MX vs ATV Alive Hands-On Preview

4 Apr 2011  by   John Robertson
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Here are a couple of facts for you. The MX vs ATV series consists of five games, with Alive representing the series’ sixth outing. To date the franchise has shifted 10 million units. It’s also a series that doesn’t seem to adhere to the usual ‘bad Metacritic rating = poor sales’ rule; the previous game in the series, MX vs ATV Reflex, sitting at a less than great 78% on Xbox 360.
In short, it’s a very well selling series that has clearly built up a very loyal fan base.
The big talking point for Alive however, is not the game’s content but its release format. Rather than stick itself up on the store shelf at the regular £40-£50 price point, Alive is opting for a lower price – which has yet to be confirmed but is believed to be around the £30 mark) – and looking to continuously add to the product through regular DLC updates.

In the words of Alive’s Art Director, Ian Wood, this strategy is aimed at enabling players to ‘make their own experience’. The idea is that if you like a certain mode then you buy and download new content for that mode or, if you like a certain manufacturer, you grab yourself a few new vehicles with their name on it. Eventually, larger updates in the form of new game modes are planned but, like the rest of the DLC, THQ and Rainbow Studios wouldn’t let us in on the price of such extras.
This new strategy is almost certainly a reaction to the state of the pre-owned games market and marks the latest attempts by a publisher to monetise their products as much as possible after the consumer has already gotten the game into their console.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether or not the approach works but, my fear is that (at least as far as online play is concerned) the audience will be segmented; some having access to tracks and modes that others don’t and funnelling players into very specific areas with no room for branching out without expending more money. Anyway, that’s all speculation. What can we expect from the game?

Well, if there’s one thing to be said about Alive (and the series as a whole), it’s that it’s not your typical arcade style off-road racer. This is a game about hitting jumps and bumps at the correct speed and angle, adapting to the changing track conditions and putting as much thought into controlling your rider’s body position as you do controlling your vehicle.
Navigating yourself around the tracks requires you to make use of both analogue sticks – the left controls your bike and the right your rider’s position/weight distribution. This allows you to make extremely tight turns by turning the handle bars as well as forcing your rider to lean into the corner. On the opening, presumably ‘beginner’, tracks we raced around this cornering/leaning combo, rendering the brakes entirely redundant. Literally, we didn’t have to use them at all if we didn’t want to.
Distributing your weight correctly is also required to pop off of jumps and gain sufficient ‘air’ to nail the landing, as well as to stay on course when battling handle bar to handle bar against your competitors.

Easily the most impressive element of what we saw was the way in which the track tears up as the race wears on. Gouges are taken out of it as the vehicles race over it which, for areas that see a lot of action, create mini-canyons which you can either avoid or use as a track within the track. Their impact on the race is very apparent as they change the racing line significantly on almost every lap.
The disc will ship with three race types; National circuits, short circuits and Free Ride. Where National and short circuits differ is in the length and complexity of the laps. National circuits, like a typical tarmac track, feature corners and straights of varying lengths whereas short circuits (at least those that we saw) were simple figure of eights setups, or slight modifications on that basic principle.
Due to their compact nature, the short circuits tended to play out in a much more dramatic, aggressive manner; riders bunched closely together, everyone fighting for the same piece of track. Free Ride arenas are open spaces in which to simply race around and show off your skills within. Up to 12 players can join up online in Free Ride which could create some interesting ‘try this if you think you’re good enough’ moments. Free Ride also incorporates an Autolog style system which will alert your friends if you manage to best their longest lap or highest air etc.
In contradiction to the ‘authentic’ experience mantra it preaches, Alive features a few less-than-realistic elements that suggest it’s not shunning the arcade fan completely. If you’re about to fall off a huge orange, pulsating arrow indicates which way you should be pressing the right-analogue stick; if you manage to do so before a set time you’re fine, if you don’t you’re in the mud.
There’s also an online Call of Duty-esque perk system which allows you to assign yourself a special ability in online races. We didn’t get to see this in action but one such example is a speed boost that gives you an advantage at the start of the race. These perks are unlocked as you level up your rider, an act achieved by competing in absolutely everything (National circuit races, Free Rides, online etc etc.).
It’s difficult to come to a conclusion about how Alive is shaping up; largely because of its unique release format and not knowing exactly what you get for your initial purchase and how much you’re going to have to spend to supplement it. No matter how the game itself turns out, Alive is certainly worth watching if only as a glimpse of what the future format of videogame releases could potentially look like.

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