Despite the reports that niche racing titles are no longer a viable investment, publishers do keep investing in them. THQ’s lack of faith in their long term plan for MX Vs. ATV Alive may have dampened the spirit of the series’ fans but the recently release MUD – FIM Motocross World Championship did it’s very best to prove that it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the genre. Ubisoft, it seems, has noticed this change in tempo, and opted for a more subtle outing via digital channels.
When we say ‘subtle’ we mean in terms of distribution. In terms of gameplay, Mad Riders is anything but. Developed by Techland, Mad Riders Most definitely leaning towards the end of the motocross/ATV videogame spectrum that their previous release in the genre, nail’d, made it’s own; players will spend nearly as much time in the air as they do on land. Mad Riders is a pure adrenaline rush videogame, designed for twitch reaction gameplay rather than great amounts of forethought. There’s no easing on the brakes as you approach a corner, no fear about colliding with fellow racers and no need to worry about perfecting every landing: Mad Riders is about driving fast and looking cool.
The videogame throws quite a lot at you in the first race, or so it seems, but all of it will be mastered by the end of the first lap. Players drive fast and fling themselves off the edge of ramps as quickly as they can, and while in the air perform stunts to increase their boost meter. Combining backflips and spins leads to great rewards, and Mad Riders has cleverly decided to place the requirement of pressing the A button in conjunction with analog inputs to perform such stunts. Though it may seem like an unnecessary rule, the implementation actually creates a welcome divide between movement and stunt control: the player is free to spend a moment aligning their intended landing before executing the desired stunt.
There are a number of tricks that can be performed while on the ground too, as well as boost tokens that can be collected. Boost tokens are littered around the tracks, commanding a driving line, along with shortcut tokens. Shorcut tokens, when, collected, allow the player to open a new route on the track, suggestively offering a chance to get ahead of the pack. Well, that’s the theory anyway, but the artificial intelligence (AI) drivers are smart enough to find this route from the very first track offering the mechanic, and so are opponents online. What was at some point a good idea becomes a non-event in practice, as the only realistic way the shortcuts affect you is if you miss them, causing you problems rather than offering an advantage if you hit them.
For the soloist Mad Riders offers both Quick Race and Tournament modes. The tournaments see you play through a number of leagues, each which various different events within, and require you to earn a specific number of stars in each league to access the next. A simple, well worn but effective structure. In addition to racing there are various other event types, such as checkpoint trials and arena matches, the latter of which emphasise the importance of stunts as you race from point to point around a bowl. As an aside, the Tournament mode also offers the Off Road Elite challenges, which ramp up the difficulty for the experienced player.
Multiplayer gameplay is available via split-screen, system link and online, and offers a combination of all the event types available in the single-player game modes. There’s a rudimentary levelling system in place to encourage continued play, but realistically it’s not needed. Mad Riders will undoubtedly develop a supportive community looking for online competition quickly, and then fade away when its brash approach to racing has outstayed its welcome.
From a technical standpoint Mad Riders performs well, but isn’t exactly breaking new ground. The online component is capable enough to deliver a mostly lag-free experience and the visual design is pleasant, though unremarkable. The typical combination of lush jungle vistas, waterfalls and mountain ranges makes for an ample ATV playground, but hardly an inspiring one. The soundtrack is well judged to avoid unnecessarily increasing file size, but is decidedly limited in the same respect.
Mad Riders is a shallow videogame experience, but it was always intended to be. The life of the product is limited to a much greater extent than any of its retail counterparts, but given its chosen method of distribution and wallet-friendly price tag, perhaps that was to be expected. Mad Riders is a throwaway piece of software, a videogame that will entertain you for a weekend and then be forgotten about. It may not be a landmark title, but there’s nothing wrong with simply being fun.