MX vs. ATV Legends Review: Hit The Dirt
The fact that some seventeen years since the first MX vs. ATV mainline entry was released, the series is still churning out entries every couple of years has always intrigued me. It’s a series that has typically been released to middling reviews, and I’ve yet to meet someone who brings the series up when talking about racing games that are worth spending any significant time with. With that in mind, I was eager to jump into the latest installment, MX vs. ATV Legends, and find out whether there was enough on offer to pull me away from my arcade racer mainstays, Forza Horizon 5 and Riders Republic.
No Frills Off-Road Action
With how bloated and convoluted the genre-heavy hitters have become, there is actually something quietly comforting about the old-school sparseness of MX vs. ATV’s menus and options. Upon booting up, your options are pretty much limited to exhibition races, the online options, and, the meat and potatoes of the whole experience; the career.
The career mode is where I spent most of my time, and with good reason – it’s positively huge. Spanning three disciplines, Moto-cross, ATV, and UTV racing, each mode of transport is treated to its own career track. Progress is made by completing races and placing as high as possible to secure more fans. Fans are integral to progression here, as progress will be gated at specific points of each career track until a set number of fans has been accumulated. It’s a system I initially thought would frustrate me as, typically, I’m not too fond of arbitrary gating in games. Still, as long as you don’t totally suck and place decently in the majority of your races, you shouldn’t have to do too much in terms of grinding out fans to slip past these milestones. There is a decent variety of tracks and events to participate in, from standard lap-based affairs to more freeform point-to-point races and short blasts around dirt-filled stadiums.
Adding to the old-school flavor is the unlock system, which isn’t in-depth by any means but does provide an excellent selection of upgrades, all purchasable using only in-game currency – no microtransactions in sight. Amassing currency will allow you to access additional vehicles and parts that you can swap between at will. Whilst some people may miss the depth offered in other racers, the focused and linear approach to upgrading was, for me at least, a breath of fresh air. I’m no petrol head by any means, but I do love arcade racers, so any streamlining of systems that enables me to focus on getting back into the action as quickly as possible is always a huge bonus.
If there is one area of the career that did cause me some irritation, it’s in the way that you are never truly free to just focus on the discipline you prefer. The structure of the career sees you taking on events on a weekly basis, with some weeks dedicated to MX, others to ATV, and the remainder to UTV events. Quite often, this resulted in me hitting a wall, where I could not progress any further down the MX career until I had jumped over and knocked out the following few UTV events, or vice versa. I appreciate the effort made to ensure that no discipline gets left by the wayside, but the problem is, the fun factor can vary wildly between each field due to the slightly unwieldy way in which MX vs. ATV Legends tends to play.
Exhilarating Yet Frustrating
From a gameplay perspective, MX vs. ATV Legends is perhaps one of the most uneven racing games I’ve encountered in recent memory. In terms of the actual controls themselves, they’re fine. Accelerating and braking are handled as you would expect by the triggers, with body weight and leaning handled via the right stick. When engaging in the MX career, things generally feel great, with turning feeling tight and responsive, while the sense of scale when you nail a perfect jump and take to the skies is genuinely thrilling. Learning the intricacies of each track feels incredibly rewarding, and whilst there is definitely a learning curve, it feels like the only hurdle to overcome in getting better is your own skill.
However, things take a turn for the worse when it comes to ATV and UTV handling. Whilst the controls are essentially the same between each discipline, there’s a certain unwieldy feel to the handling of these two disciplines. It probably seems strange to complain about unwieldy handling in a dirt-based racing game, but it goes beyond the naturally chaotic nature inherent to dirt racing. The physics feel…off, to say the least. One minute, it all feels fine, like you’re totally in control, only for your ATV or UTV to suddenly spin wildly out of control at what seems to be nothing. Even the most minor of physical interactions with other racers also becomes hilariously exaggerated. I’d trade the lightest bit of paint with an opponent, only for my driver to come flying off his vehicle and into orbit. It’s incredibly frustrating when coupled with the already steep difficulty curve and when you’re forced to interact with these careers as often as you are with the much more robust MX one, it can make progressing through MX vs. ATV Legends a real slog at times.
There are other frustrations also. The AI is very prone to rubber banding, which is incredibly frustrating in the ATV and UTV events where you are already being pitted against the wonky physics. The performance also hinders the fun quite often, with the framerate noticeably chugging when the action heats up, and multiple riders pile into one corner together. It gives the racing a sluggish feel which is possibly the greatest sin MX vs. ATV Legends could commit, given its reliance on quick thinking and reactions.
That being said, when it all comes together, it’s very easy to forget about the issues that bog the experience down at times. With a couple of patches, that unevenness that currently makes MX vs. ATV Legends an “approach with caution” type affair will hopefully be eradicated, and the really solid foundation that’s here will shine through even more.
If there is one area where MX vs. ATV Legends is leaps and bound behind the completion, it’s in the presentation department. Truth be told, it’s not that it’s a bad-looking game necessarily, but with the near photo-realistic visuals that can be found elsewhere, there’s no doubt that MX vs. ATV Legends looks a little unpolished at times. The vehicle models themselves look fine. It’s the tracks where things start to fall apart. Texture pop-in frequently occurs, and even when they do pop-in, they’re still incredibly basic. It gives the tracks and surrounding environments an almost lifeless look, and whilst this is likely due to budget constraints, it cannot be denied that the pop-in and texture quality does distract.
It’s the sound. However, that is the biggest offender. Engines sound tinny and unrealistic, and the sound of vehicles sliding across the dirt sounds so one-dimensional that it impacts the sense of weight and physicality you should be feeling as you throw your vehicle around all manner of devilish bends with reckless abandon. Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised by the soundtrack, despite the audio-related gripes I had. There’s a decent variety of genres and tracks on offer, ranging from ferocious heavy metal anthems to more eclectic dance beats, with a little something for everyone.
Not Quite A Podium Finish, But Still A Worthy Opponent
MX vs ATV Legends is the very definition of a “mixed-bag.” On one hand, it can be a genuinely thrilling racer, especially when you’re throwing an MX bike over insane jumps and barreling around corners at breakneck speed. It’s a pity that level of fun doesn’t carry over to the other disciplines, though, and it’s this discrepancy between the enjoyment on offer in each career track that makes MX vs. ATV Legends a bit of a hard sell at the moment. That’s not to say it should be avoided at all costs, but it may be worth waiting to see what’s down the road in terms of optimization and balance, as with a few tweaks to the physics and performance, this could turn out to be a much more well-rounded package.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X/S (reviewed on Series X), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC; Publisher: THQ Nordic; Developer: Rainbow Studios: Players: 1-16; Released: 28 June, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone: MSRP: $39.99
Full Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.