E3 '07: MX vs. ATV Untamed Impressions

We don our helmets and kick up some dirt in the first next-gen installment of THQ's arcade racing series.

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Crazy-awesome physics have helped make a name for Rainbow Studios' offroad racing series, but as you would expect from a developer taking their well-known franchise into the future, the studio isn't content to rest on those laurels. We had a chance to see MX vs. ATV Untamed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in action today, and were pleased to see more than just updated visuals. Fans of the series should find plenty to enjoy when the game is released early next year.

Speaking of physics, the studio is rightfully proud of their newly built physics engine. While we didn't get a chance to get our hands on the game, we did enjoy how the physics impacted the visuals. The suspension of the ATV we saw in action bounced realistically, and it was the most noticeable tweak in the vehicle models we saw. At other times, opponent vehicles ran into guard rails and other objects, sending them careening into the player vehicle. In short, if you play MX vs. ATV because you love the bouncy arcade physics, you won't be disappointed by the 360 and PS3 versions of Untamed.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

There is more to distinguish the game from its predecessors, however. While the modes in Unleashed will find their way into Untamed, a newly added mode called OpenCross will allow players to explore the huge, wide-open maps Rainbow is creating. In past installments, you weren't able to explore every nook and cranny of the map and were generally confined to a small course. OpenCross drops you into a large map and gives you plenty of room to explore alternate routes to your destination. These huge tracks will take you through streams, across bridges, through sharp turns and more, and give you plenty of room to explore your own route from point A to point B.

Another new mode is EnduroCross, and it reminds us somewhat of an obstacle course designed for bikes and ATVs. Here, you will navigate across various natural hindrances and a few man-made ones, such as piles of tires. XCross is the one that intrigues us most, though. It's essentially a self-tailored career mode that lets you choose various gameplay modes that best suit your style. It's a flexible mode, and should provide a lot of variety in your career.

Revamped artificial intelligence should provide a greater challenge for most players. Rather than using so-called rubber-band AI, computer-controlled vehicles will be assigned a level of expertise, and from there, vehicles will take any of the various routes available to them. Many players will want to join competitors online though, and Untamed supports up to 12 players in a race--twice the number that could play in Unleashed. The most impressive aspect of the multiplayer design was the setup of online lobbies. While you wait for players to join or wait for the race to load, you aren't stuck in a static lobby. Instead, you and your buddies can drive around an open course, doing wheelies and trash talking before the match even begins. OpenCross multiplayer games can also be created to remain persistent, so if you want to tool around with others, you can do so at your leisure, and the game will remain open until the host shuts it down.

MX vs. ATV looks like a next-gen racing game should. Vehicle models are crisp and the draw distance is quite good. It was the small things that caught our eye: Vehicles cast shadows on themselves and each other, and if you are driving in first-person view, mud will splatter against your visor. Other effects include depth-of-field focusing and motion blur, though Rainbow Studios is trying to keep these effects subtle so that they fit the overall scope of the game. The sound design holds some equally restrained touches. For example, the sound becomes muffled in the first-person view, where a helmet is obviously shielding your ears.

Even better? The airborne vehicles from Unleashed are gone for good, which shouldn't surprise players who struggled to control them. If you've liked previous games in the MX vs. ATV series, the newest version should give you exactly the fix you are looking for. We'll bring you more news on Untamed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as its handheld, Wii and PS2 counterparts, as it develops.

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