'MX vs. ATV' goes off-road, online and over the top

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2008

They should call it "MX vs. ATV vs. Monster Trucks vs. A Coupla Different Types of Smaller Trucks and Some Dune Buggy Thingies."

Courtesy Of Rainbow Studios
Courtesy Of Rainbow Studios

Of course, that would never get past the marketing dudes.

But plain ol' "MX vs. ATV" is a misnomer. There are several types of off-road vehicles available to players of the latest game in the series, "MX vs. ATV: Untamed."

We've seen about half a dozen off-road racing games in the past year or so, and it seems like, among their publishers, there's a frantic game of one-upmanship going on. That's lucky for us, because it means each new game in the genre is packed with more features than the last.

"MX vs. ATV" has just about everything you could want from a down-and-dirty off-roader, plus some fun new extras that'll keep you playing long after you've won every race in every circuit.

You can focus on one type of vehicle if you want - take a dirt bike, for example - through to every type of indoor arena event and every outdoor racetrack. You'll learn to pull off insanely high jumps and how to add some flair to those jumps by performing aerobatic tricks (just be sure to get back in the saddle before you try to stick the landing).

That's a fun way to play. But you can also become proficient at driving every type of vehicle offered in the game. The best way to do this is to dive right in to tournament mode, where you'll face dozens of challenges on your way to a final pentathlon of events. You'll quickly learn what Russell Crowe learned in "Gladiator." You've got to win the crowd. It's not always enough to just beat everything else on the field. Often, your ability to perform tricks is as important as your ability to win races.

"MX vs. ATV" does everything well. Having ridden several kinds of two- and four-wheelers, I can tell you that handling for the vehicles in the game is spot on. OK, I've never been 40 feet in the air with any of these vehicles, but as far as what you can do on the ground, the controls are perfect.

The scenery, especially in the outdoor levels, is breathtaking. I thought I'd seen it all with the majestic mesas and muddy, rutty trails of the virtual Monument Valley in "MotorStorm" for the PlayStation 3. Then "Dirt" (the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 game, not the lewd Courteney Cox show on FX) taught me to love enduro-style rally racing once again. "MX vs. ATV's" graphics and game play are at least as good as those of the other two games.

Part of the fun comes from some clever online modes that flesh out the standard racing and stunt stuff. Online, you can do just about everything you can do off-line, but, obviously, you're competing against other players.

After burning through the game's tournament mode, I took my skills online - not to see if I could out-race other players, but to participate in some of the minigames I had ignored in the off-line game.

In addition to the pure fun of racing other people online, you owe it to yourself to try these minigames:

Graffiti: This game involves high-flying stunts on a freestyle course. When you use a jump to pull off an insane stunt, you "tag" that jump, and it becomes yours until someone else does a more insane stunt from that jump. At the end of the round, the person who has tagged the most jumps wins.

Tag: As many as 12 people (up to eight on PS3) are racing around an open area trying to grab a flame and become "It." Run into the It player to take away the flame and become It yourself. The player who racks up the most seconds being It is the winner.

Snake: THQ could almost wrap up this game and sell it by itself. Remember the light bikes in the movie "Tron"? It's like that. Your vehicle leaves a trail of colored light in its wake. Try to use it to fence in your opponents. Just be careful not to hit their colored trails. Last one standing wins. Great fun.

Off-line, there's also a terrific hockey minigame. You haven't played ice hockey until you've played it on an ATV.

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