Mixing an arcadey feel with simulation racing does not always turn out how you expect it. It’s like trying to take the Hovis Best of Both route when either one separately is fine. Throwing the two together and actually making it work is a difficult thing to pull off. MX vs ATV Reflex does it well, to some extent, but not without having to sacrifice a few other things. Mixing together ridiculous tricks with finely tuned controls can make a sometimes annoying, sometimes rewarding experience.
MX vs ATV surprisingly isn’t just about those two vehicles. Buggies, sports trucks, among others are all thrown into the mix but personally I found myself sticking with the MX bikes. The improvements to the ATV make them feel more out of control which gets especially frustrating when trying to work your way around a tricky course. Each vehicle seems to have a specific track that they work best on and there are many different types of terrain to traverse. A sports truck will work much better on muddier surfaces but an MX bike will be much better at rounding those tight corners or powering up a hill.
One improvement of note related to the tracks is the existence of track deformation. In terms of how it looks, it is pretty effective in that, whilst riding through muddier surfaces, mud will be kicked out behind the wheel and form a pile and deep or shallow tracks will be made depending on the weight of the vehicle and the consistency of the terrain. However, in terms of actual gameplay terms it does very little. It is possible to hit a mound of mud and lose control but it is not that often that this happens. It is a nice cosmetic feature though making it feel as if the track is being used by actual vehicles rather than ghost ones with no weight at all.
One of the more prominent and impressive improvements is that over rider control. This is where the Reflex in the title comes into play. Not only do you control your bike, you also control your rider. The left thumbstick controls the bike, the right your rider. This lets you lean into corners, allowing you to make those tighter turns, as well as pull off bigger jumps or right your bike before you land. Flicking the stick in different directions will also let you pull off tricks. If you happen to land a bit funny, a green arrow will pop up and you have to flick the stick in the direction given to stabilise yourself. This is probably the stand-out feature of the game because it works so well. It’s an intuitive system that makes racing and making those tight corners so much more rewarding.
Despite this improved control, the tweaked physics system can work against you a lot. There are times when I would be racing along, flying ahead of the pack over small hills and bumps in the terrain then, suddenly, I would get thrown off my bike because I “hit” something which, to my knowledge, was the top of a hill.
This is especially bad in the way-point races, in which you race through a piece of terrain trying to get from checkpoint-to-checkpoint. Here there is no set course as such, but multiple goals riders need to get to. You will, however, feel that making it through one of these races is down to pure luck. You’ll end up bouncing from log to driver to steep hill within seconds and very little idea of what is going on. This can get extremely frustrating after a while. The much simpler, guided tracks are far more fun to play because it is actually possible to make it through a route without getting hit by several trees and drivers. They also include some interesting twists and turns which can really test your ability to use the Reflex feature, putting its name to good use.
Those two race types aren’t the only options. There are elimination races in which you need to keep ahead of the pack in a series of twisty-turny courses to stop yourself being eliminated. There are also time trials and a free play mode, which lets you drive around a certain location to choose from a selection of challenges in that set area. Most of the locations are quite expansive so you will hardly ever race along the same track more than once, despite the many options available for each location. The freestyle trick mode still needs work, however. Despite it being easier to pull off tricks, the crazy physics engine I mentioned earlier seems to put how well you do in the trick all down to luck.
You can compete in all of these events online with other riders, but the most fun can be found with the mini-games. There are two to choose from: Tag and Snake. Tag involves you having to keep hold of a flaming head for as long as possible to win. This can get extremely frantic when a dozen riders are all dashing around the terrain in order to find whoever has the head to get it for themselves. Snake is very similar to the Light Bikes game in the fantastic film, Tron. Your bike leaves a trail behind that, if touched by either yourself or another rider, knocks them out. It is then a game to see who lasts longest. This can be pretty exciting when you end up launching off a hill only to see someone else’s trail where you’re about to land but turn away just in times to ride out of it.
MX vs ATV is not a bad looking game, but nor is it show stopping. The textures can be a bit blurry at times but pop-up appears to be limited, which is good for a game with expansive tracks. As stated earlier, the track deformation also adds to the game making it looks as if the tracks are being used.
MX vs ATV Reflex really adds some new stuff to the franchise, but those new features also take away from some other aspects. The increased rider control really makes it feel like you are an MX pro, skidding round the tracks like you know what you’re doing. However, the improved physics can make bikes and, especially, ATVs feel like you’re riding a squirrel with a sugar high as opposed to a finely tuned vehicle – a lot of fun but ultimately out of control.