ATV = Avoid This Video Game
Techland’s ATV racer Mad Riders attempts to enter the arena of down ‘n’ dirty all-terrain racing recently perfected in stylish ways by games such as RedLynx’s Trials Evolution, minus the visual stunt flair and with more of an emphasis on breakneck speeds and pure racing. Unfortunately, a suspect combination of muddled visuals, an ambivalent camera, and somewhat unresponsive controls make for a less-than-enjoyable experience with a prohibitive difficulty that most people likely won’t put the necessary practice into for mastery.
The premise behind Mad Riders is quite simple: hop onto an ATV (or buggy, in later parts of the game), and bear down on the throttle until you cross the finish line. Be among the first three racers to finish the race and you’ll receive one, two, or three stars respectively, which help to unlock later events and tracks. Pulling off stunts while airborne will grant you bonus points, and there is even an unlockable mode focusing on stunts. Other bonus modes to unlock include Arena racing, where you’ll rush to clear each checkpoint; Race the Clock mode; and Ghost Challenges, which pits you against a pro ghost rider in a test of ultimate driving skill.
While modes are pretty standard fare, it’s the track selection – or initial lack thereof – that really puts a damper on things right out of the gate. Tournament mode, which includes a total of eight events each with its own tracks, only provides players access to a single event from the beginning; all other events must be unlocked by gaining stars in the initial races. A paltry five tracks are accessible, and players will have to race and re-race these same five tracks to collect a total of ten stars (meaning having to place 2nd place or better on each track) to unlock the next event. Outside of Tournament mode, Quick Race mode offers a similar letdown: all race types (Stunt Race, Ghost Challenges, etc) are locked, and only the normal Race mode is open to players – essentially the same mode as the traditional tournament racing. Furthermore, the five tracks available in Race mode right off the bat are exactly the same tracks as the ones you’ll find in Tournament mode; there is virtually no difference what type of race you go for. While a total of forty-five tracks are ultimately playable, you’ll be playing the same five tracks until you unlock some new stuff!
Déjà Vu All Over Again
While I felt personally affronted at the lack of initial options, you might say to yourself, “Well, at least you have five unique tracks to keep you busy.” However, actually mounting your ATV will soon learn you: the tracks in Mad Riders are all deceptively similar. Regardless of names like “The Arc of Triumph”, “Black Waterfall”, and “Coastal Wildfires”, each track you race feels just like the previous one, with cosmetic differences at a minimum. At any rate, you’ll hardly be looking to spot far-off sights in the background while barreling through thick jungle brush at unruly break-neck speeds. Between forest paths, mountain slopes, and ramps to jump across gorges and ravines, there is very little to distinguish tracks from each other – they all look alike, which is to say they are a visual slap in the face of brown muddy textures (it literally seems that all paths are covered in clumped mud) and out-of-focus green foliage.
The racing quickly devolves into straining to make out the path ahead; as you step on the gas, the camera system performs a Vertigo-style zoom meant to convey the sense of speed. Sadly, being put way into the back row of the action like this also means that you’ll be the last to spot upcoming turns and hazards, unless there are clear red-on-white arrow signs prompting you into the turn from a distance. While the tracks can be maneuvered, I found myself crashing more than once due to being forced into blind turns and jumps by a camera that was being dragged along the ground yards behind my racer by an invisible rope, struggling to keep me abreast of the race happening all around me. In fact, too many crashes simply felt unfair, as I was penalized for colliding with objects I hadn’t even been able to see, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. When you’re struggling to finish in winning position because you’ve replayed the same race over and over and can’t unlock any new content until you do, suffering cheap setbacks is the very last thing you’ll want to do.
The Final Verdict
Techland’s “always on” multiplayer matchmaking feature makes it easy to find online racing partners even while entrenched in a single-player race; a simple button press will take you straight from your current race to the multiplayer session. Of course, racing against live opponents is always going to be more exciting than AI-controlled dummies, but when the whole experience is marred by an unenjoyable presentation and frustrating rewards and unlock system, it really just begs the question, “Why bother?” The unfortunate end result is that Mad Riders is simply not a title that will inspire a great many players to persevere long enough to reap any of its rewards; the sub-par racing found here can simply be found elsewhere, better executed.