I've reviewed five games that feature the words "MX", "ATV" or a mixture of both in their title, yet for the life of me I'd struggle to explain how any one is different to another. All of them feature muddy tracks, usually set amongst vast open spaces of woodland or indoor custom arenas. The handling is usually always a bit fiddly, it's incredibly easy to fly over your handlebars and into a wall of tyres and there's an annoying whining noise coming from the engine between your legs. MX vs ATV Reflex is an attempt by THQ to give the genre a makeover, complete with a slick career mode, reflex rider controls and brand-new terrain deformation. Has all this made Reflex stand out from the crowd?
As in previous games in the series, you're not strictly limited to MX bikes and ATVs here, with UTVs, buggies, and sport trucks also on offer. If you want to see most of the changes made to this year's game, though, you'll want to stick to the vehicles in the game's title, with the large, enclosed rides not giving you the new, improved Reflex experience.
Terrain deformation is handled well in Reflex, with your vehicles cutting grooves into the muddy track surfaces. These aren't purely cosmetic, either, with the churned up ground having an effect on your vehicle's handling, throwing you off course. This is great in the bikes and ATVs, but get behind the wheel of a sport truck and the slightly rough terrain will have almost no impact, making the whole thing feel disappointingly similar to the previous game in the series.
The same is true of the new Reflex handling system. While the left analogue stick is naturally mapped to your vehicle's steering, the right stick often needs to be used in combination, shifting your rider's body weight independently to the steering. On a bike or ATV this works brilliantly, giving you the ability to corner more tightly and remain on your ride after a slightly uneven landing. It's in the bigger vehicles, again, where it doesn't work as well - simply because you're no longer playing as an exposed guy on top of a piece of motorised metal.
Part of what makes off-road racing so much fun is the uneven terrain and the seat-of-your-pants bouncing around, but Reflex's physics system throws in a few unexpected spills that occasionally ruin the fun. You might be skilfully riding over a bumpy piece of track, handling your bike with the precision of a pro, and all of a sudden your ride will flip into the air and spin uncontrollably. You haven't just ploughed into a rock, but just another piece of track that looked identical to what you had previously been able to skim across quite gracefully. Without any sense to these crashes, races in Reflex can be quite frustrating at times.