The career length of ordinary MX or ATV professionals must be really short. Considering the punishment their bodies must take, what with the whole “getting run over by large vehicles while being driven into the mud” thing, it’s hard to imagine many of them surviving for long. That’s our biggest takeaway from MX vs ATV Alive, simply because we spent loads of time having motorcycle tracks permanently imprinted on our backsides.
Naturally, skilled riders won’t smash up nearly as often, and as we got more familiar with the controls and built up some attributes, our life expectancy increased nicely. It’s doubtful that everyone who picks up Alive will get to that same point, though, as the game assumes you’ve either played the series before or that you’re resourceful enough to scour the internet to learn. There’s no tutorial or true career progression, a curious decision considering the depth of the controls and the heavy leanings toward online play. The only way to learn how to go from bad to good is to seek help from external sources, since Alive isn’t the least bit interested in telling you.
This won’t be a problem for series vets, though, who will likely jump right in and be in good shape. Both types of vehicles – motorcycles and ATVs – share the same control scheme. Anyone can figure out the gas and brake, but the key to winning comes in two elements - using the clutch and the driver’s own weight. Timing the clutch properly lets you quickly accelerate out of turns as well as catch big air off the jumps, which is helpful not only for tricks but, more importantly, to land at a spot that’ll let you keep moving quickly. The easiest way to fall behind in races is to land halfway up another hill; take it from us - we did that a few hundred times. Leaning into or out of turns helps you cut corners, and seat hopping the right way turns bumps into opportunities to pass hapless opponents. Put all of these together – if you can – and you’ll be a winner. Complicated? Yes. Rewarding? Most definitely.
Even though the controls are the same, the ATVs feel infinitely easier. It took us more than a few hours to get a good handle on the bikes, but we were jumping long, performing tricks, and winning races on four wheels in short order. For newbies, we can’t recommend hitting these up first strongly enough. ATVs will give you the best chance at success early on, both offline and on, if for no other reason than you should be able to gain valuable rider skills and vehicle add-ons that transform it into a powerful racer.
Leveling up is crucial. Unfortunately, it takes awhile (especially if you’re not particularly good) and there aren’t that many tracks unlocked at the start. So, you’ll be toiling around the same few venues for a few hours before new areas become available. The good news is that whether you’re racing online or off, you gain valuable XP. So there’s never a wasted race, even if you come in dead last.
At its core, Alive is really all about the online racing, which runs very well. The single-player mode is just a series of races you can do over and over again. There are no standings or series; your goal is to race to gain XP and build up your vehicles – all so you can take them online and (hopefully) dominate. While we appreciate the ability to keep getting XP even as we race the same long or short tracks (or explore in Free Ride mode), any type of Circuit or Story mode would have made the single-player experience more compelling. While it’s relatively fun, it feels like practice for online and not much else.
Of course, that’s probably how THQ wants us to feel, considering the big bet Alive has made on developing a robust online community. There’s a ton of DLC promised in the coming months, including tracks, vehicles, and game modes. This is a big reason that Alive is priced where it is ($40) – if a decent percentage of the online gamers buy some of this stuff, the business model will work. Whether or not online riders will be compelled to keep up with the Joneses or not is a question that remains to be answered. Time will tell.
Alive’s sound and visuals are just OK; there are cool features such as persistent track deformation and obstacles (for example, when someone knocks a haystack into the middle of the track it’ll stay there the length of the race), but when riders collide with or run over each other, some of the most realistic touches are lost. Rag doll physics awkwardly contort your riders when they crash, and there’s often no reaction as a helpless victim is ground into the mud underfoot by a dozen oblivious riders. “There’s a dude on the ground? Screw it, I’ve got a race to win – let’s roll right over this poor bastard!”
Sporting loads of depth at some levels, yet lacking greatly at others, MX vs ATV Alive will likely have a narrow appeal. The price point makes it attractive for newbies, yet those same people will be exasperated at the difficulty level. Longtime fans will appreciate the control adjustments and depth of vehicles, although many still clamor for a more compelling single-player experience. If you’re looking for a simple arcade racer, move along quickly. If you’re willing to teach yourself, though, Alive is just the trick. Just be thankful you’re not doing this in real life; otherwise you’d have a tire track tattoo up and down your face.
May 31, 2011