MX vs. ATV Untamed promises dirty thrills but winds up delivering only a smudgy shrug.
- Plenty of variety
- Waypoint races are the best of the bunch
- Big, open areas to race on.
- Ugly, sometimes chuggy graphics
- Minimap is of absolutely no help
- Landing tricks is inconsistent and frustrating
- Online play is mediocre.
Ostensibly, MX vs. ATV Untamed for the PSP is a different game than the versions found on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The core concept of the MX vs. ATV series is still intact--driving around on all manner of off-road environments, pulling off tricks, and getting yourself into painful-looking spills in the process--but the organization of elements found in the console version of the game has been refigured for the handheld version. The result is a scaled-back, uneven Untamed experience that ends up more frustrating than fun.
The core mode in Untamed for PSP is the X-Cross Tournament, which was also found in other versions of Untamed. However, unlike the tournament mode on the console versions, Untamed's X-Cross Tournament on the PSP is based on location, not vehicle type. In fact, whereas Untamed features the same plethora of vehicle types found in the other versions of the game, only MX and ATV bikes are available at the get-go; other vehicle types must be unlocked as you progress through the game.
To progress in the X-Cross Tournament, you must complete a number of events in each location. The event types are the same throughout each location and, to move on, you have to beat five of the six available tests. These event types include your standard races around outdoor supercross stages, waypoint races that are more wide-open, time-attack events that challenge you to get from one point on the map to another in a set amount of time, stunt challenges that award points for pulling off stunts, flag challenges in which you capture a set number of flags strewn all across a map, and stunt attacks that combine racing and stunts.
All of these event types have their highs and lows, and practically all of them deal with the game's sketchy approach to vehicle physics. For example, the race events put a heavy emphasis on the rhythm-racing concept that has been a core concept of the series for a while now. You can preload before a jump to get extra air by pushing down on the D pad or analog stick and then up at the lip of the jump. There's also a negative preload that will result in a shorter-than-normal jump, which is pulled off by reversing the normal preload. Judging when you need to preload, negative preload, or simply take the jump as normal is one of the keys to success in the game.
Hungry for some frustration? Well, you'll find plenty to satisfy you in Untamed's stunt events, which pit you against a number of other riders in a race to rack up the most stunt points in a set amount of time. The tricks themselves are simple button combinations, but landing those tricks is an entirely different matter. The game rates your landings on a scale that ranges from "perfect" to "ouch," and the number of points you earn from your tricks is determined by the landing you manage. Therefore, an ouch-rated landing will take away most of the points you earned in midair. Fair enough, except that there seems to be little consistency in how the game determines a good landing from a bad one. What might seem to be a perfect landing to you will result in a score-lowering "ouch" rating for seemingly no good reason. Your best bet in the stunt events is to find one ramp on which you can nail a consistent landing and just keep circling back over and over to pull off tricks.
The events in Untamed aren't helped by the game's overall shoddy course design, complete with stunt ramps and obstacles that often seem placed specifically to assist your failure. Water hazards are especially frustrating in the game; landing your bike in practically any water will result in an instantaneous crash. During your first forays in a new locale, when you're generally unfamiliar with the territory, you can expect to crash a lot. The game's blurry minimap won't do much to help you learn the lay of the land. This is especially noticeable in events where there is typically one optimal path for success, such as the time attack and flag challenges. Often, this path will use bridges and other shortcuts that you might not even be aware of until you've become very familiar with the territory. The result is plenty of trial and error, lots of unnecessary crashing, and perhaps a few aggravated curse words tossed in on your behalf.
The PSP version of Untamed is a mediocre-looking game. The riders and vehicles all look fine, and the trick animations are varied, but the environments lack much in the way of distinct detail, especially when it comes to textures. This is partially because the environments in Untamed are huge, with an open-world design that will let you explore the environments and "drive" to events to start them (alternately, you can simply warp to the start by selecting an event in the game's menu). The game features several different surfaces to drive on, including mud, dirt, pavement, and snow, and all of these can affect how your vehicle handles, sometimes dramatically (in the case of snow). Regardless, no matter what kind of surface you're speeding along, there's very little in the way of kicked-up particles from your tires, and no tracks dug into the ground as you zip around.
Once you've tired of the single-player campaign, you can check out the multiplayer modes, which actually aren't much different than what's found in the single-player game. You can connect with up to three other players via ad-hoc connectivity, but some of the available events are simply taken from the single-player game, including race, stunt challenge, and flag challenge. There are also three unique game modes in multiplayer: golden helmet, stunt race, and own the track. However, they don't feel altogether different from the single-player modes and probably won't hold your attention for too long.
Though the controls in Untamed for the PSP actually feel a bit more responsive than those in its console big brothers, there isn't a whole lot to keep you busy for long. If the racing were a bit tighter and if landing tricks felt a bit more consistent, Untamed would be a taut and exciting little off-road racer. As it ended up, the game feels far tamer on the PSP than its name would lead you to believe.