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MX vs ATV Untamed (Xbox 360) artwork

MX vs ATV Untamed (Xbox 360) review

"Whereas I found that the motocross tracks were so tight and narrow that I spent too much time braking and turning to actually pick up the pace and have fun, the ATV courses really take the weight off and give me more time to appreciate some of the simpler pleasures of off road racing."

The title of MX vs. ATV Untamed hints at the possibility of two merging gameplay styles, yet being quite inexperienced with the whole off road racing genre, I played the game with little expectation of this. I figured Untamed would find common ground between the two, and yet instead the game proves just how different the two vehicles are. I bet players will distinguish between motocross bikes and ATVs the same way they would differentiate certain genres that they like or dislike. And sure enough, about half of Untamed I enjoyed and half I wasn’t too crazy about.

The difference is in both handling and course design. Motocross bikes are taken through arena tracks, where the space is skimpy and the turns are tight. Bike controls feel tailored more to this kind of gameplay, as the bikes themselves seem to accelerate quicker and offer sharper turning so as to keep up with the pace of the winding arena paths. ATVs, on the other hand, offer more standard control mechanics and are utilized in big, open, outdoor tracks.

What’s interesting about the motocross tracks is that they’re so tightly packed into their respective arenas that you’d be hard-pressed to find a square foot that isn’t utilized. The bikes themselves turn sharper than one might initially expect. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, it means that a player is able to tackle any twist or turn in the almost snakelike courses without worry. But on the other hand, well, it feels weird. I always felt as if the controls were too sensitive, and it’s something I was never able to get used to. Perhaps I’m still too much of a newbie to the MX genre, but I never felt entirely comfortable playing Untamed’s motocross segments, and if I want to enjoy a game I’ve got to at least feel comfortable playing it.

I vastly preferred the more user-friendly ATV mechanics, which offer perhaps a more accessible experience. The ATVs play like any other racing vehicle, so there’s little to no learning curve in that regard. Where the series sets itself apart from other racers is in the usage of its vehicles. ATVs compete across wide, hilly outdoor areas that allow players to take advantage of high speeds and big jumps. Whereas I found that the motocross tracks were so tight and narrow that I spent too much time braking and turning to actually pick up the pace and have fun, the ATV courses really take the weight off and give me more time to appreciate some of the simpler pleasures of off road racing.

I note that racing in an ATV feels kind of like an interactive rollercoaster, with all the hills and dips and bumps and sharp turns one would expect from such a thing. A good ATV race would kind of wear me out, as the shaky camera coupled with near-constant use of rumble gave me a sensation that is probably as close to that of a real off road racer as can be experienced in an Xbox 360. The “high octane thrills” (if you’ll excuse such a cliché) one can derive from Untamed almost makes the overly peppy, angsty soundtrack seem appropriate.

Developer Rainbow Studios also figured that as long as they’re doing off road racing, they might as well cover all the bases, and thus monster trucks and ORV Sport vehicles have been added to the mix in a few event-specific situations. The latter works fine, but monster trucks are so big and clunky, and take up so much of the screen, that I’d often run right off the track and not realize it right away because I couldn’t see the markers.

Finding a play style you enjoy is the first step. Untamed has several pretty rudimentary modes of play in which you can take your favorite vehicles out for a spin. Quick events, custom events, and X-cross tournaments all work roughly the way you’d expect them to; it’s the series events that are worth discussing in detail, partly because they exhibit a particularly fascinating flaw. Each series focuses on a different play style and takes the player through six or so courses respectively. Players are ranked along with their AI-controlled opponents, medals are handed out, and so on and so forth.

But after each race, you’re then forced to participate in a “second moto,” i.e. you’ve got to compete in the exact same race again, a second time. If I may ask, WHY? Imagine playing through an action game and being told, upon beating a level, that you’ve then got to go back and beat it again. Courses don’t change at all in the second run; Rainbow is basically just doubling the number of laps one must complete. Untamed isn’t so bad that this flaw makes the game painful to play, but if I win, I want to move on, dammit!

The reason this irritates me is because, as I’ve discovered, Untamed’s simplistic and somewhat repetitive gameplay doesn’t stack up to lengthy play sessions. This seems like the kind of game you’re likely to pull out when you’re bored, play for a few races, and then put away. When I wanted to really enjoy myself with Untamed, I simply chose “quick event” on the main menu. That way my experience with the game would be brief and entertaining.

Untamed doesn’t look bad, but then again this is the kind of racer where you’re not really going to spend much time studying environments. Animation is smooth and I’m happy to report that the framerate never suffers, which admittedly could really destroy a racer like this. Detail is somewhat lacking, though, and upon closer inspection many of Untamed’s environments look more like something you could have found on the original Xbox. The graphics aren’t anything special, but they get the job done, more or less.

And you know what? That’s a good descriptor for the game as a whole. I think fans of the series will find just what they’re looking for here, with a few shortcomings – but then again I don’t think Untamed’s offerings will draw in any new followers. The game failed to garner any strong feelings from me, so it’s not really good, but hey, it’s good enough.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (January 16, 2008)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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