THQ’s MX Vs. ATV franchise isn’t the racing powerhouse it once was. Back in the days of the PlayStation 2′s prime, more than half a decade ago now, MX Vs. ATV commanded quite an audience thanks to it’s accessible gameplay and great assortment of vehicle types, but somewhere along the way the videogames moved from five minutes of frivolous fun to serious simulation; a change in tone that arguably didn’t sit too well with much of the audience. And so we come to MX Vs ATV: Alive, promising to be both a return to form for the franchise and a testing ground for new digital distribution avenues for THQ.
With accessibility one of the top priorities for MX Vs ATV: Alive it’s evident from the first few moments of the game that much time has been spent designing an easy to use menu system and intuitive in-game controls. Each of the many options on the main menu scrolls to its next page, and each subsequent page acts as an entirely fresh selection: events from the first page of the race menu act as singular races, and it’s up to the player to decide how their own championship is formed.
Progression in MX Vs ATV: Alive is determined by your Rider Level. As you win races and increase your Rider Level new races and other items become available – it’s not necessary to achieve first place in every race to continue, but of course you will be awarded with more experience for doing so, increasing your Rider Level quicker. The whole presentation seems to be designed as a mix-and-match set-up: if there’s an event you decide you don’t like, no one’s going to force you to play it over-and-over.
After the punishing gameplay of MX Vs. ATV Untamed, it’s pleasing to see a return to the more accessible gameplay of the franchise’s earlier instalments. The player controls the vehicle’s movement with the left analog stick and the rider’s weight with the right. Should you slightly misjudge a landing or clip another rider an large flashing arrow will appear on-screen noting the direction that the right analog stick should be moved to in order to maintain stability. Moving the stick in the right direction within the time window will see you regain some ground, failing to do so will result in an animated sequence showing the unfortunate result of your mistake.
In addition to the standard races comes the return of the popular Free Ride mode. Playable either offline or with friends online, MX Vs ATV: Alive’s Free Ride mode gives players the same open presentation as the main game. Players are free to simply drive around, finding new locations and practicing tricks, however, much like the forthcoming Dirt 3’s Gymkhana Mode, MX Vs ATV: Alive gives players a number of tasks to complete in Free Ride should they wish, and doing so can be very rewarding.
Featuring eighteen events off-the-bat, dozens of vehicle part types and rider outfits, MX Vs ATV: Alive isn’t exactly short on content to begin with. The MX Vs ATV videogames have always had a long tail at retail, and with so much hidden away MX Vs ATV: Alive is unlikely to be any different. And of course, this is all before we factor in THQ’s new idea for budget price releases.
MX Vs ATV: Alive was an interesting choice for THQ as the title to test that which we’ve all known has been coming for some time. Releasing the game at a budget price will not only entice the fans to snap it up immediately upon release, but it also holds the potential to encourage some of those who’ve not purchased a title since the hugely popular MX Vs ATV: Unleashed to return to the dirt tracks. And while MX Vs ATV: Alive is a game that surely set to make profit based on it’s potential shelf life alone, it’s also the kind of game that blends well with the foundations of digitally distributed content on consoles: new vehicles, tracks, rider costumes and even gameplay modes will be drip-fed over the coming months (with a surprising variety already available for launch).
MX Vs ATV: Alive is a welcome return to form for the series, delivered to market at a welcoming budget price-tag. It’s a adrenaline rush game designed for any gamer to play, whether they’ve ever picked-up a dirt bike videogame or not. It’s captured the essence of accessibility that previous titles have sorely missed, and delivered in such a way that even the most ardent MX Vs ATV fan won’t be offended: it’s not a simple game, it’s just a lot easier to grasp than some previous instalments. Whether THQ’s hopes for the digital delivery plan can be achieved remains to be seen, but from day one MX Vs ATV: Alive is a game that takes pole position in the dirt bike racing genre.