MX vs ATV: Alive is something of a budget game at $40, and its limited content only further cements its barebones concept. Luckily there is a relatively strong game behind the thin content, but THQ’s downloadable extras model still doesn’t justify the poorly-constructed player progression mechanics. Yes, there are decent tracks you can unlock as you delve deeper through the game, but the problem is you must play through the same levels over and over again to unlock the good stuff. The game does little to make the process of unlocking fresh content remotely interesting, and as such you’ll probably spend the bulk of your time looking for big air in the free ride areas. Still, if you like motocross in any way or have an affinity for kart racers, this is a worthwhile budget game.
Exploding out of the gate on your first race you’ll notice two things immediately. First, if you’ve never played a motocross game, you will need to get used to steering your racer with both analogue sticks. This is an arcade-style game, but you will still need to master the difference between steering and moving your racer’s weight. The second thing you’ll notice is that racing is fast, intense, and extremely physical. This is easily the game’s biggest strength. Had a frustrating day and want to blast through snowy mud track with 11 other opponents? Not a problem, but you should get ready for tons of spills and physically jockeying with your opponents for the lead.
You can ride either a motocross bike or an ATV—hence the game’s title. While the vehicles perform differently, you control them the same way. The initial learning curve is tough and eats away at the arcade-style enjoyment. However, once you pick up on the ability to blast through a tight turn, or adjust your body weight prior to hitting a jump, you’ll find you have quite a bit of control over your virtual racer.
As you master the game’s nuances, you’ll start to win some races and earn experience points. These points go to your user profile in addition to your vehicle. You’ll unlock items to customize your bike or ATV, abilities for your character, and of course new levels—two cycles unlocked at level 10 and 25. The abilities are quite useful, especially in later levels. You can unlock abilities like faster crash recovery and a boost to knocking your opponents out of whack. The XP system works pretty well, and offers a great opportunity to trick out your ride, if you are into that sort of thing. Plus, it’s great to have two slots for your abilities, offering up a decent amount of variety depending on your race style.
All of this is standard, but there is void in the content and the player progression that is likely owing to the virtually non-existent career mode. The game offers about 12 tracks, which are actually quite varied, but you only get a small handful to race for the first 10 levels. Plus, there are only two event types. You can either Race or Free Ride. Under the Race mode, you can choose a standard or short track. The two on-disc Free Ride areas offer a platter of big jumps set on dunes or a quarry. You’ll earn experience in these areas by performing tricks, getting big air, or performing other open-world style challenges. Once you get bored of trying to land a massive trick however, you’ll likely want to hit the racing circuit. The problem here, again, is that there is such little content that the proceedings quickly become dull and repetitive.
The game has local and online multiplayer, both of which work quite well. There are some visual gripes in regards to both split screen and online play, but nothing that really detracts from the otherwise fast action. The game also looks quite good, despite some shadow flickers, and even at the fastest speeds you can really appreciate the detailed backdrops. As the competition heats-up, the wheels of the vehicles will carve out grooves in the track. This is quite impressive, and not just graphically as you’ll notice it also has an impact on the actual gameplay.
With the sheer lack of a campaign mode, a thin offering of tracks, and a slow progression, Mx vs ATV: Alive carries a distinct budget vibe about it. Still, it looks great, it’s surprisingly enjoyable to play, and the competition is fierce; having said that, there isn’t quite enough here to justify a purchase for non-motocross fans. Obviously if you like racing games, especially dirt-style, this needs to be on your stack of games. Just don’t expect it to stay on top too long unless you drop some money in the downloadable extras.