A fresh reboot of the series.
Rainbow Studios have always been my favorite offroad racing developer. Rather than care about graphics or the competition, they prefer to do things "their" way.
For example, they started the ATV Offroad Fury and Splashdown games. After making the first and second installments of the former, they left to make the MX vs. ATV series. The ATV Offroad Racing series then took a dive; Rainbow Studios' games were known for their large environments and robust physics. The studio who did it after stuck with linear environments and focused more on graphics. That studio would end up being Black Rock Studios, makers of Pure.
Rainbow Studios' MX vs ATV series were never just about those two vehicle types. Trucks, Buggies, and even Golf Carts were available. MX vs. ATV Reflex, the fourth installment of the MX series (which started with MX Unleashed), Still has most of that, but with two new features.
The first of these features is the namesake: Reflex controls. Essentially, you control your bike with the left analog stick, and you shift the weight of your rider with the right analog stick. Seems odd, yes? Well, it kind of is. I encourage players to go straight into Free-Ride and practice a good amount before starting the career. This control scheme takes a lot of time to get used to. It does seem like it stems from the "Skate" series dual analog control, but it actually works better here once you get the hang of it.
Before I move onto the next new feature, I have a few complaints with the Reflex controls.
Obviously, the Buggies and Trucks don't require Reflex controls, but that's where my first complaint comes from; the difficulty curve is out of wack. There will literally be races that seem impossible planted every now and then in between races that are extremely easy (such as the Buggy and Truck only courses). There are also courses that are not meant to be (for example, Iron Gate has a "backwards" version even though it obviously wasn't designed to be backwards). It just feels as though the track designers and the level progression developers weren't in communication. But the last issue I have is the I would've preferred them start us out with the buggy, then slowly get us used to the Reflex controls. There's no reason why you unlock something easier as you progress; a game should become more challenging.
Once you go Reflex, you'll never go back.
HOWEVER, don't let those negatives fool you. This is a very good game. I've enjoyed this game more than I've enjoyed Motorstorm or Pure, and that's due to the difficulty. I'm actually learning and adjusting my play style depending on the environment. I used to stick with ATV only in the previous games, but I'm honestly enjoying riding each vehicle now. The Trucks and Buggies are improved from the slippery nightmares they were in Unleashed, and the overall feeling of the game is just second to none. It really does feel like the start of an evolution for this particular brand of off-road racing. It is really hard to g o back to one of the earlier titles or even Pure, as I feel like I have less control without the second analog stick.
Also, Reflex controls make freestyling a lot easier. You just hold down a button and input a sequence of directions on the right analog stick. It's super easy to get used to, and unless you button mash (or, in this case, "analog mash"), you shouldn't mess up.
Altering the Earth.
This leads me to the next improvement; track deformation. Similar to what many saw in Sega Rally Revo or Motorstorm, as you progress through the tracks, each vehicle leaves their mark in the dirt / sand / snow. The smaller vehicles, MX and ATV bikes, have it the hardest; they're liable to flip and lose balance when hitting uneven surfaces. What they lack in balance they make up for in cornering and acceleration. I would say that riding a buggy or truck is still have a slight advantage, seeing how it's much harder to flip a buggy than it is to bail on an ATV bike. If you're nimble enough, this won't matter as much.
Track deformation is also very visually pleasing. I encourage everyone to find a shore next to water in free-ride, do a donut in place and watch as the water fills the donut. It's impressive tech, considering that it spans the whole open space. It also plays a part in races, where the flattened areas will generally give you a much more grounded ride unlike the loose sands above it.
Is it "Dirty" looking?
Needless to say, a lot of this track deformation leaves a bit to be desired in other areas visually. While I personally think the rider and vehicle models are fine, the wheels on the vehicles and the foliage could be improved. This is a minor thing, as you won't notice it when racing. Otherwise, I would say that this game looks like Pure without the motion blur filter, and that's a good thing, seeing as how I really liked how Pure looked. It definitely looks better than MX vs. ATV Untamed, which just looked like an HD version of a last gen game.
The sound design is awesome. Engines roar loudly, and the crowd is fierce, and the music is better than the previous outings with crappy bands like Nickelback and whatnot. Actually, I'm super glad that Nickelback isn't in this game. The soundtrack is by "3volution", who collaborates with other musicians to create the sounds that you'll hear while playing. They honestly rock, and I'm searching to purchase the album as of this moment.
Hang on to your seats
Reflex definitely aims to make a game that has you "holding on for dear life". The tracks are nasty, the AI is a bit aggressive, and the touchiness of the controls will require many to spend a lot of time getting used to it. Once you do, you'll find a game worthy of a lot of your time, all without the pain of hearing Nickelback in the background.
+ Gameplay: Reflex controls are great, track deformation is superb, with only a few hitches. 4.5/5
+ Level Design: Some occasionally shoddy level design choices mar what could've been an even better game. 3/5
+ Graphics: Pure without the motion blur filter... meaning, still very good. 4/5
+ Sound Design: One word: Excellent. 5/5
+ Overall: 4/5. This is the evolution of Rainbow's offroad line of racers. Now give us a next gen Splashdown, please?