Review: MX Unleashed (XB)

Just a quickie explanation for those who don’t know: MX Unleashed is the next in a line of Motocross games by THQ. The main selling point for this game, if you’ve seen the TV commercials, is the ability to race as and against different vehicles like monster trucks, airplanes, and helicopters.

The problem is that if you’ve seen the commercial, which was very well done and very funny, you’ve probably gotten more of an emotional stimulus than you’ll get actually playing the game.

Game: MX Unleashed
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Rainbow
Distributor: THQ

Modes

There are four basic modes to this game: Career, Supercross, Outdoor, and Freestyle. The first three are your basic race-type modes. Freestyle is the open-ended course mode so popular nowadays, and includes it’s own sub-events where you can race other bikers, trick off the environment for stunt points, or race against another vehicle (the ballyhooed Machine race) to unlock it for use. Everything is pretty straightforward “¦ scratch that. Everything is totally straightforward, to the point that the game has a very businesslike feel. There’s no cutscenes or crowd or celebrations or anything resembling emotion whatsoever. It’s a straight-up no-frills racing game. There’s a certain nobility in that, but the downside is that the only people this game has a hope of appealing to are existing MX fans.

As for the modes themselves, they’re very competently done. You unlock courses in Career mode that can be used in the Supercross and Outdoor modes against your friends. There is also a ton of unlockables in this game, which longtime readers know that I love. Courses, bikes, and the afformentioned Machines’ as well as some other, more arcade-ish game modes can be unlocked either by accomplishing tasks within the game or using accumulated points to purchase them in the Store.

My biggest disappointment is the Training mode, which really isn’t a mode at all but some instructional DVD content. Not to get on a rant here, but I wish game developers would stop shorting their customers with DVD training videos when (I believe) it wouldn’t take much more to just make a dedicated Training section where you can practice the more difficult concepts in non-competitive conditions. Of course, you COULD just try them in Freestyle mode yourself, but that’s not the same thing.

Otherwise, very competently put-together, even if it’s as dry as a dirt track in Arizona.

Modes Rating:6.5/10

Graphics

If there is one shining success of this game, it’s the graphics. From rider detail to environmental rendering to collision detection, this game hits all cylinders in terms of graphics. I never saw a frame rate drop, and I never saw the physics model roll craps.

What I was most impressed with was the level of detail that the riders maintained throughout the game. If there were jaggies, I missed em. Going along with that are the animations for the crashes. It’s, sadly, common practice to have a couple of stock crash sequences and use them in all crash situations — there are a lot of games where your character would whack their head on a tree and pitch FORWARD. Fortunately, this isn’t the case for MX Unleashed. All of the crashes I experienced (and there were a lot of them) were well matched to the particular crash situation, whether it was the aforementioned tree collision, a bad landing, or getting the death-from-above treatment from a fellow rider. There was even a situation where my rider got ran over by another biker after the crash, and the body reacted realistically to that as well.

If there is a drawback to the graphics, it’s that the environmentals that aren’t part of the regular track suffer from being a bit flat. The tracks are contoured and rendered beautifully, but I noticed in the Freestyle areas a lot of obvious texture-mapping — things stopped looking like they were covered in grass and started looking like there were supposed to look like they were covered in grass, if you get my meaning. But if this was the price to pay to have such outstanding detail graphics for the riders and the tracks, so be it.

Graphics Rating:8.0/10

Sound

I wasn’t quite as impressed with the sound as I was the graphics, but the sound was no slouch either, although the majority of what you hear during the game is limited to the whine of bike engines. There’s the odd collision noise or grunt during a crash, and the soundtrack is good, but don’t expect to be sonically immersed with this game like you’re visually immersed.

Sound Rating:6.0/10

Control

It’s interesting how this rating creeps up the more I play games. I guess that’s why they call it a learning curve.

Anyway, control is like most other racers: steer and gas; but if you want to excel in this game, you need to know some of the other things, like preloading the suspension to get maximum air on jumps (down to load, then up at the peak of the hill to release), or how to get maximum acceleration out of the engine by using the clutch button (left trigger). And, of course, you have to learn how to initiate different tricks and spins and flips, and you might want to do wheelies and stoppies “¦

It adds up to being a little heavy on the controls, so much so that I had to take a refresher course after putting the game down for a while, which means I had to sit and watch the DVD content again. Yawn.

It takes a little bit to get used to the dynamics of control in MX racing, and for those of you used to other racers the steering may feel a little sluggish and disconnected at first, but I assure you that it’s not the fault of the game developers — it’s just the nature of MX racing. Once your brain gets synched up to what’s going on, you’ll discover that the physics of control are as close to spot-on as you can get.

Where this section gets knocked is in the complexity of the secondary controls, and only then because mastery in those secondary controls appears to be absolutely necessary to achieve any level of success at the game, that and one of the most essential skills in the game — using the clutch — isn’t instrumented on screen at all (or if it is, I couldn’t find it). If it wasn’t for that, if there were just a little more of a practical learning curve or some better instruction, this would’ve gotten a 7 or better easily.

Control Rating:6.5/10

Replayability

The novelty of the extra vehicles as well as the Freestyle mode in general gives this game an above-average replayability, as does a plethora of tracks, but the dryness of the whole thing limits the replayability too.

You know, I’m going to talk about those issues in the Addictiveness section, so just bear with me.

Replayability Rating:6.0/10

Balance

Oy, here we go.

I already outlined my main problem with the balance of this game above in the Controls section — it is absolutely necessary to be good at the secondary controls (read: clutch timing) to achieve any degree of success in this game. For the first couple of races, you can probably slop your way into first, but very quickly you find yourself fighting for 3rd or 4th place, and then things get worse.

I’m not saying that’s not realistic. Be assured that I know that it’s VERY realistic. The problem is that it should be maybe just a little LESS realistic. I don’t want to have to be an actual MX racer to know all of the little things I have to do to be successful. Either that or I’d like a little training to get me familiar with what I’m supposed to do.

And there are NO frills with this racing aspect either. None. No boosts of any kind. It’s your racing skill versus that of others. That’s fine “¦ MORE than fine “¦ but if you’re going to expect me to pay $50 to compete at that level I’m going to want some training along with that.

Balance Rating: 4.0/10

Originality

It’s an MX game.

Moreover, this is an MX game that is almost totally devoid of personality or emotion. The only thing that saves this from the Mendoza line is a fine set of unlockables and the Machine races.

Originality Rating:6.0/10

Addictiveness

MX fans, please don’t flame me for this. Go and buy this game and make sweet love to it, but don’t think less of me for the fact that I just couldn’t get into this game.

This game gave me absolutely no reason to want to race MX bikes. There were no celebrations, no crowds, no pageantry, no signs of emotion whatsoever in this game. Visually, this game is stunning. The physics is as realistic as things can probably get. Controls were responsive, and the unlockables were fun; and yet I spent most of the evenings I had this game preferring to play Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix, and it wasn’t just because my 1-year old son loves to stomp on the pad and I was wanting some quality time with him.

Even the create-a-rider feature for career mode (which isn’t so much a create’ as much as it is an outfit’) was devoid of personality. The celebration when you won a race consisted of a little bar that said “Cory Wins.” I didn’t get pissed off when I lost in this game like I do with other racers. F1 Career Challenge gave me more of an emotional jolt than this, and this is a much better game that that. The game was just tedious to me. Race, race, race, race, race. Okay, maybe do some cool stuff in Freestyle, but even to unlock stuff you have to race there too.

Bottom line: This game failed the OSIT test. I never stayed up too late playing this game. Usually, I put it in, played it for a couple of races, and then turned it off to see what was on TV. And that’s on the evenings that I actually put it in.

I can’t hit this game that hard though. It does everything else too well. The primary reason for my ambivalence toward this game is probably my ambivalence toward MX racing in general. I’m sure some of you MX people probably feel the same way about the Smackdown series, another THQ product. I can only write what I know, though; and this game just doesn’t get me fired up, as a matter of fact, I actually tried to avoid playing it sometimes, and that’s enough for a half-point off of average from me.

I’m sorry.

Addictiveness Rating:4.5/10

Appeal Factor

Like I said, it’s a straight-up MX game with no personality or emotion. It does what it does really well, but the lack of a n00b-friendly learning curve or any sort of motivation to play more resigns this to the Mendoza line.

Appeal Rating:5.0/10

Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous Rating:5.0/10

I really want to give this game more points. I really do.

The problem is that this game just wasn’t FUN to me. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m a racer fan “¦ hell, I’m an extreme-sports racer fan, and I just couldn’t get into this game. It even had my Holy Grail of game fun — a deep unlockables cachet — and I still couldn’t get into it. It was a little too hard, it was a little too realistic, and it was a LOT too dry. Does that make me an extreme-sports poseur? Probably. But at the same time you have to acknowledge that this game isn’t doing anything to bring outsiders in to be fans of your sport the way that I know that No Mercy did for wrestling back on the N64.

I pored over this game to try and find a reason to give it a better score, and I couldn’t find one.

Modes: 6.5
Graphics: 8.0
Sound: 6.0
Control: 6.5
Replayability: 6.0
Balance: 4.0
Originality: 6.0
Addictiveness: 4.5
Appeal Factor: 5.0
Miscellaneous: 5.0