MX vs. ATV Reflex Preview for PS3

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Terrain deformation is the big new thing
Terrain deformation is the big new thing

Terrain deformation is the big new thing

MX vs ATV: Reflex sounds like the name of a mediocre dance track that might have dented the singles chart in the late 1990s. Happily, this isn’t the case. Reflex, as the cool kids will no doubt call it, is actually the newest entry in Rainbow Studios’ long-running series of off-road racing games. Rainbow has actually been making virtual bikes run through virtual dirt since 1998’s Motorcross Madness, so by now the team should arguably be well on top of their game - although Tom was a little disappointed by their last effort, 2007’s Untamed.

Like its predecessor, MX vs ATV: Reflex will offer you the chance to drive a variety of two and four wheeled vehicles in a spread of racing and trick-based outdoor events – all without the risk of snapping your spine in two like a dry twig. This time around Rainbow is talking up its new physics system, the grandly-named Rhythm Racing 2.0. The developer says that this is the most advanced engine it’s ever used; that may very well be true, but at THQ’s recent unveiling of the game most people seemed more interested in the impressively thorough terrain deformation.

In short, Reflex allows you to carve great big ruts into the scenery by roaring about on a heavy motorbike. Wherever you drive you’ll leave a deep set of tyre tracks in your wake, and during heavy races you’ll be able to see exactly where the riders ahead of you have gone before. These effects aren't just for eye-candy, either: bumps and troughs in the ground will affect your bike, so by the last lap of a circuit race you may find yourself navigating through churned-up ditches that threaten to throw you off balance.

In previous MX games, hitting an obstacle like this would probably result in your rider flying from his vehicle. This time, however, you may have a chance to save yourself. Thanks to the new Rider Reflex system (another questionable name) you’ll find that you now have complete control over your rider’s body. While the left analogue stick steers your bike, you can use the right one to shift your rider about on his seat. When you hit something or fail to land a jump cleanly, you’ll get a brief chance to correct your position by following an on-screen prompt. It’s a neat idea, one that you’ll be grateful for as soon as you botch a turn or jump for the first time: your rider yells in alarm as he slips off the side of his ride, but then thanks to your input he hauls himself back into place. This drama should help to add a little spice to races, and to boot it should limit the frustration that blighted Untamed.

Grooves in the surface actually have an effect on your bike's handling

Grooves in the surface actually have an effect on your bike's handling

Besides saving your sorry hide, the Reflex controls will also play an important role in handling your bike. Leaning in or out of corners allows you to fine tune your racing line, while pitching back and forth will allow you to gain extra height when you hit a ramp. The body control setup seems to work pretty well, and by holding sticks and the accelerator trigger I found that I was able to pull off a highly-satisfying donut manoeuvre that ploughed the track into a lumpy mess. If you’re feeling puerile, you can also use the right stick to make your rider dry-hump his bike – a welcome if unimportant feature.

The build of Reflex I was playing was apparently 65 per cent complete, but the game is already looking fairly solid. Both the MX bike and the ATV I tested seemed pretty fun to tool around on, and while the handling is certainly more sim-like than Pure it also seems less punishing than the likes of MotorStorm. The terrain deformation is obviously the highlight of the graphics, although at times the thick tread marks sometimes looked a little too uniform to me. Hopefully the tracks will be a little less clean-cut and a bit more naturalistic in the final build; apparently Rainbow is also working on how to create terrain deformation for bikers who fall off their rides, too – a detail that would be a definite plus.

In multiplayer MX vs ATV: Reflex will offer support for up to 12 racers at once, and in addition to the directly competitive modes you’ll also be able to meet up in free-roaming environments. Indeed, it was arguably here that the game seemed to shine best last week, allowing the player to fully enjoy the snow-covered scenery of a mountain-themed area without the immediate pressure to race. Within these open environments you’ll find spontaneous challenges to enter into with your chums – tricky hill-climbs, downhill races and the like. Aside from one freestyle trick level that’s set in a shipyard, all of Reflex’s stages will be natural environments that lack hard tarmac or concrete. Rainbow hasn’t revealed the full list yet, but it’s safe to assume that there will be snow, sand, mud and dirt-based areas to plough through. Let’s hope that the final product makes a similarly deep impression.

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clangod's Avatar

clangod

I downloaded the demo on December 24 expecting more of Untamed. Too my surprise and ultimate delight, Reflex is a far more enjoyable game in every aspect. Not only does it look the part, it plays very well once you adopt the reflex system and implement it with the MX and ATV vehicles. After about 1 hour of repeated freestyle and motocross games, I was convinced I would buy Reflex. I did so about 2 weeks later and I got a pretty good deal on ebay.

The demo itself consists of 2 levels. A motocross race event and a freestyle event (which turns out to be the last of about 5 freestyle courses unlocked during the career mode).

There is plenty wrong with Reflex. In no particular order, the lack of a decent replay feature, which is an automated affair that never really shows you your best efforts. The scoring system in freestyle events seems inaccurate. The engine sounds have little depth or variation (this becomes evident when using any of the buggy, truck or sport truck vehicles), and there is a very basic customisation feature which fails to do anything except offer some variety of equipment for your rider. Vehicle tuning is basic and ultimately offers nothing to set you apart from any other vehicle in competition.

I could nit-pick, but I won't. The thing about Reflex that annoys me above all else is that all of the vehicles except for the bikes, are pointless. I suppose the ATV class is enjoyable enough, but I honestly think Rainbow would be far better off focusing solely on the MX side again. The buggy and truck style events are only necessary to further your MX career. They lack everything that makes Reflex a good MX'er. There's no backflip heel clickers in a truck, and the rider reflex control is obviously irrelevent. This makes any of these vehicles dull and forgettable.

So what makes it an enjoyable game to play?

Well, simply put, I'm a motocross fan. Reflex does well to replicate the sport and create a challenging game. The presentation is simple but impressive and the open world environments are stunning. It's especially satisfying during motocross and supercross events to execute the rythym sections by measuring the throttle, pitching the bike and using the right stick (rider reflex) to lean and correct your rider. This is key to winning events and the overall enjoyment one can expect from Reflex.

Most impressive about the gameplay of Reflex, is the terrain deformation. You constantly have to pick your line through the terrain by either following your previous line through the ruts, or taking new lines when the track becomes mangled enough to throw you off your bike. As for the other riders in the game, they can knock you from your bike rather easily and contact with other riders is frequent just by the nature of the sport. The only saving grace here is that the AI is as vulnerable as you are and there are occasions that you survive heavy contact and speed off over the next big triple... You will get knocked from your bike often, but you will not give up.

Freestyle riding in Reflex is fantastic. The feestlyle courses are realistic enough to be convincing, but extreme enough to be enjoyable. Again, measuring the use of the throttle is important when navigating over jumps and getting just the right amount of speed for a jump is a challenge in itself. The trick controls are touchy, but work well within the control scheme I use. You get used to them, and if dedicated enough, you'll be landing superman - heel clickers clean every time. There's a decent tricklist to learn and the back/ forward flip and whip controls blend well by using the left & right sticks.

The open world maps are as stated absolutely stunning. Free Ride events offer the challenges outlined in the preview but I feel they are a little shallow and there definitely isn't enough of them.

I've had little online time with Reflex. The reason for this is that it seems to take forever to connect to an event, which doesn't start until all riders are connected to the pre-race practice arena. If not this, then I have been connected to an event already in session and given the option to spectate until the event is over. A bit boring really but in my experience the best way to ensure a full gate for the next event.

To all the VG'ers who read this, I know that Neon's preview was written in May last year, but I am convinced that anyone who enjoys motocross will get a kick out of this game. The fact that I found it in the "What's New This Week" thread made it necessary for me to post.
Posted 17:57 on 02 February 2010

Game Stats

Release Date: 05/02/2010
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Racing
No. Players: 1-12
Rating: PEGI 3+
Site Rank: 5,129 7798
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