Similar to the big lineup of available drives in the game, there's simply a lot to do in MX vs. ATV Unleashed through the game's many modes. Most players will spend the majority of their time either online--racing against up to six other players in both the PS2 and Xbox versions--or in the championships mode. Here, you'll be able to run a series of races in either the Nationals series or the THQ SX series, both of which are composed of 16 race events. The Nationals series features the outdoor courses, while the THQ SX championship is made up of supercross courses. Unlike other modes in the game, these two series are restricted to either ATVs or MX motocross bikes and feature multiple heats. In both series you'll also be periodically challenged to one-off races that will have you racing the aforementioned trophy trucks, helicopters, or biplanes. Win the race and you unlock the winning ride; lose, and all you've lost is your pride (or in the case of the air races, a little bit of your sanity).
Just because you start a hill climb doesn't mean you're going to finish it.
Other modes include a single-player game, which features freestyle, free ride, one-on-one challenges, and individual racing events, such as hill climbs, waypoint races, and short tracks; multiplayer racing, both online and split-screen style; a quick race feature; and a training mode that will introduce you to the basics of high-speed dirt driving, as well as some of the finer control points. The same variety found in MX vs. ATV's single-player mode is also available online on both the PS2 and Xbox. Straight-ahead races are the norm, but you can also compete in events such as the points challenge, where whoever can rack up the most points in a preset time limit is the winner. Online races run with minimal lag, and the controls are as responsive online as they are offline. Unfortunately, like in the single-player game, you're limited to a maximum of six competitors in a single race.
If the graphics aren't the finest you'll find on the PS2 and Xbox, they're certainly serviceable. The dirt textures on the roads look appropriately dingy, though the bikes don't always kick up as much mud as you might expect them to. Also, tread marks left in the dirt on lap 1 will have disappeared by lap 2. The same is true for roadside obstacles, such as padding or signage that happens to get knocked onto the track--on your next go-around, that same object will be back in its original place. These are just nitpicks, however, for an overall solid graphical package that runs at a speedy clip and saves the special lighting effects for tracks that make the most of them--such as the snowy Northern Lights course complete with an aurora borealis painting the sky.
So what's not to like in MX vs. ATV? For one, experienced players won't find much challenge except on the hardest difficulty settings, as the game lets you stay in a race even if you fall well behind. In effect, the biggest challenge in the game is racing against the course, rather than racing against MX vs. ATV's computer-controlled opponents. Furthermore, collision detection can be spotty against other opponents--you generally won't crash if you sideswipe an opponent, yet when the time does come for either you or your AI opponent to take a tumble, it's usually you taking the fall. While up to six players can compete in a race composed of only one vehicle type, that number is reduced to four when you start mixing up the machines. Finally, loading times tend to be a pain in both console versions of the game, and we even saw one freeze-up during our time with the PS2 edition.
The thrill cam always gives an interesting perspective to the game's huge-air jumps.
While we're tempted to write off the game's soundtrack simply for including a Nickelback song, in all honesty the music found in MX vs. ATV is well in keeping with the rugged vibe of the game and features acts such as Papa Roach, Powerman 5000, and Phunk Junkeez. The whining bleat of the ATV and motocross bike engines sound true to life, if not extremely varied, and attempts at adding environmental noises such as chirping birds and hooting owls are fine, if unremarkable.
Because the air races found in MX vs. ATV Unleashed are so frustrating, one wonders why they even made it into the game in the first place, especially when you consider how fun the game is with two (or more) wheels on the ground. Still, MX vs. ATV Unleashed is a fast-paced and fun-filled arcade racing game, loaded with enough variety of modes and unlockable content to keep you engaged for quite a while.