MX vs. ATV Unleashed on the PC is a pretty straightforward port of last year's Xbox and PlayStation 2 game. It features the same twitchy gameplay, huge mix of vehicle types and insane jumps seen the console version, but throws in a pretty impressive track builder and some sharpened PC visuals. It might be eight months late, but PC owning MX and ATV fans will still find plenty to enjoy.
To say the controls are twitchy is an understatement, but once you get the hang of things and learn to corner by riding the embankments, things become pretty enjoyable. The jumps in particular are brilliant, with your bike often soaring high into the sky. Learning to take the jumps well and land on the downward slope of other mounds is vital to your success - landing awkwardly on a mound will either slow you down or throw you from your bike.
Despite the racing becoming enjoyable after a while, if you play the game for any extended period of time you'll become annoyed by how regularly you're thrown from your bike after being hit by a rider who has seen fit to land on your head. Then there's the infuriating 'out of bounds zone' around the track. If you deviate, even remotely, from the track you're told to get back on within a set time. This isn't such a bad thing, but you'll often find that going a few metres down the track before coming back on results in you not being allowed to continue racing from that point. You'll be restarted at roughly the point where you went off the track, losing you a lot of time.
Riding on ATVs is a pretty similar experience to MX bikes, but the game also lets you drive/fly a number of other vehicles, ranging from golf Karts to helicopters - it really is an odd mix. The ground based vehicles tend to control pretty well, although some are a little too floaty, but the air-based vehicles are simply a pain to control. You never feel like you're in full control, making flying in the game an experience devoid of any fun.
The majority of gamers will spend most of their time in the Nationals series and the THQ SX series. These two modes are limited to the bikes and ATVs and each comprise 16 race meets, with each meet containing a number of heats. The National series is all outdoor tracks, while the THQ SX series is made up of Supercross tracks. The outdoor courses are generally a lot more fun, containing far bigger jumps and some extreme hills. Throughout the series you're asked to take part in one-off challenge races, with the chance to win the vehicle you're racing in. Losing these races has no detrimental effect to your performance in a series, so you don't really have anything to lose.
The PC port has support for six players online or over LAN, and while it's fun and generally lag-free, the online setup is rather clumsy and confusing. If you can't go online there are a number of other offline modes that are worth checking out. Free ride, one-on-one challenges, freestyle, hill climbs, short tracks and waypoint races are there to take part in once you're finished with the National and THQ series. The hill climbs, in particular, are an interesting variation in gameplay, often resulting in your bike simply not being able to make it to the top.
While the game is pretty much a straight port in most cases, it does include a pretty in-depth track creator. Given some time and a lot of effort you can produce some impressive results, but the interface is rather unintuitive and certainly won't be for everyone. If you do get into it, then your own courses can be raced online, effectively extending the game's lifespan for as long as the game's community lasts.
MX vs. ATV Unleashed isn't a stunning game, but it is more than adequate. The environments are large and the game runs at a consistent frame rate throughout - even with a fairly modest PC. At the peak of a large jump you can see vast amounts of the track around you and when switching to the 'Thrill cam' the racing is faster and even more intense. The game's muddy, blurry look and some uninspired textures hurt the overall appearance, but this is by no means an ugly game. Matching the game's rough feel is a soundtrack with artists such as Papa Roach and Phunk Junkeez. It's not my usual taste in music, but it fits well, as do the minimal environmental sounds heard when racing outdoors.
The awful load times from the console versions have been radically reduced here, but there are still a number of other problems that start to grate after a while - such as the need to perform tricks to earn points needed to buy new tracks, riders and other things from the store. All problems aside, MX vs. ATV Unleashed is an enjoyable game. It takes a while to get into the groove, but once there the game often provides a thrilling experience. You have to wonder why all the other vehicles were included, but stick to the ground vehicles and there's a lot to enjoy.