MX vs. ATV Untamed 360 Review
It's been ten years and seven games now, and Rainbow Studios continues to refine their off-road racing formula. Their latest game, MX vs. ATV Untamed, puts together dirt bikes, four-wheeled ATVs, and big trucks into a stunt-filled, high-flying racing package. But after so many games with the same theme, can Rainbow and publisher THQ convince gamers to spend sixty bucks on a new racing game? Sure, this one's got lots of fun dirt track action, but the bar has been set pretty high as Xbox 360 racers like Forza 2, FlatOut Ultimate Carnage, and Project Gotham 4 Racing all fill in their own niches.
It turns out, though, that MX still winds up feeling pretty fresh, even if much of the gameplay feels pretty familiar to the past games in the series. The whole thing is arcade-like enough to keep you from crashing constantly, but also keeps some of the depth of a simulation to help you maintain and gain speed on big jumps, or even stay low in the air for more time spent with your tire touching mud. At first, you'll just have fun ripping around the courses tossing out ridiculous tricks and crashing half of them, sure, but with a little practice you'll be making huge points and getting first without any issues. As you progress, the difficulty ramps up so that you'll need to start learning those advanced techniques in order to win.
The largest part of Untamed is the X-Cross tournament, where you will finish series of races in order to unlock new ones and progress further. It removes some of the choice you might have otherwise enjoyed, but it does work well overall to keep the game fresh; you'll definitely be learning all of the vehicle types here. If not that, then there are single races you can customize and new things to unlock, although most of what you find won't actually change the performance of your vehicles in any noticeable way. One spot where you'll find quite a bit of depth here is in taking each of the game's vehicle types airborne to learn how to best channel your antics into top speeds to win races. Some of these skills are better used on the closed-in racetracks, while others are best for the open-outdoors events where you can freely choose how to get to your destination.
Unfortunately, the super-chaotic fun of MotorStorm and its huge mix of vehicle types just doesn't come through here, and while this is made up for partially by your ability to do tricks and the like, it's just not, well, ridiculous enough. And in another comparison, Nintendo's ExciteTruck on the Wii may be more limited in its multiplayer options, but it also feels just more exciting overall than Untamed does. Don't get me wrong; compared to the level of simulation in a game like Forza, this one feels completely insane, but it could be better. We know this because we've seen it in other games - let's hope that Rainbow Studios can figure out how to do it for their next game.
At least with this one there are plenty of gameplay options. Online action is here with the more conventional races which can get tiring quickly, but there are also a couple of really fun and interesting modes. My favorite is one that is reminiscent of the classic Tron light cycles game where everyone leaves behind a trail that their opponents can't touch or they're knocked out of the event - but the twist here is that you can go vertical in many places and jump over the trails left by your enemy. Another one I found amusing was Graffiti, where you've got to trick off of the various ramps and jumps with the highest score to "own" those pieces (yes, much like Graffiti in the Tony Hawk games). It's nothing terribly original, but it's the vehicles you're driving and the way this action is delivered that really breathes new life in. And the 360 version allows for twelve people to play together online or two in a split-screen mode; to compare, the PS3 version (a platform that Sony has prided themselves in offering larger multiplayer battles on in games like Resistance and Warhawk) only supports eight online.
Unfortunately, MX vs. ATV Untamed just lacks something in all areas to really make it as exciting as it might have been. The graphics are good but not great, the sound of the engines feels a bit weak, the music selection is the kind of modern rock you hear in almost every game like this (which is great if you're into this kind of music, but since it's the only genre available, it can get dull quickly), and the racing stays just a little too conservative and somehow too realistic - even though it's not actually realistic, not at all - to propel this one to greatness. One thing I can't knock this game for, though, is the frame rate; it's rock solid just about all of the time and makes it easy to accurately do those tight turns, even with tons of racers all around you.
MX vs. ATV Untamed is not a bad choice on the 360, but it's not a terribly great one either. If you've got your choice of consoles, ExciteTruck for local multiplayer action and MotorStorm for online racing are often both better suited, while the 360 does have plenty of better racing titles around. Still, if you're in the narrow field of 360 owners who need a little more mud in your game, then Untamed might just do the job for you.