Tension mounts as you wait for the starting barrier to drop. Engines rev as the riders prepare to hurl themselves head first onto a narrow dirt track in a bid to win fame, fortune and a reputation as either the best MX or ATV racer on the planet. The question is, can you handle the pressure as well as the tightest curves to be found on any race track? Well this is what you need to know before you decide to scale those dizzying heights.
Tighten up your chin straps, and prepare for high speed, bone jarring, teeth rattling action! OK unlike Blur, don't worry about finding power ups and weapons here. No, worry instead about pulling tricks (if you can) as well as fighting to get ahead of the rest of the pack. What you do have here is a game that takes a pinch of Forza's experience and option settings and throws in a dose of an almost retro style in the gaming action. As I played this, I was almost taken back in my mind too the heady days of Road Rash on the mega drive.
It's all about racing sure, but there are stunts to be pulled and there are times when like in Road Rash, you could find the unwelcome attentions of a rival racer as he plants an elbow in your face!
But Road Rash this isn't. Neither is it a clone of Forza (obviously) but there are similarities. Racing earns experience points for both the machine and rider. As you level up the vehicle you unlock new components, new livery, and sponsors badges to adorn both your bike or ATV and racing gear.
Packages that effect the bikes performance are also unlocked. New exhausts, wheel trims etc, etc. will become available but absent are the full customisation offered by Forza and some people may bemoan that lack. But this is not a simulation game at all, it is, when all is said and done, all about the racing. The tracks are challenging to say the least. Three options are available to you from the get go and all of them are open to explore (once unlocked) in a free ride mode that won't gain you any XP but will allow you to at least learn the tracks which is no bad thing because the tracks are tight and challenging. It also gives you more of a chance to examine the details of the surrounding terrain (if that's what you want to do) but I recommend the free ride option, especially for the third kind of track. The first track type is club class, which are fairly short and challenging, the second national offers a longer course and whilst you think great, wide open spaces to move here, there are still some very tight bends here that can catch out the unwary rider very easily. The third is tight, and that's exactly what they are, small tight, and short tracks that are somewhat reminiscent of a rally cross track. On all three tracks the action is intense, the dirt flies and you'll be challenged indeed until you get the feel of your chosen vehicle.
However unless on line, you'll only access new tracks from the start until you reach level 10. It won't take long to get there but maybe they could have lowered the level needed? Maybe that's just me. Racing online however means you can access those tracks but of course, you have had no chance to practice. There is no practising on those circuits until you have unlocked them for yourself so be warned. So that covers the action so what about the rest of the package? Let's see.
GRAPHICS: Bikes and ATV's are nicely detailed, the spectators are nicely detailed but a little static whilst watching the races. You can hear them cheer, or indeed, even jeer if you take a tumble off the seat of your ride, but they are not animated that I have noticed. Background details such as trees and hills, are nicely rendered as is the dirt as it flies up from under your wheels although there are no Motor Storm style splashes of mud flying into the camera.
Physics: OK here comes the first minus point. Whilst hitting something head on results in a tumble (naturally), striking something a glancing sideways blow can cause the Bike or ATV to bounce and fly sideways through the air that just does not look natural or right. Collision detection is fine, but apparently there's a recovery system that should mean if you are going to be unseated, then a quick flick of the right analogue stick in the direction indicated on screen should prevent the tumble. It would if it responded in time that is. Sometimes it works and that's fine but sometimes you think you have recovered only to find that you are wrong and gravity soon causes a bruised pride as well as a bruised butt!
Secondly although I am no expert, I'd have thought that racing on four wheels as opposed to racing on two should mean a safer, more balanced ride. No, I'm afraid not. Although the bikes do take some getting used too, the ATV sometimes seems to fly through the air, or bounce along the track like a rabid kangaroo and before you know it, there's a crash coming. This strikes me as being an imbalance between the handling of both types of vehicles. Indeed they should be different but the balance is way too tipped in the favour of the motorcycles.
GAMEPLAY: If you are finding it too easy (and on novice it is easy to win even after taking a few tumbles) then feel free to do a Forza and adjust the settings between each race but be prepared to feel the aggression of the other racers in a very personal way. The tight tracks are by far the most tricky of the three types and racing well on them could provide some frustration so be warned. Especially on an ATV. I found myself gritting my teeth and muttering "Turn dammit, that's a bend not a straight!"
The difficulty settings don't effect the handling much but it does crank up the aggression of the competitors. Controls are fairly responsive at times, but there are times when you wish that there was a touch more response especially with the 'crash rescue' and after a collision getting back on track and heading in the right direction can be a pain. You can hit the square button for a track reset and until you get used too this game then you may find yourself using it..a lot.
Online gameplay is smooth, no noticeable lag or frame rate problems. It's online where this game will shine brightly I feel. If you can overlook the tech problems with the handling and controls, then it's fast and furious action. It is as well in single player but the multi player has the edge here. I will add that maybe it was due too the PSN network being down and under repair that logging into the online game was problematical at first but thankfully that seems to have been fixed.
MUSIC: A rock track for the most part and maybe I'm showing my age here, but I didn't recognise any of the bands or tracks. They do provide decent and appropriate backing though for the action.
SOUND EFFECTS: To be frank most of the engines sound the same too me, like a swarm of angry, turbo charged bees. Collision sound effects lack impact (excuse the pun) although the crowd cheers and taunts are authentic.
So here we go with the summing up. This game has a packed field of contenders to try to compete with. Games like Motor Storm and the Dirt series spring too mind as being it's rivals, and alas, both of those games are going to leave this choking on their collective exhaust fumes and stand gawping as they vanish over the horizon and take the chequered flag.
THQ have tried to give us a great racing game here but I feel that it's a shame that they haven't gone under it's hood and given it a tweak here and there that would help make it a more enjoyable experience. Yes it IS fun, but it is flawed and it hurts me to say it but I have to be honest about this. If they have time to tweak the handling and control issues then they can redeem themselves somewhat, but what we have been left with is a disappointing package that just fails to deliver where it counts.
It provides a distraction from the tweaking and modification of something like Forza three sure, but if I want a more fun based racer that I can just pick up and play and enjoy win or lose, then I am afraid I'd find myself reaching for Motorstorm or Blur instead. There are too many minor faults that mar the experience on offer and dilute the desire to pick up this title to give it a go for a few days before trying again, whereas I have frequently lost track of the time playing Blur or Motorstorm and I have gone for them again the next day.