A pretty-yet-forgettable ATV racer that can’t stay grounded
Out of all the racing archetypes, the ATV’s probably the toughest sell. For several years, racing games have long been dominated by cars, go-karts, and even snowboards, and much of that’s due to the success of established front-runners in each category: Gran Turismo (or Forza Motorsport), Mario Kart, and SSX, respectively. That’s arguably why ATVs have never caught on with the videogame crowd, despite solid attempts by many developers to fill that particular niche.
Techland’s Mad Riders isn’t going to be “that game” for the ATV crowd, despite its best efforts. As much as the Dead Island developers want to push a solid racing experience here, too many questionable game-design choices make this title way more frustrating that it needs to be. At its very best, Mad Riders is competent and fun in small spurts, but that’s it.
You can’t say that Mad Riders doesn’t have an impressive sense of speed, though. In fact, half of the trick to success is getting used to the boost, which is a necessity for victory rather than a helpful tool. There’s some skill involved, as you’ll need to keep the boost gauge filled with power-ups and aerial tricks, sending you into a sort of hyperdrive on wheels. It’s especially handy because the levels and arenas are thankfully large enough to accommodate you, although that wouldn’t prevent you from flying way off course.
In fact, it’s the game’s best feature that ultimately threatens to make the entire experience fall apart, as the lack of a decent respawn system often costs you a lot of lost ground. Aside from nicking walls and harmless-looking bits of scenery, even veering slightly off-track ends up with you getting reset by the computer, rather than being allowed to get back to the road yourself. It’s even worse when you start notching your way up through the 45 courses, as the AI opponents never seem to have a problem navigating the sharp turns at full speed.
Of course, skill only gets you so far, and the game smartly keeps prizes coming your way in the form of faster ATVs and beautiful-looking courses—but you won’t appreciate the scenery as much as you could thanks to the lack of a decent mapping system. When you’re flying through the air, seeing where to go next is hard enough, but boosting at the necessary speed to keep up with the pack actually obscures your vision and makes it harder to point out landmarks.
Add in the floaty controls with the haphazard racing physics, and the game’s more of a struggle than it should be. ATVs should really have more traction, and as much as this game cribs from Sony’s MotorStorm, it just can’t measure up to the level of polish that Sony brought to the dance more than five years ago.
Still, there’s enough variety here to warrant playing through the whole thing at least once, and if you’re really into it, the stunt and “race the clock” modes are the best options for getting used to the engine. Sure, you’re going to fall flat on your face trying to find the various shortcuts that’ll get you a few seconds ahead, but at least it feels a bit rewarding when you successfully nail a course without the help of radar (though such a feature would’ve been welcomed).
If you’re going to test out the multiplayer, I certainly hope that you can get 12 people into the game (something I couldn’t due to deadline constraints) and have some fun with the courses. For me, Mad Riders was short fun that ultimately just burned out.
SUMMARY: It’s certainly not a waste of time, but Mad Riders just has too many flaws to really justify itself as a proper racing game. Stick with whatever version of MotorStorm you currently own.
- THE GOOD: Lush, expansive environments peppered with huge jump spots.
- THE BAD: Careening way off course due to iffy controls and rigid course design.
- THE UGLY: Realizing that I’d rather play THQ’s MX vs. ATV series.
Mad Riders is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360 (XBLA).