There is no question that Rainbow Studios is the undisputed king of motocross racing games. Ever since they broke into the industry they have been creating the best off-road titles featuring vehicles with two wheels. Recently they began adding in new vehicles such as ATVs and even Monster Trucks to liven up the experience. Now with the next-generation of hardware on the market the folks who defined the motocross racing experience have returned with MX Vs. ATV Untamed for the PS3 and Xbox 360. While it certainly doesn’t re-invent the wheel, Rainbow’s latest does add quite a bit of new content as well as a refined racing engine that will have fans of the series happy for yet another season.
It can be perplexing to imagine how Rainbow has been able to keep this franchise going strong for nearly a decade. In fact outside of the name change Untamed does very little to spice up the formula on the surface. However, longtime fans of the series will immediately notice a shift of focus from more of an arcade racer to a solid middle ground of simulation and the over-the-top physics racing the series is famous for. The game is far less forgiving in some areas and downright brutal in others, which is likely to test the patience of more than a few. Regardless the game still retains the charm that made the original so much fun and with a plethora of new modes, some new mini-games, and the ability to take up to 12 players online Untamed is a solid, albeit risk-free sequel.
The heart of Untamed comes in the form of the career mode known as the X-Cross Tournament. Here a series of events are unlockable that span across the entire selection of vehicle formats as well as the different event styles. Each tier has two rounds of four or more races each and honestly run a bit longer than necessary. You will often find yourself growing tired of each type long before it is over. It’s kind of like looking at your watch during a movie, which we all know is a sign of something dragging on much longer than it should. Upon completion of each tier a new set of events will unlock, but just like the previous one races go on far too long and the tracks, while well designed, are much too lengthy to warrant the three and four lap requirements.
The most fun you will have with Untamed isn’t in the career mode so it is refreshing that there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied. For starters everyone’s favorite Free-Ride event is still present with brand new locales to go exploring. This time around you can still swap vehicles at will and of course partake in events scattered throughout the massive landscapes. New to this year’s edition is a collection aspect of different colored medals that represent their difficulty to obtain. For instance bronze medals involve very little effort and are usually found at the peak of small jumps while gold medals require the player to hit specific jumps at precise speed and angles to be able to nab them. While it is a small addition it does add some flavor to simply riding around barren areas looking for ways to flip your rider in sadistic fashion.
Two new events also make their way into Untamed and while one is rather enjoyable the other suffers from poor design and ultimately feels unnecessary. Endurocross is a variation of Supercross with the addition of environmental obstacles such as water and tree stumps. The idea is great but the execution becomes frustrating as you will often find yourself creeping around turns for fear of wiping out. These events eventually break down into exercises of memorization and less about fun. Opencross on the other hand takes large open tracks and gives you free reign on balancing risk and reward. These events are much more enjoyable from a casual perspective and fare much better in the context of the game design.
Once you are done playing with yourself Untamed has a host of multi-player options for both single console and online users. Offline even has an exclusive mode called hockey, which is exactly what it sounds like. As for the rest the highlight is definitely Snake which is basically Tron with vertical aspects. You and your rivals drive around various tracks leaving a trail behind you that will take out the other riders. The biggest difference with this iteration is that not only works on a flat level, but also on a vertical level allowing you to slider under and jump over any line your opponents lay down. The second offshoot mode is called Graffiti and any fan of the Tony Hawk series knows how this works. Basically you perform tricks off of different ramps and the player with the highest score owns that jump; that is of course until someone else bests it.
The rest of the multi-player works much like the single-player but with human opponents. Untamed supports up to twelve players online and in our online test the game runs at a decent clip. There is however some lag issues when you get all twelve riders on the screen at once. Players will perform magic disappearing acts only to reappear seconds later in a completely different spot. While this lag is completely random it is annoying and can take away from the experience. When you get a solid connection and eleven other players in the room however, the experience is certainly one of the best in the genre.
All of these modes are then wrapped in a package of excellent control that Rainbow has become famous for over the years. Every vehicle in the game from the stock MX Bikes to the massive Monster Trucks handles differently and near flawlessly. The arcade mechanic spawned in Rainbow’s original 1998 PC title Motocross Madness has been finely tuned over the years and Untamed is by far the best iteration of it yet. What makes this scheme so familiar is the way it borders the line between arcade and simulation. Everything handles very loosely, giving you the ability to turn on a dime, but the loose physics create some insane jumps that require perfect positioning to land. The learning curve will be steep for those of you new to the series and fans will likely have to adjust their thinking with the refined physics engine, but once you get the hang of it you will be hard pressed to find a better playing MX game on the market.
Visually Untamed lacks a certain graphical punch that other racers on the system have delivered over the past year. Textures are poor, environments are bland, and rider animation is limited, but the game does run extremely smooth so not all is lost. On the audio side the licensed soundtrack is chock full of bands that will appease punk fans with the likes of NOFX, Bad Religion and Pennywise to name a few and the sound effects feel directly lifted from the previous game. Everything else in the game from the menus to the options feels like standard fare and the amount of unlockable items simply won’t have you coming back for more.
MX Vs. ATV Untamed is a safe sequel that does more to refine the franchise than re-invent it. If you are a fan then there may be enough here to satisfy your need for speed, but if the last outing left you craving something new than this is not your game. Still being a long-time fan of the series Untamed brings back memories of ripping dirt with my buddies online and trying to find ways to perform outrageous stunts together and for that it succeeds. There is plenty to see and do here, but if you have been playing since the beginning it may all feel a bit too familiar to warrant another fifty of your hard earned dollars.