Motocross seems to be quite a popular genre if the amount of games publishers are releasing these days is any indication. Rainbow Studios have quite a pedigree in this department having created Motocross 1 and 2 for Microsoft and games such as ATV Offroad. However instead of going for an arcade feeling with this game as with Motocross madness, MX Unleashed focuses a lot more on reality, but there is still some elements to keep the game fun and entertaining.
MX Unleashed contains numerous game modes to play, with the primary one being the career mode. Other modes allow you to race on unlocked tracks with the different classes of bikes and tweak the difficulty level of the AI riders. The mode where most time will be spent however is the Career mode as this has effects on the other sections of the game. In the career mode, as you progress you unlock more tracks and bikes to use.
The career of your rider is made up of a multitude of tournaments to race in to gain points so you can move up the world rankings. Starting off at rank 100, the aim is to become the best in the world and doing that is going to take a bit of patience and a lot of racing skill. Depending on which place you obtain in the tournament, determines your next ranking. As you progress through the career you will notice that each tournament needs a certain rank before an invitation is given. So at times you may find yourself having to race some tournaments more than once. One omission we noticed was the lack of dealing with sponsors etc during the course of a tournament. This allows you to completely focus on the racing rather then the business side of things as seen in games such as SX Superstar which may be a welcome change for some gamers.
For that reason the gameplay was going to be crucial and it delivers an authentic motocross experience without taking away the fun aspects of the title. You control your rider from a third person view, but with the right analogue stick the camera can be positioned anywhere, at any angle. Most of the time however, relying on the default camera angles provided by the game will be good enough. One of the hallmarks of a motocross game is the stunts and MX Unleashed delivers this in spades. Not only can you perform back flips and crazy stunts, but link them all together with some incredibly smooth animations.
A tutorial has been included but unfortunately is non-interactive video. Even so, it still teaches you about the new features of the game and about all the options on offer to you in each of the game modes, plus more advanced features such as how to use the clutch effectively during races.
As with other motocross games such as SX Superstar you can completely customise your rider. THQ have licensed a large amount of motocross attire from some of the worlds leading names such as Fox to deck out your rider with. However in an interesting turn of events, they have not licensed any of the real world motocross riders to feature in the game. This doesn't affect the game at all in a game play sense but for those wanting the most authentic simulation of the sport, it may come as a surprise.
MX Unleashed contains all three styles of motocross racing and the three different levels of power for the motorbikes. Motocross and Supercross make up the racing section of the game but one of the more interesting options is the Freestyle mode. Very much mimicking the baja game mode from Motocross Madness, you're thrown straight into the deep end and have quite a few options on offer. Freestyle is a single player campaign in itself with tasks such as racing vehicles or completing a number of 'hits' first having to be successfully completed before being allowed to move on. Racing against vehicles such as a plane and 4WD car allows you to unlock new vehicles to play around with. Once you defeat the vehicle in a race, it is then yours to drive in the freestyle game mode.
As you would expect the three different levels of power for the bikes offer a different varied racing experiences. Once you reach 500cc, you won't ever look back as the 125s and 250s will feel like snails. You can also catch some big air with the 500cc bikes for the stunts the game includes such as the cheeky 'taunt' maneuver which has a rider pointing at a competitor behind him and basically laughing. The bikes also handle differently depending on their power and have unique sound effects. The controls also feature a clutch for the bikes which can give you a boost at both the starting line and around corners when used properly.
However the faster the bike, the easier it is to crash and the crashes look quite painful. This is where one of the problems with the game can surface. Numerous times whilst leading, just before the finish line a bike landed upon our rider and made him crash. The first time it may be funny, but the third or fourth time makes it quite an annoying feature of the collision detection system.
There is a great variety of tracks featured in the game between the three styles. There are Supercross tracks set in real world cities such as Chicago, but whether these are actually licensed around events is unknown. Some of the tracks are quite large, especially those from the Nationals series. Outside the stadium tracks you will find yourself racing between farmyards, in deserts, jumping over roads, flying past wind power constructions and many other environmental objects. In a nice throwback to the Motocross Madness series, venture to far towards the edge of the track and the rider and bike are flung right back into the middle of the map via an invisible cannon with sound effects. Weather conditions such as rain are also featured and can play havoc on races.
The frame rate didn't miss a beat during our play time, even with the rain effects, and the visuals and draw distance of the tracks are very impressive. There is no pop up to speak of and the tracks are all unique with some interesting challenges for players. The one area which stands out with the graphics is the interaction of the character models with the bikes. Not once during our play time did they look out of synchronization and because of this it is easy to judge what type of tricks can be performed at the different styles of air.
As mentioned before the sound effects of the bikes are great but environmental sounds such as the crowd cheering in the Supercross mode adds greatly to the atmosphere given off by the game. The soundtrack is based around the rock music genre and suits the style and atmosphere of the game well. The game also offers many sound presets such as night time which changes the volume of sound and music to lower pitches, or the engine style track which eliminates all music.
MX Unleashed is a great game by Rainbow Studios and their past history with the sport definitely shines through with how much polish the game has and also the pick up and play mentality associated with it. It has the small features bike fans will be looking for, but the game also caters for those looking for a quick spin with some powerful bikes. If you're looking for a new motocross game, then MX Unleashed should be one of the first on your list to check out.