IGN Review of MX vs. ATV Reflex
For more than a decade now, Rainbow Studios has been knee-deep in offroad and motocross racing in various forms. Starting with Motocross Madness back on the PC, the studio has delivered some sort of offroad racer almost every year since then, and I've played most of them. I can remember reading previews for Motocross Madness 2 back in the day and how there was talk of you being able to break your bones and needing to pay for hospital bills after a racing event. It was going to be awesome and force you to change the way you played the game.
That feature didn't make it into the sequel. Instead, Motocross Madness 2 added better visuals, more courses (including a track editor) and refined controls. It was definitely an improvement, but in terms of the actual gameplay, it was an evolutionary step, not a revolutionary one. That same sort of pattern has been happening year-in, year-out since then. More vehicle types have joined the fray, multiple console generations have allowed for substantially better graphics, and more processing power has allowed for better physics (and in turn, better controls). But by and large, we've been playing the same sort of thing for years, and while Rainbow has it pretty much down to a science by now, MX vs. ATV Reflex really is just more of the same.
Don't get me wrong -- Reflex is a really fun title, and anyone who enjoys a racer of this sort should definitely consider picking it up. But, if you've played the past couple releases, this will largely seem like familiar territory.
That's not to say that there isn't a smattering of new features this year. For one thing, there's complete terrain deformation now. Driving over soft dirt will give way to the mud below, but rather than just remove dirt, you actually move it. That is, instead of just creating a line in the ground where your tire was, you're shoving the dirt to the side and creating mounds on either side of the rut, making your resulting wake more treacherous for your opponents (and yourself). The result is that each successive lap around a track leaves the course more and more worn, and you'll theoretically have a harder time keeping your lines clean as the race goes on.
On some courses, this has a noticeable impact, though it's not as game-changing as it sounds like it could be. Some courses are already beat to hell before you get there, so you don't really notice a major change after taking a few laps. In other cases, I noticed that it made my race tougher than if the deformation wasn't there, but it didn't feel like it was getting worse as the race went on. What you don't get from this solution is dirt becoming loose and causing your ride to slide around a corner rather than bite. It's more of a flat vs. bumpy effect. It's great because it forces you to respect the course and drive more defensively than you might have before. However, I didn't find myself adapting to the changes as races progressed, but I'd instead race as if I was always dealing with the toughened terrain right from the start.
Another change in Reflex is the way tricks are handled. Previously, you'd press a button or two and push the left analog stick in one of eight directions to trigger a trick. Now, all of your moves have been transferred to the right analog stick. You press and hold the trick button (to essentially turn the stick into "trick" mode) and then tap or rotate three directions. Left, right, right will do one trick, while up, left, down will perform another, for instance.
The change from face buttons to the right analog stick was intended for a different trick system initially, but that doesn't matter at this point. What matters is that while it now takes more input to perform a trick (you have to do three things instead of one, essentially), it's still just a game of Simon Says. It works, but it also needs some work.
One thing that seemed nice to me in early previews was the way that trick competitions had changed. Rather than earning points for performing a trick and having that add to your total for the round, you're now judged on five categories, including difficulty, flow (how well you use the course) and execution.
The idea here is great, and when casually considered it does a nice job of changing how things work. But, the system is very imperfect. For one thing, it doesn't seem like you're judged over time. That is, if you perform a couple awesome tricks and see that your scores are fairly high already, you can just sit there and let time run out to claim your victory. It also doesn't always pick up what you do correctly. If you launch off of a ramp oddly, like at an extreme angle for example, it might not count as a trick, and even if you do some crazy stuff, you won't get credit for it. Likewise, I've hit a jump, performed a trick and then watched my difficulty score rise immediately, but then add in two other tricks to the combo and see no immediate increase. The idea is good, but the implementation needs tuning.
The other major addition to MX vs. ATV Reflex is its namesake: the Reflex controls. Rather than controlling your bike and rider as one unit with the left analog stick, the left stick now controls your vehicle while the right controls your rider (in applicable vehicle types). This allows you to lean into turns and gives you a little more control over how you're handling the track. This sort of extends to the ability to recover from bad landings where an arrow will appear in one of the four main directions on the screen, and matching the arrow with the right stick will save you and keep you going on your way.
In practice, the rider control adds a layer of complexity to steering that makes you more involved in cutting corners well, though the question of whether or not it's more fun is up for debate. After a while, I found that I was naturally using both sticks to turn and only the left to make fine adjustments, and it sort of became second nature to me. That's a good thing, though as it became a constant habit, it wasn't a "use when needed" technique; I simply always did, so the idea of making the controls more dynamic this way were lost on me. However, I did appreciate the ability to save myself from a crash, so that was great to see added in there.
In terms of the overall controls, Rainbow Studios has always been very good about giving you a very responsive input system, and that hasn't changed one bit. Once you get good, you're able to dial in pretty much exactly what you want whenever you want. My only complaint here is that most of the vehicles could feel more substantial with a little more weight to them. Some of the trucks and bigger vehicles can fly when you hit a bump so they can feel a little too feathery, especially on uneven courses. Still, the controls are quite good overall.
One thing that Rainbow has always done exceptionally well is design a great course to race through, and that remains true here. Pretty much every track in the game is very well designed as the course designers have a great knack of transitioning between speed, wide turns and tight ones. They're difficult in just the right ways where blazing through them will hurt you, but practicing and respecting them will give you a big advantage. Fantastic stuff here once again.
©2009-12-02, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved