MX vs. ATV Reflex Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Dec 01, 2009

Motocross occupies an unstable region with one foot in the world of extreme sports and another in the world of traditional motorsports, where thousands of dollars of machinery is necessary just to compete. It's equal parts pure youthful bravura and technical micro-management, a perfect combination for a video game. This game offers up a few new gameplay concepts, while sticking to out-dated concepts for progression and presentation.

The Pros
  • Rider balance system is a welcome addition
  • Track deformation transforms how you race
  • Comprehensive Online Mode
The Cons
  • Presentation lacks imagination; feels last-gen
  • Career progression is a snore
  • PS3 version performs much worse than 360

Motocross occupies an unstable region with one foot in the world of extreme sports and another in the world of traditional motorsports, where thousands of dollars of machinery is necessary just to compete. It’s equal parts pure youthful bravura and technical micro-management, a perfect combination for a video game. MX vs. ATV Reflex is the latest edition in Rainbow Studios’s long-running MX franchise. The game offers up a few new gameplay concepts, while sticking to out-dated concepts for progression and presentation.

MX vs. ATV Reflex

Lean Into It

The biggest addition to Reflex is a system for controlling your rider’s balance independent of steering. You’ll use the right analog stick to lean into turns, shift your center of gravity backward during low-traction stretches of track or press forward to pick up speed on straightaways. The game is totally playable using the traditional method of finding a balance between steering, acceleration and timely braking, but the addition of rider gravity brings some welcome new tactics to the formula.

This steering system is a handsome compliment to terrain deformation, the other major addition to the MX vs. ATV world. Tracks change significantly from lap to lap; ruts deepen, hairpin turns are torn apart, and flat stretches turn into muddy bogs. Throughout each lap, you’ll have to modulate your approach by slowing a little earlier or taking a slightly different angle into a jump to compensate for the unpredictable deformation. One of the worst elements of racing games is the monotony of racing lap after lap on the same track, but the deformation adds a welcome sense of randomness. It’s impossible to ever feel like you’re on a safe stretch as some new rut or divot could completely destroy the line you took in a previous lap. What worked perfectly in lap one could well send you careening out of bounds in lap two.

There are, however, some accompanying frustrations with these new systems and the way they interact. There were moments in almost every event I played where I felt like my rider had become a gyroscope, rotating into unnatural positions for reasons I couldn’t understand. Collision detection also bedevils the physics system; when some riders nudged me it had no effect, while in other instances, a slight touch wiped me out instantly.

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Wake Me When We’re There

The single player content in Reflex is a generous spread of new locations and events in which to compete. You can play any game type and map in the Arcade mode or play the Career mode in which you’ll earn points to unlock new vehicles. The career progression is especially old school and repetition heavy. You’ll start with a few available modes, each with three or four tracks or variations. You’ll have to place in the top three in one track to unlock the next, and you’ll need to accumulate enough top three finishes in all available events to unlock the next sampling.

There are a good variety of tracks and modes to plough through, from sprawling checkpoint races through the wilderness to the tight confines of Supercross and the jumbled insanity of Omnicross. The structure gets frustrating quite early. It’s tough to compete without a decent understanding of the track layout. Each turn around the track is different, but after a couple of hours the differences can feel negligible. I started to feel like a hamster on a wheel, whose speed would randomly change, making progression feel like an exercise of luck and attrition. A little more thought in stringing specific events and tracks into some sort of order would have been a welcome approach. Even after placing in all the events and tracks I wasn’t sure exactly what I had really accomplished.

Like previous MX vs ATV games, Reflex has a terrific multiplayer mode that supports twelve players in all the game’s main modes. There are also a couple of mini-games, including Snake, which is a welcome variation on the Tron motorcycle game. It’s a great addition. Playing with other people adds a Mario Kart-like sense of unpredictability to the already dynamic tracks and bike physics, and it really brings the game to life. It would have been nice to offer players the option of advancing through the career in the online mode as well as offline to help break up the tedium.

There’s a real lack of drama in Reflex’s presentation, which makes it feel like a game caught between two generations. The camera is generally static and there are no extra effects to help bring out some of the game’s subtleties. There’s no zoom-in when your rider loses balance and clings to the bike after a rough landing. There’s no color desaturation or screen blur when you’re bumped by other riders. There’s no stamina system for your rider’s balance commands, making it seem like just another mechanical system instead of a feat of real human strength.

MX vs. ATV Reflex

Details on the PlayStation 3 Version of MX vs. ATV Reflex

Reflex looks and runs much worse on the PS3. Environmental textures often fail to load. There’s little color separation making environments blurry and hard to read. There are also frequent frame drops and slowdown that can mar the intensity of a race. The content and online functionality is the same, but the performance is enough to merit a full point penalty.

Fighting The Last War

MX vs. ATV Reflex is a great motocross game, but it’s not quite a great game. The track deformation and rider balance systems are welcome additions to a familiar genre, but they’re not well supported by the game’s static presentation and unimaginative progression. It exemplifies how iterative design can fail a series in the long run. Reflex adds tweaks and features that would have been welcome a few years ago, but fails to anticipate what another couple of years of innovation has brought to the racing genre as a whole. Reflex happily fills a niche but it doesn’t move the genre forward nor make the most of its innovative ideas.