First Impressions on THQ's Budget-Priced Racing Experience 'MX vs. ATV Alive'

By Xav de Matos, Jan 19, 2011 12:00pm PST Last week, at an event in New York, THQ invited a gaggle of game editors to preview its upcoming wares for 2011. Among them was a sequel they've only mentioned in passing but had yet to officially reveal: MX vs. ATV Alive.

Today, THQ has released the first images of the upcoming game. As the fourth console edition of the series, MX vs. ATV Alive is kicking off a new business model that THQ VP of Core Games Danny Bilson says may make its way to other franchises in the company's catalog.

Without tipping his hat, Bilson told attendees at THQ's Gamer's Day event in New York that there is one other franchise that may adopt Alive's business model--if the racing game proves to be a commercial success.

Set at a budget price--at least for console games--of $39.99, MX vs. ATV Alive will give players the opportunity to customize the game with a la carte downloadable content. The idea, according to THQ, is to "build the game you want." Whether it will work, is another story entirely. Although the phrase budget price also leads some to assume it's budget developed, Bilson says that MX vs. ATV Alive is being developed with the care and quality of a full-priced title.

I didn't get to play the game during THQ's event, as it was only shown to attendees in a brief, live stage demo, but from what I saw there are some immediate concerns. I think the budget price coupled with what MX vs. ATV Alive devs promise will be "free and premium DLC every week," is a solid approach. Atari tried a similar model with the Xbox 360 version of Test Drive Unlimited in 2006, and I was a fan of the game. My concern is with the license itself.

Bilson says the game is being developed with a more casual mindset; however, he promises veterans of the series will love the game too. But is MX vs. ATV racing really the game that THQ wants to test this business model on? It already seems extremely niche to me, so, if the game doesn't sell well is it a question of a failed business model or lack of interest in the subject matter?

Maybe I'm wrong. According to THQ, the MX vs. ATV series has shipped 10 million units since its inception. Presumably that means shipped to stores and not to a landfill next to E.T. cartridges in New Mexico.

As for the game itself, from what I saw it shows potential. Graphically the game looked a little rough; however, it's unclear how early the build we saw was. MX vs. ATV Alive features a terrain deformation system, which changes the landscape of the course as bikes plow through it. Coupled with what THQ calls "an advanced version of the franchise's celebrated physics engine," MX vs. ATV Alive could surprise racing fans.

The game also employs more of a physical approach than previously featured in the series. You can jockey for position while racing through the dirt tracks, and while the game's trailer features multiple racers violently knocking into each other, the game itself is much tamer. This isn't Road Rash, but your on screen racer wants to win and doesn't mind throwing a few elbows to get it done.

During the demo we were shown one track, after a developer quickly scrolled through a list of track names we were not supposed to see. Nothing sticks out, but the list looked dense. When the track was loaded we were given the basic rundown. The long and short of it is that the game combines the shifting track and the more physical gameplay to develop a more competitive experience. Users can customize their racer and ride any way they want, using the included content, free DLC or premium offerings and then face-off online or against computer opponents.

For marketing, THQ is sparing no expense--at least that's what we assume fans of AMA Supercross will think. Two-time AMA Supercross Champion James Stewart (no, not legendary actor Jimmy Stewart) will grace the cover and star in "a variety of in-game videos." (The first of video with the champ racer can be viewed above.)

The only impression that I can pin on my brief rendezvous with MX vs. ATV Alive was, "Okay, maybe." THQ talked a lot about how the controls are both fit for casuals but great for hardcore gamers. Without actually playing it, I have no idea whether or not that's the case. Can something be two completely different things at the same time?

There's potential here. If it gets cleaned up and executes its ideas successfully, then MX vs. ATV Alive could be a solid stepping stone to a welcome business model in this expensive generation of games. Whether an MX vs. ATV title can capture as much attention as they seem to think it can is unclear, but everyone at the presentation at least seemed genuinely excited about the game they're building. We're just waiting to see if the engine will start without incident.

MX vs. ATV Alive is scheduled to hit the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in May 2011.


Disclosure: This preview is based on an event hosted by THQ in New York City. THQ invited Shacknews to the event and provided one editor travel and accommodation to and from the three-day event for the purposes previewing the company's 2011 line-up.

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