MX vs. ATV Unleashed found success on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 last year with a fast-paced and approachable style of dirt racing that had you piloting everything from MX bikes to souped-up golf carts. Now, MX vs. ATV has been "unleashed" onto PCs and, because it's a fairly literal port of the console game, the same sense of control and amenable fun is left well intact, along with a few PC-only extras.
The take-off was fun, but the landing is going to sting.
Though motocross bikes and ATV four-wheelers are at the heart of the rides found in MX vs. ATV Unleashed, they are far from the only machines available to race. The game tosses everything but the transportation equivalent of the kitchen sink at you--golf carts, dune buggies, monster trucks, helicopters, and biplanes are only a portion of the available rides. This may sound like great fun, but the controls for some of these vehicles--particularly the airborne ones--are frustrating and unresponsive, a stark contrast to the majority of the earthbound racers.
Though you can use the keyboard controls to pilot the vehicles in Unleashed--and naturally customize the keyboard mappings as you see fit--your best bet will be using a USB controller, preferably one with dual analog sticks. Unfortunately, even after you've gotten your controls mapped properly, the airborne vehicle controls remain the same and don't seem to have changed at all since the console version. Therefore, any race involving flight is an exercise in frustration, which is probably why they are so haphazardly (and infrequently) placed throughout the game.
Even when you're racing the two- and four-wheeled beauties, you can expect to spend plenty of time in the air. The same bouncy physics model that has propelled previous ATV and MX games is in full effect here in MX vs. ATV Unleashed. Your bike will rocket off the lip of a jump and propel you high into the air, where you'll be free to perform as many point-grabbing-style tricks as you can manage before descending back to earth. If you manage to preload your suspension (by moving the left thumbstick backward, then forward) before your wheels leave the ground, you'll gain even more air. Preloading your bike's suspension is a key technique for navigating the bump-filled courses found in MX vs. ATV, but it won't be a technique you use for each jump. In fact, the game effectively forces you to choose your spots for preloading--take a jump too long and you may crash directly into the apex of another hill; take it too short and you'll lose precious momentum.
Your knowledge of how to navigate the tracks is the key ingredient to winning races. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of performance differences among vehicles of the same type, so in all-ATV or all-MX races, your main advantage will be knowing exactly how to tackle each hill you encounter on a course.
This is made all the more intriguing by the imaginative and immersive environments. While the majority of the stadium-based motocross tracks are only mediocre, the track designs come to life in the outdoor courses. The 16 Nationals Championship series events, for example, are a tantalizing mix of forest courses, dusty desert roadways, snowy mountain trails, and sandy beachside tracks. The wide variety in track types is further bolstered by individual features that are sure to provide thrills lap after lap. Huge pillars of dirt--resembling walls more than jumps--dot tracks that find you leaping felled trees, open-air gulches, and even your competition. As you speed your way toward the finish line, the dirt tracks twist and turn, wrenching your ATV or bike from side to side as you try to keep up with the constantly shifting camber.
See? Told you so...
On the most difficult sections of track, such as tight hairpin turns, you're best course of action is to make liberal use of the clutch control found in MX vs. ATV. Using the clutch lets you gain short bursts of speed around tight corners or at the start of a race. It takes some getting used to, but it soon becomes an essential weapon in your driving arsenal. Then there are the tricks you can perform, imaginatively titled stunts such as "the lazy boy," "the can can," and "the nothing." For each trick you successfully land, you'll earn points that can be spent in the store to unlock new rides, gear, pro riders, and tracks, among other goodies.