MX vs. ATV Reflex

Sunday Muddy Sunday

MX vs. ATV Reflex gives the franchise a much-needed injection of freshness, but is it enough?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: December 18, 2009
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THQ's purchase of Phoeniz, AZ-based Rainbow Studios was arguably the smartest acquisition they've ever made. The studio has become the de facto authority on off-road games, deftly straddling the line between a simulation core while balancing things out with arcade sensibilities that keep the game entertaining. They started on bikes with the Motocross Madness series for Microsoft, moved to quads during their ATV Offroad Fury spate for Sony and eventually blended the two for their new THQ parents with the logically-named MX vs. ATV Unleashed.


What's been truly interesting watching the progress of these disparate and eventually melded digital off-road disciplines is how Rainbow has continued to hone and refine their so-called "Rhythm Racing" mechanic -- essentially getting into a flow on various jumps that allows you to seamlessly glide from one dirt-piled ramp to the next like a pro via the judicious use of compressing the suspension on the various vehicles to add or deaden some of the pop when going off a jump. When it works, the feeling is damn near euphoric. There is nothing like absolutely killing a string of jumps and feeling the flow of a course, and it's something Rainbow simply... gets.

Even still, they've been doing this for an awfully long time, and the last major change to their off-road ambitions was to combine their experience with two major vehicle types, leaving fans of the series to wonder what was next. As it turns out, it's all in the reflexes -- specifically in how a rider, now functionally separated from his vehicle in controls, actually uses that influence to change the handling on a moment-to-moment basis.

It's a decision that's rife with the potential to be embarrassingly frustrating -- and at first it honestly is. Every little dip and rut and channel carved into the dirt by the game's new terrain deformation engine is a potential bail waiting to happen. Every jump offers a dozen wrong angles that will have you screaming at the TV as the pack goes racing by and you spend the rest of the race trying to get back into podium position (forget reclaiming first on the harder difficulties unless you're an off-road savant). Even just misunderstanding the timing and influence controlling your rider can have on the vehicle can result in taking a jump and then watching the ground rush up to kiss your skull while your bike happily tackles your sternum like an over-excited puppy.

And yet, properly managed, each of these things can be an overcome obstacle; a string of potential screw-ups that are instead turned into an opportunity to move up a couple spots on the leaderboard. It won't happen quickly, and more often than not will end in failure until you graduate to the enhanced stability of a four-wheeled vehicle or move onto the more gradual slopes and inclines of the game's wide-open courses, but the risk/reward setup is one few games can match.

Now, that's going to be one of the biggest determining factors to your enjoyment of MX vs. ATV Reflex (sorry, Rrrrrreeeeefleeeexxxxx as announcing personality David Lee vocalizes it). All the different modes and track designs and vehicle types aren't going to mean a lick if you can't learn to enjoy and, yes, accept the fact that you will very likely bail once during a race and have to fight to catch up through careful management of momentum and spring compression. I'll be honest: I nearly threw down my controller and gave up early on, but as the game eases out of muddy, tight circuits and starts to allow for more varied and open races, I started to appreciate what Rainbow was trying to do.
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