STAFF REVIEW of MX vs. ATV Unleashed (Xbox)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005.
by RichVGS

MX vs. ATV Unleashed Box art Prior to 2004, Rainbow Studios was just another in the long line of almost unknown game studios. Sure, they had a number of games under their belt, such as the ATV Off-road Fury and Splashdown series?, but nothing that truly put them on the gaming map. Then in 2004, Rainbow Studios released a title that would pull them out of the obscure and place their name into the minds of gamers. That title was MX Unleashed. The prospect of not only being able to race MX bikes and sand rails, but to do insane stunts such as jumping over a hovering helicopter made racing fans? mouths water. Even if gamers didn?t play MX Unleashed, Rainbow Studios got its name out there with the MX Unleashed commercial featuring an unwilling intern on an MX bike jumping a helicopter shortly before running head first into a semi-truck. Things were falling into place for Rainbow. Then some debates began regarding which is better: racing MX bikes or ATVs? Rather then let the debate rage on for years to come, Rainbow Studios decided to combine their ATV and MX series together, giving fans of each vehicle a chance to go heads up and see which the better racing vehicle is. 2004 was a huge year of Rainbow, but 2005 is shaping up to be even bigger with the release of MX vs. ATV Unleashed.

To group MX vs. ATV Unleashed into a trick out or racing category would be almost an insult to the hard working people of Rainbow Studios. Setup to appeal to both hardcore racing fans and fans of trick out games, MX vs. ATV strives to cover all bases of each extreme sport. There is also airplanes and helicopters to appeal to?well?the Microsoft Flight Simulator and Desert Strike crowd. Anyway, back to the meat of the game, the racing. In addition to rolling around the arena tracks (yes, very similar to the ones coming soon to your former NHL arena in your town), you can tool around the incredibly detailed outdoor tracks that will take you through wet and muddy swamplands, rocky mountain tracks and through what was that quiet forest that was untouched by man until you and your punk, biker friends showed up (what would your grandma say if she saw you shredding that lovely park). But it doesn?t just end with the standard kind of racing event. There are a number of race variations that include hill climbs (half the challenge is actually finishing this sucker), follow the leader (this is can be more of a b**** then you are probably thinking) and waypoint races (your standard get to the point that appears on the screen, hit it and go to the next) that certainly break up the day-to-day drudgery of racing these nutty vehicles. You can also enter into free run races and training mode to get a hang of the controls, which will take you all of about two minutes to master. That?s the meat, on with the potatoes.

Now that we\'ve covered the racing part of MX vs. ATV Unleashed, let\'s talk about the stunt part of the game. When it comes to MX stuff, I\'m not that big of a fan of the racing part of the sport (I\'m not much of a racing fan at all really). What I love is the X-Games, stunt course part of the sport. Guys like Ricky Carmichael can do some unreal stuff on those bikes, and every time they come to town, I\'m there with my money ready to be blown away. So fans alike can now design their own rider and perform some of those same stunts without the risk of severe head injury. In addition to doing the stunts on the race track, there are special arena and other areas available with more ramps and jumps then one could possibly need. As you get into these areas and starting learning how to perform stunts, you might notice that there isn\'t a whole bunch of stunts one can execute. Once airborne, you can perform a stunt by holding either the B or Y button plus pushing the thumb stick in a particular direction (what direction you push affects what stunt you will perform). It\'s as easy as that. The challenge becomes finishing the stunt, returning to normal riding position and landing at the correct angle so you don\'t completely wipeout and forfeit the points you earned performing the stunt. Once you\'ve mastered this art, you can add the right trigger button into the mix, which modifies the normal stunts and creates new combo stunts that are worth more points, but are trickier to perform and even more challenging to finish and land properly in the amount of air time you have. While it may not be as stunt packed as games like Tony Hawk Underground, there is still plenty to do here. MX bikes are the definite choice vehicle for stunts. While you can perform stunts on the ATVs, you won\'t get the same air time as MX bikes, which means the pulling of combo stunts becomes almost impossible to pull off in the time allowed. Maybe it was just me, but I feel like the ATVs were cheated when it came to the stunt mode. There should have been single move tricks added when using the right trigger modifier button. That, however, was not my greatest concern. My biggest beef with MX vs. ATV Unleashed was not a lack of stunts, but the fact that you cannot do flips with the MX bikes. Excuse me, but every MX event I\'ve been to (and I\'ve been to plenty) there will be at least five or six riders that will do flips. Why in the world Rainbow did not include flips is beyond me. Hopefully there\'s a cheat code out there somewhere that lets you do this.

So let us talk about the storyline of MX vs. ATV Unleashed. Oh, wait, there isn\'t one. Thank goodness. One of the most annoying trends in extreme sports games is the attempt to incorporate a story mode into the game. I don\'t know where this started, but it needs to end. Tony Hawk Pro Skater was fine when it was the simple select a level and accomplish a set list of tasks. While I love the Tony Hawk Underground series, the storylines have been corny and are just acting as a roadblock, keeping me from enjoying some good skateboarding fun. So, no storyline is necessary. There is also no career mode. That concerned me at first. As I franticly searched each and every submenu, tore through the instruction booklet and went to several video game walkthrough sites, I was disturbed to find nothing. I decided to forego my search and try out a race. Once completed, I went to save my game. It was then that all my fears were wiped away as I saw a completion percentage with my save file. What does that mean? The entire game is one giant career mode. Everything you do, with the exception of free mode, is part of a long career. If you want to accomplish 100% of your career, you\'ll need to race every vehicle type, every race mode and complete every challenge. Fine by me. This way people will need to learn how to drive those sand rails if they want to unlock golf carts and other goodies. Sure, most gamers probably will never get 100% accomplished, but it is sure going to be a fun trying.

My biggest concern when picking up MX vs. ATV Unleashed was the same concern I have when dealing with any multi-vehicle games...lack of control variation. You\'d be amazed how many racing themed games I\'ve played that have offered cars and motorcycles that have no control variation between the two different vehicles. Here\'s a hint...a motorcycle handles nothing like a car! Yet many game studios seem to be in the dark when it comes to what seems like such a simple concept. I don\'t know about you, but when I make a 90 degree turn while going close to one hundred miles per hour, I expect that I\'ll need to apply different pressure on the thumb stick depending on whether I\'m in a BMW Z4 or a Harley Davidson 490 Black Night Special Edition. So when I hear about a game that allows players to drive MX bikes, ATVs, sand rails, golf carts and monster trucks; I tend to get concerned about control variation. Thankfully, Rainbow Studios made sure to make the handling of each vehicle varies greatly from one another. Moreover, when I read that the creative department went out and rode around on the vehicles in the game (yes, even the monster trucks) in the various kinds of terrain offered, I felt so confident that this game would not do gamers wrong. MX bikes, of all the vehicles, handle the easiest and should be the starting point of gamers. These bikes have amazing handling. Cornering is tight (you can put great pressure on the thumb stick without fear of over turning or losing control), but not as tight as that of a Project Gotham car. The light weight bikes handle jumps with great air time and can shift directionally in air so that the least amount of speed is lost in the landing. Of course, the compromise for having all this control is that you can crash and be thrown off of the MX bike much easier then any other vehicle offered. Want to see the polar opposite of the MX controls, especially when turning, check out the sand rail. Not only will you have to completely vary the amount of pressure you need to put on the thumb stick, but you\'ll need to reduce your speed greatly in order to make a successful turn (and not end up completely off course).

Racing strategy is also greatly affected when selecting what vehicle you want to race with. In an MX race, you can lag behind in fifth place until the final lap, make a big move, and end up in first place. However, with sand rails, you need to jump out early if you want to win this race. You will want to maintain at least a twenty second lead on the second place sand rail because you will at some point either wipeout or be out of bounds for more then five seconds (at least one of these has happened to me in every sand rail event I raced in), and anything less then twenty seconds will mean losing the lead, and it is tough (Ninja Gaiden on very hard mode tough) to regain the lead. You\'ll want as little pressure on you during these races because if you don\'t have your full concentration on the road, you will be out of contention in no time. Finally, once you get through a good amount of the game and unlock those very goofy golf carts, the real fun begins. Golf carts can go rather fast, but they are the worst handling vehicle in the game. These should mainly be used for comedic value only and not for serious racing.

The following section is the result of playing too many violent video games over the years...

For real fun, select to operate an ATV and choose a multi-vehicle race (make sure at least one vehicle is a golf cart). Track selection is up to you, but I recommend choosing something with many hills. Once the race begins, focus on the golf cart (if it doesn\'t jump out ahead of you, let it get a bit of a lead on you). Wait until you get near a major up hill area that has a decent drop on either side of the road (you?ll probably want to go around at least one lap to judge the best hill). Once close to the hill, get side-by-side with the golf cart just before reaching the hill. As you go up the hill, you can now ram the golf cart off of the side and watch it fly off to certain doom. There is just something real satisfying about sending a golf cart off of the side of a steep hill. You can also try to ram the MX bike off, but most of the time you\'ll knock the rider off the bike before knocking the bike off the side (granted, it\'s fun watching the riders fly off of those bikes). ATV vs. sand rail can be fun, considering nine times out of ten, the sand rail will take itself out if it tries to get into a ramming war with anything (again, turning and controlling these things takes a whole bunch of practice). Now, when dealing with a monster truck, forget about getting into a pushing match with one of those. You\'ll need to depend on your speed for this one. While all this offered mayhem may not give the same satisfaction to gamers as causing multi-vehicle wrecks in Burnout 3, one can still cause plenty of racing havoc with just a bit of disregard for your fellow racers well-being. Let\'s face it, these racers know the risks of racing in such events, so if they get their vehicle trashed or they get hurt along the way, just repeat to yourself \"all\'s fair in love and off-road racing.\"

It was about this time last year when my radio show was just taking off ( that I got the opportunity to interview Rob Baumsteiger, Executive Producer of Rainbow Studios\' MX Unleashed (and MX vs. ATV Unleashed). I was a huge fan of the game and had nothing but good things to say about it, but one thing that troubled me about MX Unleashed was the lack of online play. This was the time that online play (especially Xbox Live) was taking off full force and just about any game worth its weight in salt offered online play. I told Rob that my only disappointment with the game was the lack of online play and I wanted to know what the reason behind it was. He said he wanted to do it, but it was simply lack of time that prevented online play from being included. That left me always wondering just how cool the game could have been if it had what I simply refer to as \"Live Love.\" Finally, after all those sleepless nights pondering the what if question for so long, Rob and the crew at Rainbow Studios have given gamers a chance to find out how cool MX action would be with online support. Racing over Live against human opponents is definitely more of a challenge then the computer opponents, but there is a limit of only six total racers. How cool would it have been to have a desert race with sixteen players? Well, there is always the next installment.

One of my favorite things about MX vs. ATV Unleashed is the difficulty settings. Instead of the standard easy, moderate, hard settings we?re all used to dealing with, the gang at Rainbow Studios decided to go complex by making the difficulty based on percentages. Selection is between 80% and 125% (why these numbers, I have no clue) with 80% being the easiest and 125% being the hardest mode. The good news is that players can go anywhere between those two extremes to find the best possible challenge. This will finally solve the problem of moderate being to easy and hard being to difficult. Personally, I found 112% to be a very nice challenge. I?m sure 110% would have been the same thing, but 112% just sounded a bit more extreme. The brains behind this system should hold a very high position at Rainbow Studios if he or she doesn?t already, because this might be the best innovation of the year. All games must have the difficulty percentage system added in by next year. I command it.

Graphically speaking, there are some highs and some?I?ll refer to them as evens. Highlights include the vehicles up close, especially during customization options. The MX bikes and ATVs are photo-picture quality in their look. Makes sense considering Rainbow Studios photographed several real bikes from just about every possible angle to make them look as realistic as you can get by today?s standards. Also amazing is the outdoor race areas. The details, especially in the swamp areas (look for mud puddles getting larger as racers run right over them) will leave some jaws on the floor. About the only way it could have gotten better would have been some mud splash drops on the bikes and the riders. Now for the even (because there wasn?t anything bad to report). The arena tracks look okay, but the crowd detail could have been better. While in action, the bikes lose much of their detail, but still remain pretty decent looking. Finally, the riders themselves look good, but there could have been some variety, such as size, to keep them from looking like a bunch of clones wearing different companies? gear. Oh well, can?t win them all.

Sounds like the real deal to me. I?ve torn through the woods on both ATVs and MX bikes, and the sounds from the game are so realistic it will cause flashbacks in riders? minds. Golf carts sound good to?if they were juiced up something fierce. Can?t speak for the sand rails, helicopters or airplanes, but they all sound like the real deal. Oh, and the monster trucks, they just sound really loud. Music wise, Rainbow Studios knows what will get gamers in the mood for tearing it up. Featuring bands like Papa Roach, Powerman 5000 and Authority Zero, the soundtrack is a great mix of mainstream punk and metal. Of course, being the fan of custom soundtracks that I am, and the fact that I believe every game soundtrack needs at least one song by the following bands: The Clash, The Ramones, Johnny Cash, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Rollins Band and Black Flag; I must applaud not only Rainbow Studios for offering custom soundtracks, but allowing players the chance to use both the customs and the songs from the official soundtrack (?Getting Away with Murder? by Papa Roach is a great song for this game).

So what?s not so good about MX vs. ATV Unleashed? First, no flipping makes Rich very angry. Why, oh why, was this so hard to see? Thankfully, there are some codes out there (just found some as I write this). Second, I think the ATVs got short changed in air time. Stunt ATVs are much lighter then the racers, which means they would get about an extra four or five seconds of hang time. That may not seem like much, but those extra seconds can mean the difference between a good trick and a great, mind-blowing stunt. Okay, that aside, the graphics could have been a bit better on the vehicles during the action of the game. Also, I was really bummed to see that Live only supports six person races. Sixteen person desert or hill run challenges would have made this game a top ten game in my book. Finally, I think there should have been a trick edit option, or at least a selectable list of tricks that you could put into a rider?s personal inventory. Personally, I think no handers are so basic that they shouldn?t even be considered a stunt.

Overall, Rainbow Studios took a great game (MX Unleashed) and improved on pretty much all the weak areas (lack of online play, longer game length and the need for more vehicles) with the creation of MX vs. ATV Unleashed. Almost every vehicle you can want is offered (screw cars, go play Project Gotham 2) and you can challenge just about any vehicle you want. Golf cart versus monster truck?you?d be surprised who wins that match up. The amount of game play is unreal when you break down all the stuff required to reach 100% game completion (after like twenty five hours of game play, I?m only at 21.7%). With both racing and stunt courses offered, MotoGP 2 fans and Tony Hawk fans can finally sit around a common game and be happy. Thank you Rob Baumsteiger and the fine people of Rainbow Studios for again allowing me to live out my extreme sports fantasies without the fear of breaking my neck.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.6 / 10
Visuals: 8.4 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10


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