Reviewed: March 25, 2004
Released: February 17, 2004
OK, I admit it. Iím a huge fan of THQís MX series featuring Ricky Carmichael. I played it in 2002 and I played the funked up Superfly version in 2003 and just like clockwork, one year later, THQ brings us MX Unleashed. This time race veterans, Rainbow Studios has taken over the helm, and while I certainly didnít have a problem with the previous efforts of PCPL, itís easy to see why Rainbow is considered the masters of racing games.
Previously, Rainbow Studios has been responsible for the Motocross Madness games. Some of my best motorcycle racing moments have been playing Motocross Madness on the PC. If you have played any of those titles then you will certainly see several familiar trademarks to that series in MX Unleashed, particularly the towering cliffs at the edge of the ďworldĒ and the super-shotgun blast that launches you back into the playable area should you venture beyond the ďperimeterĒ.
MX Unleashed offers a massive variety of gameplay considering you only have three basic modes. Your Career mode has you creating a rider and advancing through a massive series of races, alternating between outdoor motocross nationals and indoor supercross events. Whenever you feel like getting away from the track you can head over to the Freestyle mode and cruise massive landscapes full of hotspot challenges much like Tony Hawk Underground, and there is where the fun really begins.
And fun is what MX Unleashed is all about. It might not be the most realistic racing simulation and it might not offer the largest trick library or sophisticated control scheme, but MX Unleashed is pure entertainment accessible to anyone.
The core of any racing game is the control scheme and MX Unleashed is tight and responsive. It makes great use of balance and you are required to shift your riderís bodyweight around for quick starts or sharp turns. You also use the analog stick to shift your weight to preload your suspension and get crazy air for insane stunts and combos.
The trick system is basic and allows you to use the stick to flip or rotate the bike and the buttons to perform all sorts of hair-raising stunts. The interesting concept here is that you can input as many stunts as you ďthinkĒ you can do before you land or just hold down the button to sustain one trick a really long time, but the real trick is to always have your butt on the seat and hands on the handlebars when you touch down or you will be eating dirt.
Stunts really donít play a big part of the career mode. Aside from the single stunt challenge in each of the freestyle worlds, you never even have to do a stunt, even though stunt points are recorded for all events. The point system is fairly simple and each trick is assigned a point value and when you chain tricks they multiply by the number you can combine.
One new feature that will help you earn the big points is the ability to land a chain of tricks into a wheelie and if you can maintain that wheelie to the next jump you can combine another chain of tricks with the first. Itís similar to what you will find in most skate and snowboarding games (called a ďmanualĒ), but in MX Unleashed itís nearly impossible to pull off unless you find the perfect combination of landscape.
Physics are perfectly modeled, a fact you will quickly realize as your rider flies from his bike and skids and flops around the landscape. Itís comical and horrific at the same time. Bike physics are obviously exaggerated Ė I mean some of the air you catch is just crazy-insane, but at least itís predictably accurate so you can eventually master the rhythm sections of all the tracks.
MX Unleashed delivers the goods with loads of classic features and some interesting new experimental gameplay modes that are so cool they will likely become a standard feature on future racing games. The game is massive with 40 tracks spanning supercross, nationals, and freeworld courses.
The innovative Freeworld Mode is the single most defining element of MX Unleashed and makes this game stand out above all others. Motocross Madness fans will remember the large checkpoint races that took place on vast terrains. Those have now been replaced with equally large worlds, but instead of limiting you to racing through checkpoints you are free to explore the world and participate in several challenges of increasing difficulty.
These challenges include the Hit, Run, Stunt, and Race challenges. Hit challenges have you jumping from a green area and landing in a red area. This starts off easy enough but quickly becomes tricky, as the red zones get increasingly difficult to hit. To make things even more challenging, you are racing against a bunch of other bikers. You can do the jumps in any order and as you complete each jump a light goes out on the completion meter. The first rider to land all Hits wins.
The Run is a variation of the Hit challenge but you are racing alone and you must jump and land a sequence of jumps in a certain order. If you miss any jump or take too long between jumps you lose the challenge and have to restart. Both Hit and Run challenges have multiple stages of increasing difficulty that are unlocked as you complete each available challenge.
The Stunt challenge is simple enough and gives you two minutes to rack up a predetermined amount of points. The biggest challenge here is to find the proper place in the game world to actually do enough stunts within the time limit.
The final challenge is the Machine Race, perhaps the single most fun you can have in this game. Borrowing on the massive overland checkpoint races of Motocross Madness, each freestyle world offers a unique vehicle that you must race against. You start off with a giant monster truck then move on to the dune buggy, a biplane, helicopter, and other non-motorcycle opponents.
Beating these various vehicles requires unique strategies, as most of them are faster than you. This means you have to plot the proper course and maintain good racing lines through the checkpoints. If you win the race you unlock the vehicle and can drive (or fly) around the world. There are no new challenges for these new vehicles but itís a nice diversion to be able to fly around a level and perhaps locate a hidden secret like giant beach balls or bowling pins.
One nice feature is the store where you can spend your race rewards to unlock tracks, bikes, and even those race machines. This is a nice alternative to be able to buy and unlock a certain challenge that you might not be able to accomplish within the game. If you find it impossible to beat that helicopter just save up and buy it.
MX Unleashed is gorgeous, especially in light of the massive scale of the freestyle worlds. You probably wonít realize just how large and detailed these worlds are until you climb into the biplane or helicopter and check them out from the clouds, and the draw distance is just insane. You wonít notice any fogging on the ground and only minimal fogging in the air that makes distant objects gradually appear on the screen rather than pop.
The smaller tracks are no less detailed. The nationals have plenty of trackside scenery, foliage, buildings, etc. and the supercross arenas look like real stadiums with crowds, flashbulbs, and advertising banners. The tracks themselves are quite nice and feature plenty of authentic rhythm sections, steep banked turns, inner ridges for riders who like tight turns, and lots of dust and dirt getting kicked into the air. My only complaint with the graphics is that the tracks just donít ďlookĒ bumpy enough. There are bump-mapped textures, but without the dynamic lighting they just donít pop off the screen.
Rider animation is topnotch and the rag doll physics for the frequent spills are painfully realistic. The bikes are perfectly animated with realistic physics that keep the wheels in contact with the surface. You will see that back wheel and uni-strut suspension rapidly vibrating over the moguls and braking hard will cause the front forks to realistically dive.
The Xbox version offers support for 1080i HDTV owners. While only the most elite of gamers will get to enjoy this perk itís a nice bonus and kudos to THQ and Rainbow for including it. Not only is the resolution extra-crisp, the widescreen mode allows you to see a much more panoramic view of the world.
Sound effects are flawless and the sound of a two-stroke versus a four-stroke is perfectly recreated. As your bike skips across the track you can hear each subtle increase in RPM as the bike looses traction. The engine noises for the trucks, biplane, and helicopter are also convincing.
MX Unleashed comes with 13 tracks of traditional rock you would expect from the extreme sports genre. Groups like Pax 217, Reliant K, Cinder, Hoobastank, Trapt, and others deliver a solid soundtrack, but with a game as large as this you are bound to hear them repeat after the first hour of gameplay. Most songs are long enough to last an entire 5-lap race, but if you get frustrated and restart a race the same song also repeats.
You can manually change the song from the options menu at anytime and thankfully, the Xbox version supports custom soundtracks so my current library of 12-15 ripped CDís extended my musical enjoyment well into my 30th hour of gameplay.
MX Unleashed is sorely lacking an online mode, especially when MTX Mototrax is going up against it with some stellar online gaming modes. There is a two-player split-screen mode that offers a minimal diversion, but itís no secret that Rainbow was concentrating on the single-player experience with this game.
For the lone racer there is easily 30-40 hours of content here. Just working your way through the races will take you upwards of 20 hours. Experienced riders can probably complete all of the challenges in a freestyle world in under an hour, but some of the challenges in the later worlds get a bit more difficult and can take longer. Suffice to say, there is no shortage of racing in MX Unleashed.
I canít recommend this game highly enough with one caveat. If you are looking for an online experience or a racing game that focuses more on a realistic career simulation with sponsors and such then you should probably look at MTX.
For fans of the Motocross Madness games or the previous MX games with Ricky Carmichael, you already know what to expect, and Rainbow delivers all the quality gaming to meet those expectations with a few pleasant surprises. The control is excellent, the physics are perfect, there are loads of original tracks and landscapes, and the fun factor is off the charts. This is a must-own game for any MX fan who owns an Xbox.