By TheGreatGuero 5 Comments
Think of this as being a sort-of informal review of the game. I'm still not quite finished with it, but I'm almost done with all of the events at this point and think I've played the game enough to give some legitimate comments. I've had a lot of experience with Rainbow Studios' MX and ATV games over the years. Mainly because my family is totally into riding dirt bikes, so I've played most of them with my brother. First and foremost, I think they've made several great racing games in the past, such as ATV Offroad Fury 2 and MX vs ATV: Unleashed, though others have fallen short and been pretty disappointing. MX vs ATV: Reflex appeared to be shaping up nicely, with improved graphics, a new trick system, real-time terrain alteration, and several pro riders, however, it ends up being a game that falls under the category of disappointing. The game ends up feeling simplified, losing the depth and quality of its predecessors.
Let me get the basics out of the way here. The game now has mapped your list of tricks to the right analog stick, along with the new "reflex" feature from which the game gets it's namesake. With "reflex", you can recover from bumpy landings or collisions by pressing in the indicated direction on-screen to shift your rider's body weight to keep them from falling off their bike. It's a nice idea, but the execution could be better. Understand first that this doesn't appear just any time you screw up and are going to crash. It's only if your rider is close to falling off the bike, which can happen pretty regularly, but won't have any use if you're going to crash from not getting enough rotation while attempting a backflip, for instance. While the recovery is only prompted when necessary, you can use the analog to tilt your rider at any time, which can help straighten out your bike or even help you make sharper turns. It works good with helping you make turns, but it really seems to do more harm than good if you're trying to shift your weight to better move along rhythm sections in the tracks. Even when you do use it, it seems to work best with short, quick taps of the analog stick, but I've found that it's best to use it sparingly. Also, when this "reflex" moment pops up where you can save your rider, the arrow indicates you to press the opposite direction that you would think you'd have to lean. For instance, if your rider is about to go over the handlebars, the game wants you to push up. Any common sense would tell you that it'd probably be a much better idea to lean back to stay on the bike. Despite that problem, the game will still let you recover even if you initially push the wrong direction, so long as you push it the right way fairly quickly.
In keeping with the whole dual analog approach, Rainbow Studio decided to revise the trick system. BIG MISTAKE. Here's why. Every single trick in the game, with the exception of rotations, is done by holding the left bumper button and then pushing the analog stick in 3 directions. Each trick has a different combination of directions, but they're all done that way. One of the issues with that is you're not really going to know what trick you're doing and most times will be pulling tricks at random. That would be fine, unless you consider the fact that some tricks take waaaaay longer to pull off than others. A no-hander is a trick that you can do in a half-second if you wanted, whereas a superman seat-grab is going to take at least a few seconds. So basically this discourages you from attemping any tricks unless you know you're going to have enough time to pull a long one. There's nothing to differentiate the various difficulties of tricks, and that's not cool. In past games, harder tricks required more buttons, and the shorter and easier ones required less, making it more practical for you to know exactly what you're doing and whether or not you'll have time to pull off that second or third trick in a single jump. Also, let's take a nice little look at Rainbow Studios' previous game, MX vs ATV: Untamed, which is a current-gen game on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. In that game, you had plenty of trick modifiers that aren't anywhere to be found in Reflex. You could pull off no-hander-landers, you could do side-saddle backflips, all sorts of stuff. They even had a nice combo system to give you bonuses for chaining together tricks. There was a whole lot of depth, and while it was difficult to master, it was much more authentic and rewarding. Plus you could keep combos going with wheelies. Good luck with that in Reflex. They had a great game for their foundation here, but they tried to streamline everything, I suppose in an attempt to make it more accessible to everyone, but the result is an easier and less interesting game.
There are also trophy trucks and dune buggies in the game, but they make no use of the reflex stick whatsoever. In fact, they lack most of the depth of the dirt bikes and ATVs. All you gotta do with them is use the gas and the brakes. They're much more simple, and the races that require you to use them end up being the easiest ones in the game. The game apparently has real pro riders in it. So I read. I haven't seen any mention of them. Maybe I've been beating them in all the races, but I haven't noticed. If you're going to pay for the pros, you really should consider doing more with them. Look at Dirt 2 as a guideline here, they made great use of real riders. I suppose chatter between racers while riding wouldn't be so feasible on dirt bikes, but dude, c'mon, they could have done something with the guys. They could walk you through the menus like Travis Pastrana did in the original Dirt, for example, or show you some new things in the training.
The graphics are pretty nice, and making ruts in the terrain is a cool looking feature, though it's impact on gameplay isn't really too noteworthy. Occasionally falling into a rut will cause you to lose your steering ability, but it's pretty minor, though it's not a bad addition. It's kind of funny that your rider's body will make ruts in the mud as he goes sliding across the ground after a bail. Oh, also, most of the bikes are generic ones modelled after real ones, though the clothing is legit. There's some nice graphical touches, like watching riders remove the tear-offs from their goggles occasionally, and the animations and tricks all look solid. You'll often see a lot of fake stuff, though. Like ridiculous landings and bumping into another rider then somehow flying into the air and pulling a frontflip. The landings are far more lenient this time around and don't seem too concerned with the way real physics work. Also, there will be times where your dirt bike will bounce out of control when it really seems unnecessary, which can be kind of annoying, but it's not common enough to ruin the game.
Now let's go onto some other things, like the racing. Seriously, the AI in this game is pretty moronic. All the time you'll see other racers completely driving straight on through turns and off the track. It's a very regular occurence. Today I swear I saw all 3 of the riders in front of me do this at the same time, at a very clearly seen turn. The game is pretty easy. I'm nearly always winning races by 20+ seconds. It can be difficult when you're in the pack with other racers because the slightest bump from them often times will send you crashing off-course, but once you get ahead of them, it's usually smooth sailing. Seriously, just floor the gas at all times, except when you slow down and brake on the turns and you'll be blowing everyone away. Oh, one big thing, the game no longer has any preloading of the suspension. I read that you now preload by leaning back as you ride up jumps, but I've tested it myself and have seen absolutely no difference in the distance you jump. For those of you that aren't familiar with it, you could charge the stick in previous games to increase the length of your jumps. It was a great feature to help you get back into rhythm or clear extra big jumps. You had to be careful with it, though, because you could totally end up jumping too far if you abused it, so there was definitely some technique involved. Anyway, that's gone, so basically now you just want to go full speed the whole time to clear all the jumps. If you screw up and come up short on a set of jumps, or crash, you're not going to have the right amount of speed and often won't be able to get into the appropriate rhythm to keep your speed up. Again, just another way the game has been more simplified.
Freestyle competitions are a joke. You're graded on categories like variety, difficult, flow, and something else I can't remember, but neither of them seem to matter much. Dude, if you lose at freestyle, you either don't know how to play the game at all yet or you just suck at video games. The competition is so pathetic. You can land about 2 tricks, crash 15 times, and still you'll be in first place, no problem. Then sometimes tricks like 360s and whips aren't recognized and award you no points, which is pretty weak. Afterwards, you can watch a highlight reel of your run, but it's done pretty poorly too. The camera can't seem to follow your rider during most of them, it will show more of your bails than successful landings, and it will cut your tricks short. There's a lot of different events, and some of them are interesting. Despite all the problems, there's still fun to be had with the game, and there's a lot to do in it. I can't say I totally hate it, but a rental is enough for me. It's not the worst game you'll ever play by any stretch, but it's fairly disappointing and also surprising because the previous game had already laid down a solid foundation which this game kind of ignores. If I were to review it right now, I'd give it 3/5 stars.
(Edit: On an updated note, I found out my brother had the game's difficulty set to the easiest setting, so maybe it's not quite as easy as I thought. I only bumped up the difficulty to the hardest setting for this one achievement, though I still won that race by about 10 seconds, so I don't think it changes anything too drastically. However, it might make the freestyle competition less pitiful, but I'm not really going to bother finding out at this point.)