Rainbow Studios claim to fame is their motocross madness series which long ago was one of the most popular racing games around. Seeing the potential of the developers, THQ contracted them to make motocross games, a huge sport in America but not necessarily the biggest outside of that country. While over the past few years the motocross games have impressed, they have catered to the hardcore only. This game changes all that with the hardcore side of the game retained, but a heck of a lot of novelty fun stuff thrown in to widen the appeal. The result is a game which can be enjoyed by racing fans the world over, or those who like a quick bash in the dirt.
There are two main game modes; single player and challenge and these modes are subdivided into many more. The single player side of the game is fairly self explanatory with exhibition races and the ability to use bikes and tracks which you have unlocked where as the challenge mode is where the crux of the game's modes are found. These range from tournaments to challenges and offer enough variety to keep you going for quite some time.
The challenges are probably the best game mode for those who aren't necessarily into the sport all that much. This is due to the fact the tournaments are raced across sixteen rounds, but to be honest it's actually forty eight rounds as each round is three races long. This leads to a lot of repetition and while realistic, probably was a mistake for the developer to go down this path. The tournaments are divided into different categories. You start off having to prove yourself as a rider before being promoted to the national leagues where the big money and licensed riders are.
Where the game really stands out from the rest is the huge variety of vehicles you can play with. There are standard motorbikes as well as the ATV's but in a surprise there are vehicles such as Golf Carts also to play around with. The golf carts are purely for novelty and don't handle all that well on the courses but it's a fun diversion. The other vehicles physics really stand out and you can perform a multitude of tricks which is required in some game modes to gain points. The tricks are easy to perform with a few button presses being all that it takes. They all handle quite different as well.
The racing is actually quite well done although it does feel a little too close to the previous game. The fact that a multitude of new vehicles are thrown in such as planes and helicopters really makes this not such a bad thing but they will have to work on it for the next game if they aren't going to be labeled with the rehash badge. It's fast and fun and most of the time you have quite a bit of control over the vehicle. The flying engine really is a lesson in gaming frustration but it appears you only have to use this once in the entire game, unless you choose to play more.
One of the more disappointing aspects is where the races take place. As you would expect there is both outdoor and indoor arenas but there is not that much difference between the different arenas and desert tracks other than the actual design of the track. You won't find yourself in vastly different environments, but the environments do affect the racing especially during the Baja style races where the aim is to get from point to point as fast as you can.
Visually it's quite impressive especially the professional riders who look quite close to their real life counterparts. The physics of the game is what stands out and while it looks impressive for a PS2 title, it doesn't have to push that many polygons. Popup could have been a problem but turns out not to be with trees and other objects fading in rather than just appearing. Sound effects are pretty standard but again THQ have come up trumps with the soundtrack. More than a few songs seem to have been recycled from the old game though.
MX vs ATV Unleashed is a very impressive title for both hardcore and casual gamers. The huge amount of vehicles makes the repetitive nature of the game not such a big problem and the physics of the game keep it in the realism side of things, but also offers pick up and play. It may not be the biggest game around, but it's one of the better, more feature packed racers.