It's about f***** time!
I like getting dirty. Not in a Christina Aguilera I-need-my-vagina-pounded-by-fifty-guys way. More of a let’s get out there and get all muddied up playing football or riding quads kind of way.
[image1]Sometimes, though, I can’t get out there into the wild world to have my fun, and I must find enjoyment in more stationary forms of entertainment. And that usually means playing video games. But what if I still want to get muddier than a pig in a pen? Well, that’s what games like MX vs. ATV Untamed are made for.
Now if you’ve played the last MX vs. ATV title, this is going to be familiar territory. Oh, how I remember those days long ago of riding around in a sandbox environment looking for races and score challenges. Well, the sandboxes are gone and we’re left with a much cleaner game. Apparently, this is not an entirely new concept, but if you’re not familiar with the last installment, this might be right up your alley.
As always, there is a plethora of vehicles and racing styles to choose from. Everything from motocross to monster trucks can be selected to romp through the mud. There are even mini-bikes thrown into the mix for the hell of it. It’s quite amusing to go flying over a dirt mound on a bike that looks like it was made for a pygmy.
To get you familiar with all the racing events and styles, there is a pretty cool X-Cross tournament mode that has you do various races to unlock more arenas and vehicles. It’s a uncluttered way to get the full experience of the game, and I’m surprised it took them this long to get around to it.
[image2]There is a decent number of multiplayer mini-games included as well. Most of them are a lot of fun, especially the Tron-light-bike-influenced “Snake” and “Tag”. But there is a runt in the litter, namely “Hockey”. The idea of playing hockey with ATVs is pretty amusing, but the camera angles and the distance from the playing field make it impossible to maneuver. Overall, though, the multi-player experience is one of the best features in Untamed.
Graphically, the game looks decent but somewhat plain. There is a fair amount of detail in the backgrounds and terrain, but it’s all rather boring. The colors are very flat and there is not much shading detail. On the bright side, as you progress through a level, you start to notice more filth covering your vehicle and your driver. You can almost feel the grime under your fingers.
The music is a menagerie of angst-ridden aggressive metal and pop-punk, which are not really my style, but fit extremely well with the intensity of the races. And while I did dislike most of the music, I am a fan of both NOFX and Bad Religion, who both have songs on the soundtrack that rock hard.
The sound effects in Untamed are realistic and therefore quite annoying. All the engines sound like alarm clocks or weed whackers cranked up to 11. I’m sure it might help other folks get into the game, but I just found it irritating, especially after long periods of gameplay. That grinding “waaah” will reverberate through your head long after you put the game down.
[image3]Outside all the bleeps and grunts, the gameplay itself is quite enjoyable. It has a good mix of arcade and simulation features that are not so in-depth that the casual gamer would lose interest. You can adjust the timing and balance if you feel so inclined, but it is not necessary. I didn’t touch the settings on any vehicle and was still beating my more mechanically inclined friends into the dirt. That doesn’t mean the customizable features are useless; it just means that you can still beat the gear-heads if you can race better than them, and if you’re good at both, you are nearly unstoppable.
The amount of custom options for your racers and vehicles is fairly deep. And since there is a lot to see in the multiplayer and online features, it makes sense that you would be able to set yourself apart from the crowd visually. It’s fleshed out well and you can end up putting a lot of time into your look.
The control system is complicated, more so than your average racing game since there are so many vehicles with such differentiating features. You just don’t drive a monster truck the same way you drive a dirt bike. However, some of the controls just aren't that intuitive, like having to hold down the accelerate and brake buttons at the same time to go in reverse. Most racing games just have a specific button for reverse or have you hold down the brake button. Maybe I’m just slow, but I had to grab the instruction manual and actually look up how to reverse.
There’s also no button to reset your vehicle if you get too far off course. Instead, there is a 3-second timer that pulls you back onto the track no matter where you are. Even if you’re about to get right back on course, the screen will fade out momentarily and plop you wherever it has deemed proper. It can be annoying sometimes, but this method works for the style of racing involved. With so many jumps and branching paths, it probably ends up saving you more time than it wastes.
[image4]When riding ATVs or MX bikes you have the ability to perform stunts for bonus points, and there are even some levels where the goal is to get a high score in a trick contest. There are some pretty cool moves you can pull off if you get the timing right. The only truly difficult aspect of pulling off stunts is timing the landing. I found myself doing some crazy trick combos, only to have my driver land flat on his face in the dirt for some indiscernible reason. While the huge car crashes and rag doll physics are amusing, it's difficult to complete stunts with any consistency.
So did THQ’s latest installment satisfy my need to be a dirty boy? MX vs. ATV Untamed is fun if you dig on arcade-style off-road racers, but there's still room for improvement in some departments, especially the graphics. If you’re more intro realistic racing, you may want to pass on this one for something more like Forza Motorsport. All these things considered, you still might need a shower after rolling around in the virtual dirt for a while.