoid contact with other riders. In Alive, making contact with other riders can be the best strategy – if you know what you’re doing. The contact system has been completely overhauled so that instead of wiping out from any significant bumping, you’ll have to salvage the hit and stay on your vehicle. This is achieved by following an on-screen prompt quickly enough. If you miss it, get ready to eat some dirt. Gentle bumping won’t bother you – although you’ll feel it, but hit hard enough and there will at least be a chance to save the fall if you have quick reflexes. It’s a great system, and provides strategy and reward for those willing to rub elbows with opponents.
Utilizing these features, the game shines in online mode. Because of the engaging control system and the all-new collisions system, racing against human opponents is simply a blast. Jockeying for position, bumping vehicles, and hanging on for dear life all make for an edge-of-the-seat experience. I experienced only smooth gameplay, with no hiccups or lag. If THQ can provide some exciting DLC for this title, it may very well be one of the best online racing experiences of the year.
Any time you race, there are XP points to be gained. As you gain more XP points, your rider level goes up, and more and more content becomes available. This is relatively standard, but where this game becomes extremely disappointing is the lack of ways to play. There are three game modes: National, Short Track, and Free Ride. National is the “main” gameplay mode, but it is essentially a series of quick races that you have to win to unlock the next races. There is no sign of any kind of career mode, which is an element of sports and racing games that is more or less expected in today’s game. I understand that the game has a $40 price tag, but the lack of any kind of involvement beyond unlocking new tracks is very disappointing. THQ has also made it a painstaking process to unlock the new courses, spreading out the unlock points a long way and then tempting you to use a credit card instead to unlock them.
Though the track and level system is poor, the customization options will not disappoint bike and ATV geeks by any means. Any part of the bike can be tweaked, from the main frame, to paint jobs, to handlebars, to handling tweaks, to wheels… you get the idea. The vast customization options almost make up for the lack of gameplay depth.
The biggest letdown in MX vs. ATV Alive, as mentioned already, is the lack of any kind of a career mode. Despite the lower price tag, there could have at least been some sort of story or motivation for pushing on, something. What we have, instead, is the equivalent of a basketball video game that would have one mode – Exhibition games – in which you would play single, stand-alone games over and over again in order to unlock new teams, players, and stadiums.
MX vs. ATV Alive is a blast to play. The controls are perfect, the gameplay is engaging thanks to the collision system, and the vehicles, riders, and tracks all look great – not to mention one of the best online racing experiences this year. It’s a shame that these elements are packaged into such a bare-bones game. For $40, I can definitely recommend it to fans of the series. In the future, however, here’s to hoping that THQ will take these same gameplay mechanics and build around them a full-fledged racing career experience.