The MX vs. ATV series was one of several that Nordic Games saved from the brink of death amid THQ’s closure. Now, Rainbow Studios is back with the latest entry in the dirt bike/ATV hybrid racer. The last entry in the series under THQ was greatly hampered by its budget pricing being augmented by a DLC-heavy pay model, and with the former being kept and the latter being eliminated, players are left with an experience that feels like less of a cash grab and more what that game should have been. Track deformation is intact and you get more unlockable items to customize your bike and riders than ever before.
Mode selection is a bit lean, with standard races of a variety of engine types available for bikes, ATVs, and then crossover events with each kind of vehicle in a race. It’s a tried and true formula that has resulted in some chaotic action over the years. Individual races are possible and if you feel like you’ve mastered those, then you can tackle an entire series of eight races in a row. While that task can seem a bit daunting, you can always leave after a race or two if you so desire. The core gameplay is virtually the same as ever, so don’t expect a radical change from the norm.
There are, however, some new mechanics in play that freshen things up a bit. Flicking the right stick allows you to hop up and get some major air on jumps. You can also aim your landing to ensure a more accurate impact. You want to make sure to land parallel to the driving surface to ensure maximum traction. While a higher-traction vehicle can help make up for this to some degree, you can’t rely on that. Eventually, you’ll want to try out different vehicles as they all handle just a bit differently and have their own nuances. The difference between bikes and ATVs can be felt since the former have a lot of speed and accuracy, but are easier to crash in. Being on an ATV carries with it a lot of weight, but reduces maneuverability. If you want power, go with an ATV, while those seeking pure speed should stick to bikes whenever possible.
The in-game AI isn’t too tough, although there does seem to be a bit of rubber-banding going on. Luckily, it doesn’t kill the experience, and just serves to keep things interesting. In an amusing bit, there’s an AI ride named Lance Russell, who sadly isn’t joined by Dave Brown or called banana nose. If you grow weary of AI opponents, though, you can always hop online to race in any of the available vehicles. All engine types are opened up as are the courses and time can be killed in the pre-match freestyle section. Despite a lot of on-screen action, lag isn’t an issue and you can race online just as smoothly as you can offline.
Visually, MX vs. ATV Supercross is a perplexing blend of impressive and sub-par. The movement of the your riding in the wind is honestly mind-blowing, while character models without head to toe covering are a bit too hilarious for my liking. You’ll have a few chuckles at the pre-race girl shaking her hips around due to that and the three frames of animation used for it. The windbreaker suits honestly have some of the best physics I’ve ever seen attached to clothing, which is why the sub-par graphics elsewhere are so disappointing. The environments have nice skies, but generic-looking crowds. Bikes and ATVs are also solidly-made, but unspectacular overall. Crashing animations border on the absurd thanks to all the clipping — your character will go through the dirt more often than now and while it’s entertaining, it really makes the game feel like it was slapped together.
The soundtrack is full of buttrock and dubstep, which is a rather bizarre combination. The dubstep and techno music works well, while the buttrock is just too generic to care about one way or another. The sound design as a whole is excellent though thanks to all of the care taken with the engines. Each has a satisfying roar and when you’re surrounded by a sea of different vehicle types, you can really hear how much more powerful an ATV is than a motorcycle, and your level of fear intensifies as that roar inches ever-closer to you during a high jump.
MX vs. ATV Supercross doesn’t reinvent the wheel (or should we say handlebars). Those who enjoyed past entries will enjoy this one and get a kick out of the new right-stick jumping and aiming mechanic. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much added to the mix beyond superficial customization options. The core racing action is reasonably good, but it never truly hooks you like a top-level game does. There’s a bit of back and forth, but you’re never on the edge of your seat. It’s more “okay, I came in second…that’s good enough” and that’s never good. MX vs. ATV Supercross is easy to like, but hard to feel passionate about. It’s largely disappointing visually, but delivers more good than bad with its audio.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360