In recent weeks, race game fans have gotten to enjoy Forza Horizon 2, had to suffer through DRIVECLUB, and hold out hope that The Crew will be more like the former than the latter. But all three games have one thing in common: they all have you racing cars. Which is just one reason you might want to check out MX Vs ATV Supercross, an arcadey dirt track racer for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that puts you behind the wheel, er handlebars of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.
Like previous games in this series, MX Vs ATV Supercross has self-aware off-road vehicles battling it out in steel cage fights to the death. But since it’s their day off, they’re instead going down to the track to drive in circles really, really fast.
At its core, MX Vs ATV Supercross does arcadey off-road racing right. It has a good sense of speed, whether you play with the third-person camera or the first-person helmet-cam (though I’m not sure what the point of the cinematic-ish “free” camera is), and has tracks that are curvy, bumpy, and full of small jumps. It also looks and sounds like the real thing, with visuals that might fool passers-by into thinking you’re watching a supercross, not playing a game called Supercross.
MX Vs ATV Supercross also, like previous installments in the MX Vs ATV series, has a wealth of options. Not only do both the single-player career and online multiplayer modes have dozens of events on seventeen tracks, but you also have numerous dirt bikes and ATVs of varying engine sizes to chose from, optional parts both mechanical and aesthetic that you can unlock, and tons of pro riders you can dress like (though this is a superficial option). You can even, in the career mode, alter every event individually by changing the number of laps to a number between three and thirty, or by setting the difficulty to “Rookie,” “Amateur,” “Pro,” and the sadistically hard “All Time.”
As similar as MX Vs ATV Supercross may be to previous installments, though, it does differentiate itself from its immediate predecessor, 2011’s MX Vs ATV Alive, by relaxing some of that game’s more controversial aspects. For starters, the controls have been simplified, and while you still use two sticks to steer — one to turn the handlebars and one to shift the weight of your rider — it’s been seriously dialed back and is thus a lot more subtle now. So subtle, in fact, that when racing a dirt bike, you could probably ignore it, even though it does make it easier to take those tight curves.
That said, the two-stick control scheme is rather handy when driving an ATV, since they tend to be a bit top heavy and much more prone to going awry. Which is why they’re not as much fun to drive in this game as the bikes.
Another change from MX Vs ATV Alive is that while that game had your bike and ATV tear up the dirt tracks in ways that could actually impact your steering, the ground deformation in MX Vs ATV Supercross has gone back to being a cosmetic thing like it was in 2009’s MX Vs. ATV Reflex. Which is actually a good thing, since this system was way too aggressive in Alive.
Best of all, MX Vs ATV Supercross has removed MX Vs ATV Alive’s unintentionally obnoxious leveling up system. When playing Alive solo, new events were only unlocked by hitting certain levels. But since winning races didn’t pay out a lot of XP, and those milestones were many levels apart, it meant you had to run races numerous times to unlock new events in Alive.
Not so for the career mode in MX Vs ATV Supercross. Instead, you unlock new parts, customizing options, and, thankfully, new events by winning races. Not that running the same races more than once in Supercross would be a terrible thing, but having to do them ten or even fifteen times, as I did in Alive, would’ve been annoying.
While MX Vs ATV Supercross is fun to drive, both online and off, and fixes the biggest issue of MX Vs ATV Alive, it’s not without its problems. In the career mode, for starters, the difficulty will sometimes shift quite dramatically. In the 250 West circuit that opens the game, I beat everyone rather handily in the first two events, then got my ass handed to me in the Los Angeles one, only to roar back to an easy win in the fourth. Even worse: I live in L.A., it’s my hometown, THIS GAME EMBARRASSED ME IN MY HOMETOWN!
MX Vs ATV Supercross also has some animation glitches, though because they almost only occur when you crash, and show a deep lack of knowledge in the fields of biology and physics, the only way in which they’ll impact the game’s fun factor is if you’re prone to fits of schadenfreude-inspired laughter that cause you to lose focus.
In the end, by fixing the mistakes of its immediate predecessor, MX Vs ATV Supercross is a solid dirt track racing game that reinstates the fun factor this series had kind of lost last time around. Plus, by not putting your butt in the seat of a car, it sets itself up as a nice alternative to all the car racing games that have come out lately.