MX Unleashed Review (Xbox)
Rainbow Studios has been a favorite developer of mine for a quite a long time. They’ve been responsible for some excellent racing releases in recent years; starting with the most recent success of “ATV Offroad Fury 2” for the PS2 to one of the originals that set the standard of excellence, “Motocross Madness”. Most fans of the sport come away very satisfied with their offerings. However, the biggest problem with off-road racers is that they don’t always appeal to gamers that are not fans of the genre.
The premise of “MX Unleashed” is simple enough. Your goal is to outride everyone else on the track or environment you are on. The way the premise is handled is the fun part. You start out with a couple of different choices. You can go straight for the gusto with the time consuming Career mode, or try and perfect your skills at the numerous exhibition type modes - ranging from Freestyle, to racing for practice on the different tracks, or trying to find the best way around the track to perfect your skills in Career mode. Sadly, the one thing that’s missing from the equation is any type of online play.
Let me dig a little deeper into the modes of play. Freestyle allows you to take your bike onto any track and just have fun by going anywhere and doing anything with no restrictions. The nice thing about this is that it is very easy to get through the different menu options; whether you go straight into it from the main menu or go into it through one of the individual exhibition menus when choosing the race type. Ultimately, you will have up to 46 differently laid out locations to play around in, ranging from the Motocross circuit tracks, to the Nationals tracks that are played in outdoor locales, to the five large environments, where you can do just about anything. To add another dimension to the large environments, you also have the opportunity to unlock different vehicles. See a monster truck parked in the environment? Then go to it and challenge it to a race. If you win the race, you get the monster truck. This also holds true with the other vehicles in the game, ranging from a dune buggy and rally truck to a bi-plane and a helicopter. Unfortunately, a minor downside appears when you realize that to get all the tracks and environments, you must get to them in the career mode. To counteract this, you’re allowed to buy anything that you are having trouble obtaining using the points you’ve earned in many different ways while playing (mostly during the career mode, but your points do add up in the exhibition modes as well.)
Before I step into career mode, I want to finish touching on a couple of the exhibition modes with saying that during the Motocross and National modes you have the option of racing five different ways. Practice and Single race are self-explanatory and can be played solo or with another human racer. Ghost racing allows you to see your best lap of the session replayed for you while you try to improve upon it. Free ride is basically the same as Freestyle, as it allows you to go anywhere and do anything with no restrictions, this mode can also be played with two human players in a split-screen display. Fast Lap Attack Mode is the unique one of the bunch. If you are having trouble with a track, I highly recommend trying this option, as the goal here is to complete the course perfectly. To complete the course perfectly, you must take off in the correct zone and also land in the correct zone. Even if you only can get 75 percent of the track correct, you will see it reflected in your next race as you will become a lot more competitive. There really is no reward for completing all of these other than you showing improvement on the track, but that’s more than enough when you get to the later stages of career mode.
Career mode is the heart of “MX Unleashed”. To unlock tracks you must play this mode. The nice part about the career mode is that it is not insanely difficult like some titles can be, but it is hard enough that you won’t just breeze through it, either. You start off with choosing one of the available circuits (14 total, six of these with 125cc bikes, and eight with 250cc bikes) and compete in a series of races (set to the length of your choosing) with the goal of finishing on top. Competing in the races allows you to unlock the tracks that were restricted earlier. You must finish the series in the top 3 to advance (as each series progresses, you move up in overall rankings starting from 100 and moving up each time you place in the top 3 in the series.)
The AI in the races does a good job of keeping you honest by not giving you slack to win. The early stages of the 125cc series will be a relative breeze, but they start getting increasingly difficult over time. By the time you have worked your way into the 250cc series, you will really need to be showcasing your racing skills as the AI is a lot more consistent and much less forgiving. The one thing that has plagued Rainbow Studios’ games in the past is letting the AI riders catch up to you even if you are running a really good race. The flipside is this same method also works for you; in that you really are never out of a chance to finish in the top 3, even if you stumbled and ended out way behind with more than one lap remaining. So while this may frustrate you at times, it also comes in handy as well. The randomness of the AI is very nice; they will land on top of one another, run each other off the track, and even try and push you around through corners - so there always is an interesting mix during gameplay and this keeps things from feeling overly repetitive.
Another segment of the career mode is Freestyle career. This segment puts you out into the major environments to showcase your stunt and riding skills in a variety of different ways. They include Hit Objectives that are nearly identical to the Fast Lap Attack mode described earlier; as you must take off and land in a certain area. The difference here is that instead of perfection, you are competing against 3 AI opponents trying to be the first to complete the 10 different jumps. Run Objectives have you trying to complete a string of jumps from and into zones without wrecking or missing one of the zones. If you miss the zone or wreck your bike, then you’ll have to try again. Machine Race objectives allow you to try and unlock the vehicles outside of the motorcycles I talked about earlier. Each environment has a different vehicle, and your task is to beat them all – and then you’ll be able to cruise the tracks in each of them. Stunt objectives are timed, and in that time, you’ll have to earn a certain amount of trick points. The wilder your stunts are, the more points you can earn. To successfully earn the points for your current stunt, you must land solidly; otherwise you will have to try again to add more stunt points. To successfully complete one of the Freestyle career levels, you must complete three of the five Hit and Run Objectives, as well as complete the Machine Race and the Stunt Objectives. There is no set order - you simply have to complete each objective, and perform the requirements to move on.
Performing stunts is a very simple task. Once you are airborne, you’ll have one to three buttons (slightly configurable as to which ones you want to use) and a direction that you can press to perform a variety of stunt moves. The more stunts you string together during a jump, the more points you will receive. To add more height and depth to your jump, you can preload your jump as you are getting ready to take off. Preloading is performed by taking the left analog stick (or D-pad), and pressing down to load and up to execute as you get to the edge of the jump. In “ATV Offroad Fury”, preloading was handled very well. It was easy to execute jumps and even easier to string them together. In “MX Unleashed”, it seems a little sluggish in response. Preloading to me was more frustrating in the winding and twisty race tracks than in the large environments, as you were always twisting and turning, and at times you couldn’t get centered enough to get a good preload for the next jump. I suppose this can be attributed to the vehicle you are using being on two wheels here versus a four–wheeled ATV, but it still I think could have been slightly better in response or ease.
One of the bigger issues that I have with “MX Unleashed” has to do with the controls, and the fact that I cannot set them up the way I want them. I am restricted to the pre-determined sets available. One of the most frustrating things for me is that resetting the bike is perfomed by pressing the left and right triggers. With my hands, I rest my fingers by the triggers, and I found myself accidentally resetting the bike, instead of trying to finish a trick combination; or when using the clutch and then wanting to do a trick while racing, I end up resetting the bike and have to start moving again from a motionless state. It was very frustrating that there was not a way to change the mapping of this to the black and while buttons, as they were far enough out of my way where if I wanted to reset, that would be the most logical way to do it that did not have a chance to interfere with what I was currently trying to accomplish. There is some configuration available here, and some of them make sense, but the lack of ability to change the reset was very frustrating, and it was one of the times that a PS2 controller would have been extremely nice to use instead - so that I could have rested my hands in a different location away from where the reset would be activated.
The graphics of “MX Unleashed” are not groundbreaking or jaw-dropping. If you are familiar with “ATV Offroad Fury”, then you should be quite familiar with what you are going to see here. There is not much difference between the Xbox and PS2 versions. The focus is on the bikes, the riders, and your immediate surroundings. The bikes themselves are rendered extremely well. They show the shocks compressing, and the wheels move in a very lifelike fashion - they simply look like real motocross bikes. Even the riders look very lifelike in how they react and respond while riding. Major crashes showcase the riders’ reactions in a very good fashion when you see them flopping along the ground after you have demolished your bike during a crash. Sadistic, perhaps - but I can almost guarantee that you will find yourself on occasion trying to find ways to launch your rider off your bike.
The layout of the screen is also handled very well and doesn’t intrude on your gameplay - even in two player modes. The on screen radar does a good job of showing where you are and where the track twists and turns, or how to find one of the freestyle zones on the bigger maps. While the standard graphics do the job the 1080i high-definition graphics are awesome. This is the first game I played that took advantage of the 1080i output and I am happy I invested in the HDTV for gaming.
I find audio to normally be a very opinionated category, as it is all about the taste of the user. If you do not like the music, then shut it off. The only thing that usually truly matters is the way the game itself uses audio. “MX Unleashed” uses it well. All the sounds of the various vehicles are very good, from the way the motorcycles whine to the sound of the sheer power of the monster truck. You also will hear grunts and groans from your rider when crashes happen; but outside of that, there really isn’t much more than crowd noises in the arena races.
The music score is a mostly rock mix headlined by “Headstrong” from Trapt, and “Out of Control” from Hoobastank. If none of this intrigues you, then well you’ll be disappointed to know that there is no custom soundtrack option at all. On a PS2 this is fine - you expect to not be able to change your music, but this is something that shouldn’t be overlooked from a major release on the Xbox. I can see eliminating this feature for a budget title, but for a full price title, especially in this type of genre that begs for your own music - the omission is inexcusable and downright disappointing.
“MX Unleashed” is a good game. It has some considerable depth to it, but also has some shortcomings – and the biggest ones are the lack of custom soundtracks and the limited ability to configure the controls exactly to your needs. Online play is missed here, especially since “MTX Mototrax”, which has just been released - has online play available. Outside of this, there really isn’t anything I can say that would encourage you to try this game before you buy.