MX vs. ATV Unleashed arrived in early 2005 for consoles and early this year for the PC and turned out to be an engaging mix of off-road arcade racing, featuring the requisite MX bikes and four-wheel ATVs. While those two vehicle types were the centerpiece, they were far from the only option available--the game also let you race monster trucks, dune buggies, golf carts, and even helicopters and airplanes, to varying degrees of success. With MX vs. ATV Unleashed: On the Edge, the series now arrives on the PlayStation Portable, and while the fast-paced racing experience hasn't changed that much from the console games, there are some key differences that fans of the series need to know about before rushing out to the store to pick this one up.
At its heart, On the Edge is a dirt racer, with MX bikes and ATV quad-racers tearing around supercross tracks and outdoor courses, full of massive jumps, hairpin corners, and stiff competition from up to three on-track opponents. One of the best parts about On the Edge is the tracks themselves, especially the outdoor nationals courses, which pack plenty of imagination and challenge in their relatively short length. Leaping massive gulches, perfectly tackling a chain of medium-sized jumps, or ripping up the side of a cliff, only to hang a U-turn and head back directly down that same sheer slope can be a real thrill. Unleashed veterans will recognize many of the courses found in On the Edge--from the muddy, mountainous test of Tipperary to the breezy and fast-paced Oceanside course, these outdoor courses are a lot of fun to drive. The stadium supercross tracks don't fare as well--most are too similar to stand out from one another--but when you add them to the short tracks, waypoint races, and open-class events, it all adds up to a roster of single-player courses that will keep you busy for a while.
Then there are the vehicles--MX bikes, available in four flavors (from 50 cc all the way up to 500 cc), and ATV racers, which are more stable on jumps than the bikes but a bit underpowered by contrast. All of the other crazy vehicle classes can be found in the game, but it takes some work to get to them. The only way to get to the open-class events is by unlocking the series using store points, which you earn by performing tricks while in races or in freestyle events. While it seems like the developer wanted to put the focus squarely on the MX and ATV portion of MX vs. ATV for the PSP, making it difficult to reach the other vehicles that appear in the game--such as buggies, golf carts, trophy trucks, and sand rails--seems like an odd choice, especially since it was partially that "kitchen sink" mentality that kept the console version of Unleashed feeling fresh.
From a control standpoint, the game feels very similar to its console cousins. You accelerate using the X button, brake with the square button, steer with either the analog stick or directional pad, and pull off a variety of points-earning stunts using the triangle or circle buttons (with the right triggers as a modifier). One of the biggest differences between the console versions of Unleashed and On the Edge, however, is the sensitivity of steering. It takes some practice to get used to the twitchy steering of the analog stick, especially on tight corners; it's all too easy to completely turn your rider around or accidentally head off the track during particularly hairy sections.
Tackling jumps is the most important skill you'll need to develop in On the Edge. Mounds of dirt are strategically placed all over the tracks found in On the Edge--usually one after the other--and the easiest way to turn a quick lap is by finding the optimal method for taking on these chains of jumps successfully. One of most effective methods you'll have for handling jumps is the ability to preload your suspension. Before heading off the lip of a jump, you pull back on the analog stick, and as you cross the lip, push forward, thus giving you an extra bit of momentum as you head into the air. Pull it off correctly, and you can gain a lot more air than you would in a normal jump (and even toss in a stunt if you're so inclined). You'll still need to nail your landing, however; if you hit the apex of another mound or land at a strange angle, you're sure to send your rider into the dirt. In the end, On the Edge's challenge is determining when to use these preloaded jumps and when not to--they aren't useful in every situation. Often, especially on the more complex courses, this is a matter of trial and error, which can lead to some frustration, depending on your tolerance for this type of thing.
On the Edge features a maximum of four riders on a track at once, down from six in the console games. While the artificially intelligent drivers in On the Edge for the PSP seem more aggressive than in the console versions, they don't seem much smarter. They're still liable to bash into you if you stray from your line, and just as in older versions of the game, you'll usually find yourself on the losing end of any collision. On the plus side, you can use the slightly deficient AI to your advantage on hill-climb tracks--simply shoot to the front of the heap off the line, and then as you reach those last few feet at the top of the hill, wait for an opponent to ram you from behind and give you that last little push over the edge. Yeah, it's a cheap tactic; but if it gets you a checkered flag, it's worth it.
Game modes in On the Edge include racing, where you can compete in supercross, national, short track, supermoto, hill climbs, and waypoint events; freestyle, for stunt-based gaming that requires you to out-trick everyone else on the track; and free ride, which is a perfect opportunity for you to practice your slickest moves without the encumbrance of opponents or a clock. There's ad hoc multiplayer for up to four players via the PSP Wi-Fi connection. The biggest omission from On the Edge is the championship series that was found in the console game. In that mode, you could enter the series, race in scheduled events, and earn points toward a series championship. With On the Edge, every single-player race is an individual event in and of itself--when you're done with the race, you can either restart the race or retreat back to the main menu. Beyond unlocking new tracks, vehicles, or accessories for your rider, there's very little sense of progression in the single-player game.
The lack of a championship series is especially distressing considering the load times in On the Edge, which are on par with some of the earliest PSP launch games. Loading a single-player track takes more than a minute, which makes the need to back out to the main menu only to load up the next race you wish to run all the more problematic. Racing in On the Edge can be an enjoyable experience--it simply takes too long to get from one race to the next.
Graphically, On the Edge compares very favorably to the PlayStation 2 version of the game, with good-looking bikes and rider models, lively crash animations, and just enough detail in the course backgrounds to keep things lively. Sure, there could be more dirt spit up by the tires or more smoke emanating from the exhaust pipes, but considering that the game runs at such a steady clip, we'll trade the details for the performance. On the downside, the default camera angle can be awkward when tackling steep uphill climbs.
The game's soundtrack features a mixture of hip-hop tunes from the likes of the Black Eyed Peas and Kottonmouth Kings and the rock sounds of Authority Zero and Papa Roach. Nothing particularly stands out here, but on the other hand, nothing seems particularly out of place, either. The same could be said for the other aspects of On the Edge's sound presentation--engine sounds are serviceable, if unremarkable, though the painful grunt of your rider hitting the ground during wipeouts rarely gets old.
When speeding around the track or popping midair stunts, On the Edge is a fun and approachable arcade racing game. When you're waiting for the game to load or backing through multiple slow-loading menus to get to the next race in the game, it can be frustrating and tedious. Those who are desperate for off-road action on the PSP will get just that with On the Edge, provided they've got the patience to deal with its flaws.