MX vs. ATV makes its return in ‘MX vs. ATV Reflex’, and it is reflexes you will need, as you head into this off-road racer. Rainbow Studios has raised the bar with several new features that will have you steering for control. It is time to tune it up, hit the throttle, and get dirty with MX vs. ATV Reflex.
MX vs. ATV is one series that is usually prejudged before it is given a change. This is because Rainbow Studios, and its 'vs.' series seemed to have its own wheels stuck in perpetual motion. Spinning its wheels with little, or no, exceptional innovations, the 'vs' brand has made minimum headway on what makes the 'motocross off-road genre' so great in the first place. This leads you to assume that each game will be just like the last. Well, before you think "oh no! not another MX vs. ATV game", wait a second, because Rainbow Studios has been hard at work to make ‘MX vs. ATV Reflex’ the next evolutionary step in the long running off-road racing series-- its true! MX vs. ATV Reflex is a whole new beast, thanks to a few features including improved physics, and real-time terrain deformation. This time around MX vs. ATV delivers a rejuvenating look into the world of motocross.
If you recall, ‘Sega Rally Revo’, than you will remember the impact real-time terrain deformation can make in a game. This feature instantly transformed 'Sega Rally Revo' from another run-of-the-mill arcade rally racer into an interesting, intense racer-- and the same happens with 'MX vs. ATV Reflex'. If you are not aware of terrain deformation in gaming, it basically calculates each vehicles tire in the terrain and makes the proper deformation in the surface, in real-time. Essentially-- it puts marks in the ground from your tires.
This might not seem like much. However, when the tires sink into surfaces like mud, you have another part of the terrain that you have to worry about. In Reflex, you now have to make more decisions on the fly in how you will approach each section of torn up ground. Riding in a premade groove is the easy way to go, although you can easily make your own path in a race. What you want to look out for are unexpected dips, and grooves, which can throw your vehicle out of balance, and when a race is heading on multiple laps, the affects of the terrain deformation is multiplied.
Terrain Deformation becomes even more interesting when you are racing against multiple vehicle types that can leave different indentations in each surface. The terrain deformation might not a be a big deal when you are racing in a Sports Truck, but if you are racing against this guy with a little 125cc bike, then you are in for a challenge. Going big is not always the best option though, the little bikes can maneuver a lot easier, but lack the stability, and size of anything bigger. When the added danger of water is added to the terrain reacting in real-time, you have more than one hazard that can creep up at anytime. That being said, 'MX vs. ATV' shows off the best use of this tech since it has been introduced in gaming. This is the first 'MX' game with it included, but you know it likely will not be the last. It is almost sickening to think that we used to play off-road racing games without this feature; it makes that much of an impact. Nice job, Rainbow.
Rhythm is a Racer
The other big feature in Reflex is the improved Rhythm Racing Physics engine. This allows you to control your rider on the bike freely while riding. Shifting your weight around is a major part of Motocross racing, and now you have more control over your reflexes in Reflex. The main use of this feature is to pull back to get more air when hitting jumps, moving your body over with your legs to take sharper corners, and a general overall sense of control on the bike. The riders reflexes is handled by the right analog stick, while your bike is controlled with the left stick (gas on the triggers). This scheme works perfectly in the game, although a slight transition time is required to master it. It will only take a few races, and Rainbow has included a nice and achievement worthy tutorial to help you with the changes in the game.
These physics also come to play in saving yourself from death defying crashes with the ability to regain your balance before a wipe out. Your saving grace in this situation is pressing the left analog stick in the right direction when the on screen indicator tells you. This flashing green arrow is impossible not to spot which should save you more a broken bones, and more pivotally, a few seconds.
A Road Less Traveled
Contributing to the frequency that you might crash is the vastly different courses available in Reflex. More than any other MX title, Reflex explores true off-road racing with some dynamic tracks that include everything from snow-capped hills to giant clusters of logs on the track. Some of the 'National' races are a blast with more dangers to elude than hills, and logs... I am talking about hidden rivers, sharp turns over escarpment edges, and more. Now that I have played Reflex for sometime, I have to wonder why it took Rainbow so long to get ‘extreme’ in its design? It makes the old games seem ridiculously underwhelming, and it is definitely the way to go in the future. Aside from the true off-roading, you have indoor arena for freestyle competitions, and some generic styled race tracks. As a whole you will probably be alarmed by the switch up in Reflex, if you have played the previous games, and if you are just coming in now, you picked a good time to join the party.
Put Those Trucks Back in the Garage
Now that Rainbow has refined the core mechanics of how it feels to race in 'MX vs. ATV', the Sport Trucks seem unnecessary. The trucks used to be a fun alternative to racing with bikes. However, now with the improve physics, they seem to take away the excellent action on the bikes. The trucks do not have the same feel or pull on the track, and feel more last-gen than anything else in the game. On one level they are a fun escape, but I can see MX benefiting from the time spent expanding the bike portion of the game. I think it is time to put those trucks back in the garage.
Under the Hood
The real big negative comes in to play in the graphics department. Reflex looks as good, as or better than the old MX games. However, the game has a lot of little glitches which could have been avoided with a few more months in the shop-- optimizing the engine. It is obvious Reflex has the horsepower; it just needs to be streamlined which is easier said than done, I am sure.
While you are racing around the track in Reflex textures will be constantly loading to deal with the deformation which looks like the game is constantly under BAD plastic surgery. There is a lot of blurry pop-in textures which partially appear right under your tires as you push through the terrain. The game also has a fare amount of screen tearing that is distinctly apparent. These flaws aren't occasional hiccups either, they happen all the time! It is very noticeable and hurts the overall graphics score of the game. Surprisingly, even though Reflex has its flaws, it doesn't make the game unplayable which is the more important than dealing with some ugly moments. In the future, I am sure Rainbow will be working out the kinks, and by the time Reflex 2 rolls out, let us hope they are all gone.
Why so... blah
Another unimpressive feature related to the graphics is the dull interface that has been strangely simplified to the point where it is too simple, and bare bones. The navigation is sloppy, and even though its has less, it still feels unrefined. I am not sure what happened here, but whatever it is, it needs to go back to some other format. Now, I wouldn’t say I want to see a ‘Forza Motorsport’ look attached to MX vs. ATV. However, something a little edgier in the vein of their old games would work.
Hello, is anyone online?
Reflex also has an online component. However, over the five days I spent playing Reflex, and trying to hook up online, no one could be found. I hope this isn't a reflection on Reflex’s popularity, and rather that it is simply the holiday season?! Reflex is a good game, and I can suspect the online portion would be a lot of fun, judging from the split-screen action. In split-screen, Reflex delivers like you would expect, and is fun, but I really wanted to head online. Take that for what it is, and with a grain of salt over the shoulder, I hope more gamers start to come online.
I wasn’t expecting too much heading into 'MX vs. ATV Reflex', so I was pleasantly surprised when I started up its engine. Rainbow Studios has put a lot of effort into Reflex, and it shows. 'MX vs. ATV Reflex' is a momentous change for the better, and thanks has to be given to the improved physics engine, and the new terrain deformation technology that is running under the surface. Sure, Reflex could use some more optimization, as texture popping is a problem. However, it’s quickly becomes buried when you start to hit the big jumps, and race through the dangerous woodland terrain.
MX vs. ATV Reflex is a nice switch up from the more serious racers, and its fast and extremely fun off-road racing is steps above what we have previously seen. I hope the Rainbow team stays motivated, as they are the right path of redeeming the former glory of the series. MX vs. ATV Reflex is worth the investment, and one racing game that should not be overlooked.
Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:6.5, Sound:8.0, Innovation:8.0, Mojo:9.0 Final: 8.0 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 12.28.09