THQ and Rainbow Studios are preparing for another go in the dirt in the upcoming MX vs. ATV Reflex, the latest in the long-running off-road racing series. The big news this time around: an improved driving engine; bigger, more lush environments to explore; and a new control scheme that will make getting on the bike (or the ATV, or any of the other vehicles in the game), and staying on the bike, more fun than ever. We had a chance to see and play Reflex for the first time at THQ's pre-E3 press briefing in Los Angeles last week.
First up is the new engine that's powering Reflex. If you've played the MX vs. ATV series before, you're probably already familiar with Rainbow's "rhythm racing" style of off-road competition, which is defined by preloading jumps and the huge-air, trick-filled stunts that come as a result. Those same massive jumps are still in place in Reflex, but how the terrain affects (and is affected by) your bike and rider has changed significantly.
Perhaps the most important change is that your rider can now be independently controlled from his vehicle. By moving the right analog stick in any direction, you'll be able to shift your rider's weight anywhere on the bike or ATV. You can still preload a jump (by pressing down on the analog stick), but the ability to move left or right gives you more control than ever over your vehicle. Taking a hairpin corner, for example, by leaning into the turn will let you negotiate much tighter than you would be able to otherwise.
In addition to using the right stick to move your rider on your vehicle, you'll be flicking it to pull off midair tricks during Freestyle events, which looks to be a big improvement from the tedious and sometimes confusing button combinations from previous games. In addition, the right stick will provide you with a way to prevent yourself from wrecking when landing a huge jump, something that happened all too often in previous MX vs. ATV games. In Reflex, if you manage a dangerous landing, a green arrow will appear at one edge of the screen; if you flick the right stick in that direction with the correct timing, you'll save your bike and be able to keep going. You'll still lose a bit of momentum, since your rider must once again settle himself into the saddle, but it's definitely preferable to bailing completely.
During the demo of Reflex, two environments were shown. The first was an open-ended mountain range, which we got to explore extensively. While the upper elevations featured deep snow and ice to traverse, the lower parts of the course showed off a nice mixture of dirt and mud. In fact, in the muddy sections, we could see the tire treads forming deep grooves in the mud as we sped along or did doughnuts. Producers pointed out that those grooves aren't just cosmetic--they're dug into the ground, and your vehicle's tires and shocks will react accordingly when driving over them.
Producers also told us that dirt tossed up when cutting those muddy grooves actually goes somewhere, so in a motocross race, the dirt that is kicked up in hairpin turns will eventually build up mounds as the race progresses. This was especially noticeable in the second location shown in the demo, a motocross event set in Medford, Oregon. As the terrain changes on a motocross track, so too will your strategy as the laps pile up and new racing lines are cut into the tracks.
As in the previous game in the series, MX vs. ATV Unleashed, Reflex will have interactive loading screens, which will let you take your vehicle around a freestyle course with huge jumps on which to practice your tricks. Much like the punch controls in EA's Fight Night boxing series, the tricks in Reflex will be controlled with flicks of the right stick, giving you a large variety of easily accessible tricks under your thumb. The trick-based freestyle events have also changed; they're not so reliant on linking tricks together as combos in order to increase a score multiplier. Instead, the freestyle event "judges" will grade your ability along such lines as technical difficulty, flow, and trick repetition. We'll have to see how this ends up affecting freestyle events, which, at least to our way of thinking, have traditionally been the weak points of the MX vs. ATV series.
We look forward to seeing what MX vs. ATV Reflex has in store for us in the coming months--especially in terms of online offerings and any other new event types. Producers are also being tight-lipped for now about the kinds of vehicles that you'll be able to tackle in the game, but we expect they'll be talking about all of this and more in the coming months. We'll be bringing you the latest as details come to light; expect our next look at the game to come during GameSpot's coverage of E3 2009.