versus MX vs ATV: Untamed continues a nine-year heritage of offroad racing games from Rainbow Studios that started with Motocross Madness, continued into ATV Off-Road Fury and into MX Unleashed and MX vs ATV Unleashed. Now we have the next instalment MX vs ATV: Untamed.
Despite being very much a B-class franchise and never given the marketing push of the big racing titles, all the previous games made by Rainbow Studios have featured extremely responsive and consistent driving (or riding, as appropriate) controls, decent rider animation and plenty to do. They have also frequently featured fiddly-at-best stunt controls.
While MX vs ATV: Untamed will be released on Nintendo DS (NDS), Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation 2 (PS2), we have a playable demo for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 available for download.
Things start really, really well with a superb opening movie that is just the right length and sees our offroad vehicles emerging or being birthed from the ground that they will make their own in the game. The look of the video is highly reminiscent of playing PlayStation 3’s flagship off-road racer Motorstorm.
When you initiate one of the four demo events available, the game places you in a freestyle stadium with your selected vehicle so you can play around while you wait for the game to load. It is here that the absolute horror of the graphics strikes you. This is a Nintendo Wii or PlayStation 2 game that happens to run on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. On PlayStation 3 it doesn’t even appear to run at an HD resolution. Perhaps it’s just a low memory environment because, after all, it’s loading the real graphics now? No.
This is one of the ugliest games to be publicly released since F.E.A.R. on the PlayStation 3.
This is one of the ugliest games to be publicly released since F.E.A.R. on the PlayStation 3. I’m coming to this game while playing Colin McRae: Dirt (PS3). I’ve played and completed Motorstorm (PS3). You wouldn’t believe that this game is running on the same system. On Xbox 360 it looks bland, featureless and badly textured but it does appear to run in 720p. On PS3, it also appears to be running in a significantly lower resolution and without anti-aliasing, to boot. This is reflected in a download size that is 200MB smaller than the 360 demo despite identical gameplay content.
Yes, the thumbnail looks good but look at the full-size version and note the bland, lifeless textures and lack of grass, roadside objects or convincing shrubbery. This is the most scenery packed screenshot I could find. The game proves to be largely empty.
While I’m moaning, the PlayStation 3 demo doesn’t even feature multi-channel surround sound.
However, both versions run smoothly (though not Gran Turismo 5 Prologue or Forza Motorsport 2 smooth) and quickly and there are some nice details. Both spectators will dodge out of the way if you drive toward them. Trees shower you with leaves if you smash into them. The water looks great (though your interaction with it is, as is the case in all racing videogames to date, completely unconvincing and the car simply throws up white translucent dust; haven’t any game developers ever seen a rally car go through a ford?). The vehicles are quite nicely modelled and look good in the pre-race flyby. The American Eagle and Serpent monster trucks look brilliant (from a design viewpoint, not graphically). The draw distance is forever. But then, it doesn’t appear to be drawing that many things.
may just rescue itself with game modes and controls
Fortunately, MX vs ATV: Untamed may just rescue itself with game modes and controls.The controls continue the tradition of being extremely responsive, accurate and consistent. However, they also continue the tradition of being highly awkward for executing stunts.
When will game developers realise that pressing both right (or left) shoulder buttons at the same time (on either 360 or PS3) is essentially impossible as we tend to use our ‘trigger’ finger for the lower button. Formula 1 Championship Edition also had the same design error where the same finger was used to both look back and accelerate. Now, if only we could grow a fifth finger between the thumb and ‘trigger’ finger! We could call it a bumper finger.
There is also a preview of a significant career mode that looks just like the ones in the brilliant Rallisport Challenge 2 (which, incidentally, looks better graphically than this). There are also the multiple vehicle types and race types inherent to the series. Four of them are available to play in the demo but there are several more.
It is impossible to say from the demo how well the AI will stack up as it provides no competition at all on the Easy setting that most of the events seem to be locked to.
This is notably ugly, especially on PlayStation 3, but the game controls well, runs fast and smooth and offers plenty to do. I think the lack of competition is the problem here. THQ clearly don’t see (or, perhaps more accurately, want to pay for) this franchise as taking on the big boys of Colin McRae and Motorstorm and, with that unambitious and defeatist outlook, the series will never get the spit and polish and love that would take it to the premier league. It might sell well enough but it will never have a place in our hearts.