I have always been a huge fan of Rainbow Studios and their stable of racing titles, even dating back to their Motorcross Madness days on PC. The MX vs. ATV series has slowly transitioned from arcade, physics based racing, to a more realistic approach in recent offerings, and it really felt like the team was getting the mechanics tuned to perfection. When Alive was announced, I was excited to see where the team had gone, only to be slightly disappointed to discover that this outing is more like an unfinished project than a full-fledged sequel.
One of the big red flags, right off the bat, is the lack of any type of structure to the game. Once you load it up you get a pitiful amount of options. Jumping into racing, the game just throws you into a series of tracks without any kind of structure or tutorial to learn the basics. You do earn XP to level up your rider, but the game doesn’t bother to tell you what these points do, or even how you earn them. The game seems to assume that you played the previous effort Reflex, and you should just pick up from there. If this is your first rodeo, expect a huge learning curve.
Jumping directly into a race can be punishing. The MX vs. ATV series has evolved over the years with regard to control schemes. You have to do more than simply hold down the gas and steer. Both analog sticks are required to keep your rider upright, and using the clutch to get a quick jump off the line and keep speed around turns is crucial to winning the more challenging races. Again, the game explains none of this and you are left to figure out how to play all on your own. Thankfully, a quick trip online or some trial and error and you will be on your way, but this is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the incompleteness of this title.
The experience you earn at the end of each race opens up more customization options, which appears to be a large aspect of the game; so much, in fact, that it has its own dedicated store just for parts and such that can be purchased with real money. The developers have also stated that a lot of content is planned for DLC to flesh out the package, but to be honest with such a bare-bones offering upfront, it will be a hard sell to get people to invest in the promise of a complete game.
I know I sound completely negative on the game, and I hate to be, but the lack of content truly is disheartening. Thankfully, what is here is truly worth checking out if you can get past the initial hurdles. Yes, the learning curve can be steep, but once you get it down, this is one of the most enjoyable and realistic motorcross racing games I have ever played. Learning to pre-load jumps and properly utilize the clutch to take the lead at the last turn is exhilarating. Also, the selection of tracks is nothing to scoff at. There are about a dozen regular, four short and two free ride areas, the latter of which is the only disappointing aspect. Free Ride has become a staple of the series and with only two, extremely small (relative to past games) available, it is a disappointment. New copies of the game do have a download code for some extra tracks, but I truly wanted larger, more interesting Free Ride options.
The number of modes from the previous game also take a hit. Unlike Relfex and its nice selection of diversions, Alive only offers up race and free ride. There are also only the two named vehicles, but that is more of a preference than anything else. I am just curious why this game is so sparse on content considering it has been quite some time since the last game. I am also curious why it needed to be pushed out the door when 3-4 months of additional development time would have done wonders for the content, considering the gameplay is top-notch.
The one area you will easily have the most enjoyment is multiplayer. You can ride with a friend via split-screen, or hop online for up to 12 racer action. Split-screen is manageable but suffers from some serious pop-in and texture issues. The online, on the other hand, is like butter: lag-free and a blast if you can manage to team up with riders at your skill level. The online mode is by far the highlight of the game and no online pass is required.
MX vs. ATV Alive is a sad example of a game that has so much going for it, but lacks the content to back it up. The game plays great, is a blast online and contains moments of brilliance, but its lack of any kind of tutorial, career structure and just plain content really drag it down. The lower price point is definitely tempting, but know what you are getting into before laying down the cash. Fans of the series will undoubtedly find more enjoyment because the learning curve will be much easier to overcome. The worst part about Alive for me is that I can see the potential around every corner, which is quickly met by disappointing omissions.
Review copy provided by publisher.