As someone whose racing game experiences mostly fall under franchises like Need for Speed, Burnout, Mario Kart, and the occasional GTA Online back when it was in its prime, I went into MX vs. ATV Legends with a mindset that I’m starting from square one.
Off-road racing games are a bit more in-depth due to the amount of control required to navigate the dirt terrains. No longer can I get away with just pressing the gas button for 80% of the runtime and watch my car go ka chow on the road.
MX vs. ATV Legends is the latest motocross game from Rainbow Studios that not only attempts to bring back the franchise from its long hiatus dating all the way back to 2018 with MX vs. ATV All Out, but it’s also the studios’ first entry into the 9th generation of consoles.
How does the game stack up to those expectations? Not well enough to justify its current state on release. While it is a fun ride from time to time, it definitely has more bumps on the track that stops it from being the definitive next-gen motocross game out in the market right now.
A rough start
MX vs. ATV Legends does not give off a good first impression. After booting up the game, it immediately throws you into a tutorial section that barely gets the player up to speed with the controls.
As much as they try to lay out the different ways to navigate the terrain, it doesn’t prepare the player enough for the actual races themselves. The real tracks have hard turns, precise jumps that you have to pay attention to, and a lot of minor obstacles that can mean the difference between a substantial lead or a dead last placement.
Right after accomplishing the tutorial track that feels more like the game itself is rushing to get it over with, you are then directed towards the compound. An open-world area (the first of many) where you can drive around and “explore”. This will be the main hub for the rest of the game and where you can talk to different members of your team.
The area is just one big farmland that has nothing substantial in it to warrant a proper exploration. Venture off too far and you’ll just be asked to turn back or else you’ll be abruptly flung to the air Skyrim-giant-hitting-the-player-to-the-air-bug style. It’s all just a big space with a whole lot of nothing.
It’s also worth mentioning that the tutorial segments continue in different parts of the map. You go to a marker, spend less than 5 minutes doing what the prompt tells you and that’s it. It even has one dedicated to camera controls, which I’ll admit, are pretty customizable — the same can’t be said for the rest of the experience but more on that later.
The compound is also where you’ll start to see just how unpolished the visuals are from a technical standpoint. While the game is in motion in the various races, the tracks, and the scenery actually look great. Fantastic lighting, and fairly detailed textures on the terrain that each have a distinct look to them. However, when you’re just in the open world and you stop and smell the roses, you’ll soon realize that they really are just better off being admired from afar.
Character models are so flat and stiff that they almost look like action figures rather than NPCs. The foliage can’t even be bothered to stick on surfaces that are anything but flat. Try going up the side of a hill and see how in the 9th generation of gaming, bushes are now floating. There’s also a lot of pop-in that’s happening. It happens throughout the entire experience across all modes but it is especially noticeable in the open-world areas.
At the very least, the game does run at a fairly stable framerate. I didn’t really have any slowdowns or hard crashes in any of my play sessions. Did it feel good playing though? That’s a different discussion altogether.
The brunt of the experience will come from the different game modes available. You’ll first be starting off with career mode which will put you in different scenarios and tournaments where you can progress through to continue the extremely slim and forgettable story that’s just there to give you an excuse as to why you’re doing these races in the first place, how in the world are you able to get the resources, and why you’re in a corn farm, to begin with. It’s nothing offensive but it isn’t anything special as well.
The career mode will let you drive the three main vehicle types the game has to offer — dirt bikes, ATVs, and UTVs. While the idea of having different ways to race does make it seem like the package offers more value, it also means that rather than getting a really solid and robust in-depth gameplay system, development and resources have to be split in three ways and it shows.
The ATVs definitely feel the best to play with. It probably helps that it has four wheels so you’ll have fewer chances to crash or fall over if you hit a turn too much. The dirt bikes and the UTVs feel like they needed more time in the oven. Inconsistent physics, slippery handling, and sometimes unresponsive controls hinder the player from making flashy maneuvers in the races.
I was initially curious how Rainbow Studios would utilize the new haptic and rumble features on the PS5 DualSense but unfortunately, they just chalked it up to a simple controller vibration and that’s about it. A massive missed opportunity there.
The sense of progression in the campaign is heavily disjointed because you can replay any race at any point whether you’re still in them or have finished already. This lessens the weight each mission has. Not satisfied that you’re just in the third place halfway through and you feel like you can’t catch up? Just keep reloading until you get to first place.
Another thing as well is the extremely inconsistent AI. They are either so impossibly fast or so incredibly clunky. If an AI is in the first place and you’re a few meters behind, don’t even think about making a comeback. You’re better off replaying the entire race. They also love grouping up and crashing into each other or every sideline. It is funny seeing them get thrown around with the below-average ragdoll physics.
After finishing the races, you get a certain amount of money to purchase new parts for your vehicles. The in-game ecomony is easily exploitable as one first-place win gives you way too much money. I was able to max out the parts of my dirt bike within two hours or less.
Speaking of which, the customization in MX vs. ATV Legends is severely lacking in almost every aspect. You can buy different cosmetics for both your vehicle and your driver but the selections are barely different from one another. Maybe they’re opening it up for future microtransactions to enter into the space but I highly doubt the game will even live long enough for that. If you are someone who loves to tinker with every minute detail of your vehicles in games, then you’re better off somewhere else.
It’s a small world after all
MX vs. ATV Legends does offer split-screen multiplayer which is, unfortunately, a very rare sight to see in modern gaming so it’s nice to see Rainbow Studios deliver on that end.
How about the online multiplayer? I wish I could tell you but sadly, I couldn’t find any players to play with. I tried connecting multiple times of the day and not once did I ever find a lobby. I was either booted out to the starting screen or just teleported into a random track where I can just drive around. I assumed this was the waiting area for more players to come in but nothing ever happened.
Either the servers weren’t working well or there was no one else playing the game other than me. I don’t know which scenario is worse.
The final nail in the coffin comes in the audio side of things. Some of the engines sound like they’re barely holding on before an inevitable boom happens while others just straight-up sound bad and unappealing especially when you are slowing down in the open-world areas and you can hear the tires rubbing against the dirt. It sounds unfinished.
In the actual races, one can argue that the music can easily hide the horrendous audio of the vehicles. I will admit that the soundtrack is definitely nice. There are a lot of bops there to vibe with while playing the various modes. However, the sound mixing is completely broken.
Whoever curated the playlist for this game must have been so proud of what he/she did because the music can ramp up so insanely high in random parts that it just completely takes you out of the experience. This mostly happens at the start of every song. It peaks and then it drops. I tried lowering the music volume in the settings down to 20% but it still does the same thing over and over again.
There are moments when the music just stops altogether. You either get blasted in your ears or be stuck with the mundane sounds of the engines and the occasional flat crowd. No announcers or commentators in sight.
The one saving grace of MX vs. ATV Legends is the Trails game mode which is a checkpoint-based race in much bigger terrain. You can have up to 15 other racers and you can choose if all of them use the same vehicle type or just have all three included. It’s a chaotic fun mess where I spent most of my playtime in. It’s also a perfect place to use the excellent first-person perspective which makes you feel like you’re the one driving the vehicle. This is also the time wherein the game is at its best in both visual and technical aspects.
Final Verdict – 5/10
There is fun to be had in MX vs. ATV Legends but it’s only really good for maybe a couple of races back to back until I eventually feel like it’s more tedious to play. The janky physics system paired with the inconsistent AI does create an enjoyable experience that’s worth grinding for.
When you’re in the groove and you somehow get a perfect fusion between the controls, the physics, the AI system, and the random bumps on the tracks, the game gets into a momentum that’s exciting to play around in. If a single one of those pieces disconnects (and they will), then it all just falls apart.
In a racing genre that requires the player to be precise and in tune with every move being made, MX vs. ATV Legends does everything it can to derail that experience. It’s very obvious that Rainbow Studios needed more development time for this and it’s unfortunate that the best thing about the game is the potential it didn’t come close to meeting.
This review was made with an MX vs. ATV Legends review code for PS5 provided by the publisher.