Ever since the first time I played Motocross Madness on the PC I have been obsessed with the Rainbow Studios team and their MX work. Over the years the MX vs. series has become one of my favorite games to play year-in and year-out. When I heard that THQ was planning yet another entry in the series I got excited. A few weeks ago I tried out the demo and was shocked that I actually hated the game. All of the accessibility and over-the-top action had been stripped and the game felt like a mess. This was entirely the demo’s fault for not offering the proper tutorial right out of the gate. Reflex is an entirely different beast of a game, and once you settle into it and learn the ropes, it becomes highly enjoyable.
The biggest reason I found the demo so frustrating is because of the newest feature to the series. You now use the right analog stick to shift the rider’s weight during races. Basically this means you control your riding with both analogs simultaneously. At first it is daunting, and you will take some time to accustom yourself to the change, but once you get the hang of it, it will be hard to go back to the old style. Taking corners is now much more realistic thanks to the leaning feature and you can even avoid wrecks by tapping the right analog to shift your weight when you land poorly. The game requires dedication and patience, making it much more simulation that past efforts.
This is ultimately what will make or break the game for players. Anyone who has played the series simply to jump in and see how high they can jump or how insane their tricks can be, will be in for disappointment. Reflex implements a more realistic approach to the genre and that is reflected both on the track and in the difficulty. The career mode is challenging to say the least. One wreck could make or break the entire race and you will find yourself selecting restart more often than not when you wipe out. Reflex is a game that really requests that the player learn the tracks and the weight shifting in order to win each race, and that is where the line between casual fans and hardcore ones will be drawn.
Speaking of the tracks another huge feature added to this year’s game is terrain deformation. Sure many games claim to have it, and some even do a fantastic job of implementing it such as Motorstorm and even the most recent Sega Rally. However, MX games have been somewhat lacking in the feature in recent years. Reflex does a fantastic job of ripping up the terrain during races that you have to account for each time around. Track memorization is a must and this will likely be a deterrent for casual players. There is no mini-map to let you know what is around the next corner, not that it would matter anyway as you are likely to have to deal with a groove in the track that wasn’t there anyways. This makes races feel unique each time around and ultimately adds to the replay value of the game.
The modes and vehicles you have come to expect are all here, and just as much fun as you remember. The best about part about the MX series has been the diversity that the game throws at you. In addition to the standard MX bikes and ATVs you will also find a wide variety of other vehicles including UTVs, trucks and even buggies. The most exciting races are when you are up against all the various types and it becomes a massacre of crashes and attempts to avoid being run over. The events are spaced out so that things never get boring and even the trick competitions have been overhauled to make them more exciting than simply working to score the most points. The core game has been fine-tuned here, but it is easy to miss if you are not a hardcore fan of the series.
This is probably the one area where the game will suffer the most. If you have not been around since the inception of the series, or simply don’t find the subtle nuances of the additions interesting Reflex is likely not going to impress you. In fact you will wonder why it wears a $60 price tag when you can purchase the previous incarnation for under $30. Needless to say I feel that this latest MX title may be the line drawer when it comes to separating the longtime fans with the casual ones, and that could definitely impact sales as well as future projects from the country. Still even if you hated the demo I urge you to give the final game a chance simply because it really is an evolution for the series.
On a purely visual level the game looks good. Not exactly next-leap forward good like you might expect, but it definitely has some shining moments. For example the tracks are gorgeous, even with their subtle pop-in. Rider animations are excellent and crashes actually make you cringe in your seat. The frame rate remains solid throughout and things rarely get bogged down no matter how long the draw distance. It isn’t revolutionary as far as graphics are concerned, but it gets the job done nicely. The soundtrack on the other hand is purely an acquired taste. I am not the largest fan of thrash metal, so some of the songs simply turned me off quickly. In fact this is one of the first games I actually switched to custom soundtracks in quite a long time.
There is plenty to do within the single player portion of the game and there is also an online mode that contains all the standard bells and whistles you would imagine. Right now there is a decent online community to play with and the games run relatively smooth regardless of which console you are playing on.
MX vs. ATV Reflex is a game that has been fine-tuned for the fans of the series. The new Reflex controls are great once you get used to them, but they also alienate the casual audience by making the game a bit more demanding than some gamers are willing to put up with. Still if you have enjoyed the series you know what to expect here. The collection of modes is great, the track designs are fantastic and the controls are smooth once you learn to use both analogs simultaneously. Reflex feels more like an evolutionary step for the series as opposed to a revolutionary one, and also one that not everyone is going to appreciate. However, if you are a fan then it is definitely worth checking out.