|System: PSP, Xbox 360, PS3, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Tantalus/ Rainbow Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 1, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Try as they might, developers struggle to bring a truly compelling racing experience to the PSP. Something about the layout of the handheld foils nearly every effort. This year, though, we were treated to MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, which brought a surprisingly great arcade racing experience to the platform. MX vs ATV: Reflex for PSP tries to follow suit in terms of quality, and it largely succeeds. However, the overly complex control layout, which tries to simulate what it's like to pilot real-life off-road vehicles, plays right into the PSP's limitations. This greatly handicaps what otherwise is a solid racing title.
Gameplay in Reflex is centered on piloting assorted off-road vehicles in varied competitions. Whether racing around tight tracks or putting on an aerial show, Reflex offers gamers a lot of challenge. For the most part, as the game's name would imply, players will be racing and competing in freestyle events with MX bikes and ATV four-wheelers. Trucks and buggies can also be taken out for a spin but are not recommended, as reflex tricks and leaning (key piloting mechanics I'll discuss in detail shortly) are only available with the smaller rides.
In fact, the game essentially loses all its charm when MX bikes and ATVs aren't used. Consequently, I'll assume you're going to pick up the game for its simulation of the bikes and ATVs and tailor the review accordingly. Just know, if you want to drive bigger vehicles, you'll be much better served taking MotorStorm: Arctic Edge for a ride, because then you'll get access to pluggers, big rigs, monster trucks, and more, all of which handle distinctly.
The bikes and ATVs in Reflex, on the other hand, are far more engaging and realistic than they are in MotorStorm. In Arctic Edge, other than being tiny and fast, bikes and ATVs get short shrift, never feeling particularly useful or even very unique. Here, they feel responsive and natural thanks to the inclusion of leaning, pre-loading, clutching, and Reflex Tricks. If you've ever driven MX bikes or ATVs, you'll know that body positioning is key if you want to do anything other than head straight along a trail. In Reflex, you'll consistently use the lean buttons in order to keep your vehicle in the best line for racing. Similarly, pre-loading uses your pilot's body weight to accentuate air time or to suck up bumps and jumps by converting the weight into potential energy in your vehicle's suspension - essentially enhancing or negating bumps in the road. Both of these techniques will need to be mastered if you plan on unlocking all of the venues in Reflex, as they will get you around the tracks efficiently and/or more stylishly.
Clutching is another technique you'll have to become familiar with, as it is used for pulling off ground-based stunts (such as wheelies and stoppies) and for increasing your power whilst climbing hills, producing enough power (and thus lift) for some of the insanely steep inclines of freestyle events. Finally, Reflex Tricks is the name for the freestyle aerial system used in the game. By holding down the correct button modifiers, you'll be able to pull off monster jumps such as crossovers, dead-mans, rock solids, nac-nacs, can-cans, and more. Best of all, when you start mastering clutching and loading, you'll be able to link Reflex Tricks to score massive points. Leaning, pre-loading, clutching, and Reflex Tricks are what give the game its character, making it a lot of fun to play through the Career and even to hop into Quick Race for one-off racing on the go.
Career mode, in particular, is the game's best option. Here, you'll be able to unlock tons of cool venues, customize your racer with new gear, upgrade you rides, and even purchase new, more competitive vehicles. As you progress through Career, competition gets quite stiff. If you find yourself falling behind, you'll have to make sure your pumping your winnings into your rig. I found this to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I enjoyed winning events, not only for the challenge, but also for accruing enough cash to improve my bike/ATV - it adds another layer to incentivize the player. However, you'll frequently run up against figurative walls that can only be scaled by upgrading. This leads to a cyclical pattern of losing, grinding for cash, powering-up, and then dominating, none of which have any bearing on actual driving skill. As such, I'm not sure if the upgrade system adds enough to the overall package.
Outside of Career, there's nothing else to keep your interest for very long. The devs did include Ad-hoc and Infrastructure multiplayer support, which allows you to play with up to three others locally or via the PlayStation Network, but trying to find multiple friends who own the game will likely be difficult and online racing isn't particularly deep - it really only serves as a litmus test for assessing your skill level.