If you read our preview of MX vs. ATV: Supercross back in July, you’ll know a bit of the history behind that franchise. But we’ll give you a little bit of a recap just in case. Nordic Games is one of the many people who snapped up some properties after the great collapse of THQ. One such thing they did was restart Rainbow Studios who have previously produced the other MX vs ATV games and got to work on producing something that the studio loved and did well.
Which is why we are here now, tinkering around with the clutch cables on our Rainbow MX125 and tearing up a lot of dirt on the track. I’ve already made a pun before about this but when you think Supercross bikes in this country (UK) you do really think of a group of young men sat around their back gardens with oily clothes tinkering about before letting rip down your street in what sounds like a cross between a swarm of bees (bees?) and someone furiously trying to use a blender on unmelted chocolate. But in truth Supercross racing is the second most popular form of motorsport in the States, behind NASCAR apparently. Even bigger than IndyCar, Moto GP, Formula 1, etc. So whilst this may seem like a bit of a niche angle for us Brits, it may not be so much so over the water.
The easiest way to go about MX vs ATV Supercross is to look at it from the arcade angle. Now this game has been loving constructed by a studio who are a complete bunch of petrol heads, I know, I’ve met them. Their studio is next to a large expanse of desert which they regularly enjoy tearing around in so they know how the machines feel. Sadly of course you can’t really licence Honda and the likes who’s engines are used so a little bit of old school “name-everything-after-us” wording is in use throughout the game, making the two main constructers of vehicle either Nordic or Rainbow. But others are there. You’ll see Oakley sponsors, among other motocross sponsors which if you’re a fan you’ll recognise, as you tear around the well designed indoor dirt courses. And they are all really well laid out and a bit challenging lap upon lap. Even if you know them because they always evolve and the handling is so dependent on momentum, bumps and other course objects, that you’ll rarely take the same line twice. It evolves in a way that the course actually remembers the dirt imprints of every rider out there so you’ll get all the slides, mistakes and well ridden areas of the banked turns and jumps showing up on the track. This is one thing the game does excellent, the track deforming and changing over the course of a race.
Sticking with the arcade angle, you jump straight in really without a tutorial. It’s up to you to get yourself up to speed. You can do this via the free ride mode which gives you a good handle on jumps and clutch control. The clutch control is effectively, in arcade terms, a power boost. You’ll have to get used to it but hitting the clutch ups the revs and launches you off which is great after you’ve slowed down from a corner or lost momentum after a jump. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of especially if you’re used to the pump-and-squirt type of throttle control most games have. But once you have got used to it, that’s where the challenge effectively ends. Pretty much everything that happens at this point, until you have to readjust yourself with the ATV’s, is in your direct control. If you muck up, it’s your fault. If you don’t win, it’s your fault. Basically, once you’ve mastered the clutch control the game becomes incredibly easy. A little bit too easy. The AI is fine, it isn’t entirely dumb, it doesn’t stick to the road like other racing games and it is in about as much control as you are when you bump, go off the track or someone lands on your prone head after you’ve come off. But the AI isn’t really much more than a collection of moving objects that are in your way, unless you turn it up to Pro (hardest setting) then you’ll be left in the dust. The ATV does make you readjust your riding at times and it is annoying how easy it is to lose control of it and effectively ruin your race but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.
And that’s where the allure of the game sadly ends. Much like an arcade racer, you will have a good time unlocking the extras that you can customise your vehicle and rider with through the career modes different championships. Some which help the performance of said vehicle and some which are purely cosmetic both for bike and rider. But that runs out pretty quickly and whilst the tracks are fun, they all look fairly similar. You know that brown dirt track with boards around it and a few jumps in an arena, well that’s pretty much all of them. The tracks are set all across the United States but you wouldn’t know save for the cinematic in the menu screen that shows you some skyline of areas through the upper exposed parts of the arena which, if you’re on track, you wouldn’t otherwise see. The animations become very familiar as your rag doll like physics don’t really rag doll all that much. The jump and trick system is pretty basic but ultimately is entirely unimportant to the game and not really useful except for adding a bit more excitement in to your playing. There isn’t a lot more to the game except pick a bike, go and win, unlock some more. Ultimately that is exactly what this game says it is but you’d think maybe a few surprises might come your way.
There are some local multiplayer modes and an online multiplayer mode. The online is a bit of a double edged sword though as it runs very well and quite smooth, with no noticeable drop in performance or lag spikes. However my testing of this was based on me and one other person playing. It’s not going to be the most populated multiplayer game on a weekday afternoon due to its niche nature. If you can get a group of people who have the game and all conspire to be on at the same time, it might be worth it. But for the short term it isn’t. And you might have difficulty doing that as well. The game is last-generation only (except for PC release). Which means that not only is it on the older consoles, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated fan to invest in it and go back to the old console for it.
If you’re that much of a fan you’ve probably got your own bike so a game probably isn’t that appealing. But on a positive note, Nordic and Rainbow know this and so you’ll find it priced quite nicely as it should be at around £25. Don’t get me wrong this is an entertaining game, especially for me as a fan of motor racing. And it’s far easier to handle and get to grips with than something like the Moto GP licensed series. But it’s something made by passionate people for this particular style of the sport, for people who are also passionate for it. It may be lost on me but it doesn’t give me enough to keep my interest peaked. Having said that, there’s a lot of good things in this game that if more accessible, fun and next-generation titles come our way there’s some good groundwork put in which just needs opening up a bit more for a wider audience.
MX vs ATV: Supercross is a game that is well executed in a “does what it says on the tin” kind of way. It has a wide range of tracks and unlockable customisation options and is probably the most accessible non-arcade motorbike game I’ve played. However its learning curve and challenge quickly evaporate and unless your a fan, it leaves the fun in its dust.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
– Easy to pick up and play
– Good track evolution dynamics
– Gives you a good range of bikes and quad bikes to use and unlock for
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
– A bit too niche for a wider audience
– Becomes too easy very quickly
– Not enough outside of the bikes/dirt tracks to keep it fun
[tab title=”Why a 6?”]
This is a well intentioned game and the MX vs ATV franchise is obviously in good hands. But it hasn’t really stretched the boat out to give it a good game and get a wider audience interested. The things that are done well in this game, like the track design and evolution, are great. Along with the beginning control challenge. But whilst the developers have done that well, there isn’t really anything else that has happened to make it more fun or exciting in the long run.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game