Pity the poor right analog stick. Since its integration into the Playstation’s Dualshock controller, the diminutive nub has often been subjugated to controlling the game’s camera. Several years ago, the developers of several sports titles expanded their control schemes by reintegrating the neglected stick. Players were able to deke, crossover, and spin with unmatched finesse, intuitively complementing each game’s core input method.
As with previous series iterations, 2007’s MX vs. ATV: Untamed required players to use the left joystick to navigate over its rugged off-road courses. The title’s preload feature, encouraged gamers seeking maximum air to pull back on the controller before reaching the apex of a jump, no longer felt innovative. The element had been a mainstay for Rainbow Studios since 2001’s ATV Offroad Fury. Clearly, the franchise would have to offer more than a subtle visual enhancement to remain relevant.
The first few races with the recently released MX vs. ATV: Reflex are likely to stymie players, especially if they skip the game’s nearly-requisite tutorial. While the game uses the left stick to maneuver vehicles, a rider’s weight is adjusted with the right stick, creating an intricate system of control. The innovation certainly adds to the title’s sense of immersion. Vehicles no longer seem magnetically attracted to the game’s courses, prohibiting riders from performing full-throttle laps. Corners and jumps require diligence, as too much power can quickly send players catapulting into the course’s borders. In many respects, the title’s physics model is forgiving- unwieldy landings will flash a green arrow on-screen, requiring players to snap the right stick in the corresponding direction. A timely push can save the player from calamity, occurring with enough frequency to require a near-constant state of alertness.
Additionally, the game’s integration of track deformation ensures that each race feels wonderfully dynamic. Each of Reflex‘s two to four-wheeled vehicles dig into the tracks accordingly, gutting the surface with fissures and ruptures. Topography ranges from loose topsoil, thick mud, sand pits, and ice pockets, each changing the player’s traction. It’s amazing to see a murky gulch grow larger with each successive lap, and unlike most auto racers, requires gamers to be aware of an ever-changing racing environment.
Although racing can be both euphoric and involving, Reflex’s collision system will certainly aggravate players. While leading a race, an AI rider will often take flight across a jump, hitting the back of the gamer’s motorcycle and inducing a wipeout. Similarly, contact in corners can send the player tumbling into a ragdoll animation, potentially instigating a controller-throwing rage. In these instances, Reflex’s physics model desperately cries out for desensitization.
While Reflex’s low-slung camera angle may immediately grab a gamer’s attention, it’s the title’s smaller visual perks that elevate the title. From the bike bouncing mud flaps to the wind-swept jerseys, the game’s attention to detail is remarkable. Both consoles sport a perfectly fluid frame, although we seemed to spot a bit too much activity in the PS3’s ground transformation. David Lee’s signature slow baritone walks players through the tutorial and event introductions, adding a dose of authenticity to the proceedings.
Reflex’s variety of events, from arena-based Supercross competitions to buggy and truck racing in Omnicross, offers a welcome amount of diversity across the game’s forty tracks. Waypoint racing feels wonderfully dangerous, as reckless gamers can inadvertently launch themselves into a thicket of trees. The game’s Free Ride mode gives participants an open world with four mini-events to tackle- from hill climbs to jump targets, that offer a reprieve from the title’s racing. MX vs. ATV’s multiplayer games utilize playlists, which allow gamers to jump into matches with a minimum of fuss. The game’s Snake event was particularly appealing, offering a Tron lightcycle-like diversion, where player’s bikes emit a color-coded, lethal trail. Both 360 and PS3 versions of the title showed very little lag during online matches.
Rainbow Studios has done a magnificent job of reinvigorating the MX series. While the addition of rider handling and track deformation might sound like back-of-the-box bullet points, both significantly change the way the title plays and feels. Even an overzealous collision system can’t keep MX vs. ATV: Reflex from finishing up at the winner’s podium.