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MX vs. ATV: Alive Review

Kevin_Dermody By:
GENRE Action / Driving 
PLAYERS 1- 12 
DEVELOPER THQ Digital Studios Phoenix 
E Contains Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

About as Alive as a Chia pet.

I'm sure I've gone over this before. There are a great many facets of any given game which, were that game in another category, would be considered a bad mark. Can you imagine Mario huddling behind a green pipe, waiting for the screen to stop flashing red? Or what if ESPN Football had Blue Shells? (Actually, that one sounds sort of cool...)

click to enlargeStill, it takes a very special sort of game to defy the boundaries of genres and have mechanics that can be embraced across the board as universal failings, regardless of the type of game we're talking about. And this is where I segue into the review for MX vs. ATV Alive.

MX vs. ATV Alive is an off-road racing game, wherein one races on a track. I'm not rightly sure how a track can still be considered "off-road", but that's really neither here nor there. In Alive, players control either a four-wheeled ATV buggy contraption or an MX dirtbike, and drive around in circles on a dirt track, trying to compete for first place while also trying not to fall down and break their necks. It's so superbly intense and extreme that every track you find will be littered with Red Bull adverts: Because nothing tells The Man to shove off like drinking Red Bull.

From the outset, Alive's simplest failure is its lack of a tutorial. There are very few games that can get away with no tutorial; even fewer with the level of apparent complexity found in Alive. While one screen will helpfully describe the various controls to players, much of it does little to describe the mechanics of the game. Players will know where the clutch is, for example, and how to use the emergency brake, but they will not be told how those relate to controlling their vehicle. Given that simply "screwing around with the controls" yields no discernible answers to the question of "what the hell does this button do", it would at least be nice to have a brief description of how the game operates in the game manual.

(The game manual, it should be noted, does little in the way of help: It describes a website one can go to for tips and tricks... but that's pushing things. Is it really that hard to print a paragraph of text above the Red Bull advertisement, telling you how and when to use the clutch?)

click to enlargeWhen the game does offer help, it does so inconsistently. Upon being knocked around by other bikers, a message may flash, reminding players that the joystick can be used to keep your bike from being knocked over. This may happen the first time the player is assaulted by competitors; it may not happen until several hours into the game. It may occasionally flash when the bike is about to tumble its rider to a painful and squishy crash, or it may offer no such support, leaving players to wonder why they're suddenly being sent to the hospital. And sometimes, it will warn that the bike is about to tumble, but no such tumble occurs regardless of whether the anti-tumble controls are used or not.

To explain the issue here, it's important to note that no game has to be realistic to be fun; it just has to adhere to its own rules of reality. Alive presents a haphazard set of rules before breaking them wildly and outright ignoring them. The physics when driving can differ not only from bike to bike and course to course, but even lap to lap, with the same maneuvers yielding catastrophically different results each time they're tried. There may be some sort of life lesson here (don't go dirtbiking, it'll screw you up broseph!), but it does not make for good gameplay.

If this game offered any semblance of interesting gameplay or entertaining multiplayer, it might have some sort of redeeming value. As it stands, however, there is little that Alive offers that can't be found in other - far better - games. Even other MX vs. ATV games.

Multiplayer, for example, is a carbon copy of what single-player offers, but with the added disappointment of lacking both smoothness and balancing. Players will routinely find their superior racing skillz routed by either superior equipment on the part of their opponents or enough lag to make dial-up look speedy.

click to enlargeThe equipment and leveling system in particular deserves some explanation. Alive implements a sort of RPG system, where winning races earns XP and leveling up can offer new abilities, such as being allowed a longer grace time for preventing your vehicle from overturning or better stats for your current vehicle. While the concept can be intriguing, the implementation leaves something to be desired.

In practice, leveling up is a long and arduous process, with more aesthetic than pragmatic perks being unlocked; players will get more stickers and uniform colors than they'll know what to do with. Moreover, given that the stat "bonuses" are incredibly large when they are finally achieved, the lack of any semblance of matchmaking online can lead to frustration and pain. If a rank 6 player can defeat a rank 5 with one hand tied behind their back, why would the game pair you online with players as many as 15 or 20 ranks above you?

This assumes, of course, multiplayer can be accessed in the first place. The GR offices supply fairly impressive internet speeds; even so, lobbies took several minutes to join, and the gameplay was riddled with hiccups and abrupt lag bubbles. When you lose a match - and you will lose - it will be hard to tell whether it was a result of the terrifying vehicle handling, the vast difference in player ranks, or the lag between pressing a button and your vehicle's response.

MX vs. ATV Alive isn't simply a "meh" game that could have done better. It takes interesting concepts and ideas other games have tried and runs them into the ground. The only thing that can possibly be complimented with Alive would be a few vague ideas with the potential for fun; but grading on those alone is hardly enough. Whatever the game could have been is smothered in the dirt.
D Revolution report card
  • Inconsistent physics and handling
  • Incredibly terrible matchmaking
  • Unacceptable lag in multiplayer
  • The RPG/Skill System isn't worth the time spent
  • ...unless you like pink costumes and adverts
  • I do love me some Red Bull
    Reviews by other members
    No member reviews for the game.

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