The latest title in the MX vs ATV series takes a bit of a gamble. Gone is the traditional retail price of modern games, and in its place a much lower initial payout, with an in-game shop offering extra content which the player can pick and choose if they want more to do. It’s an interesting idea, but one which does make the initial experience a little lacking.
Luckily the racing itself is actually pretty good. It would be easy enough to look at the choice of only 2 vehicle types and assume the lack of variety would be a bit boring, especially compared to the range of options offered by the Motorstorm series. But in the same way that Codemasters managed to keep last year’s F1 title exciting with a single type of car, Alive keeps the racing competitive, tight and challenging. Each race lets you choose a difficulty setting, number of laps and whether your rivals will be on the same vehicle or a mix of the two, and then you’re onto the dirt ready to race. Initially, it’s a nightmare. If you jump in expecting the handling of your average racer you’ll be struggling to get round corners until you realise you need to use both sticks, one to steer and one to lean the rider to get round corners quicker. As well as that you’ve got a clutch and the ability to lock your seat bounce to preload a jump. Yeah it confused me at first too.
But get round the learning curve of the controls and everything becomes really quite enjoyable. The tracks are really nicely designed, giving you a sensible challenge while still allowing you to throw yourself off some fairly hefty jumps. The tracks gets churned up as you race, making finding a reliable racing line harder as the race progresses, and knocking a barrier into the track will add extra obstacles in later laps. It all adds to the realism which is served up by the decent, if not ground breaking overall visuals. Annoyingly though, the fact the tracks are so good also emphasises one Alive’s biggest flaws: the initial amount of stuff to do. When you first fire up the game you have the option of two normal tracks, a couple of shorter tracks and two free-ride environments – unlocking the others requires you to rank up to levels 10 and 25, meaning you need to do a lot of racing on the same tracks before moving onto something a little different. The redemption code supplied with a new copy will open up a couple more options, but it’s a shame the ranking levels are as high as they are as it’s easy to get a bit bored and give up before you reach the good stuff.
If you do get a bit fed up of the racing, you can gain a few more XP by jumping into the free-play modes. With the initial options of beach and quarry surroundings this gives you an endless amount of time to race round the large environments looking for big jumps and trying out the range of tricks on offer. By using the R1 button with the right stick each jump can be transformed into a gravity-defying stunt which (if you land them successfully) earns you points that get turned into XP when you finish your free session. You can use these stunts in races as well if you fancy showing off, but doing so gives the obvious risk or crashing out if you get it a bit wrong and land on your head. Even so, if you’re playing with friends in split screen or online it’s always nice to leap across the finish line to win a race mid-backflip.
The online racing itself gave mixed results. Much of the time I ended up in a race on my own, and sat for 15 minutes before realising nobody was joining me. The lack of lobby selection makes finding a reliable race a very hit and miss affair as the automatic matchmaking finds the most suitable game, even if that’s an empty track. Get into a race though and the experience is ok, there’s a bit of lag every now and then and the usual few muppets who prefer to race backwards or crash into people in purpose, but it’s a reasonably worthwhile option if you can find a race to take part in.
MX vs ATV Alive is very much a game of two halves. On the one hand the racing is good fun and once you get used to the controls you’ll be flying round the tracks skilfully and enjoying the close racing. But on the other hand, there’s no career mode – every race is just a one off – and the initial track selection is extremely weak. Online multiplayer is also inconsistent and tricky to get into, but then you’ve got the lower selling price which makes all this slightly more acceptable.
Ultimately, those of you who enjoy a bit of Motocross will love this. The rest of you might want to think twice to make sure you want a more realistic off-road racer, because if it’s pure speed and thrills you’re after you might be better off with one of the Motorstorm titles. But whatever you decide, you’ll find Alive to be a very decent racing game that just needs just patience and forgiveness.