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Mad Riders is beautiful but flawed (review)

The secret to making a racing game is maintaining balance. Successful, super-precise simulations and arcade racers walk a careful line between form and function, diligently melding how vehicles control with the ins and outs of sometimes very complicated terrain.

Unfortunately, Ubisoft’s new ATV racing game, Mad Riders, dishes out a little too much form and not enough function. It has  Motor Storm’s ambition without the careful attention to how controls mix with labyrinthian level design.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

The scenery
ATV racing is all about living on the edge. Well, it’s actually about people driving stupidly fast in a disused field, but ideally, ATVs take you to stunning, untamed locales full of waterfalls, ancient ruins, and aerial drops.  Mad Riders borrows heavily from Sony’s Motor Storm series, but that’s totally fine. Motor Storm is the benchmark for massive, insanely hostile environments and is worth learning from. The results are a bit predictable but certainly lovely.

Fast-paced arcade action and stupidly dangerous tricks
Mad Riders is all about power-ups, tricks, and ridiculous jumps. This concept works well with the large levels and takes full advantage of them when you’re leaping off of waterfalls and careening through ancient temples.

Performing tricks and finding power-ups will fill up your boost meter, which enhances your ability to enact crazier tricks and pull ahead in close races. A lot of time went into making Mad Riders feel fast, and mashing on the boost button is definitely the way to win.

Oh, and the tricks? Completely absurd. You can execute backflips and aerial spins that would almost certainly kill a rider in real life. ATVs are really heavy.

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

Crashing
Need for Speed: The Run exemplifies precisely how not to handle crashes. Any time your car edges off the track, the game automatically resets your position rather than giving you the chance to correct yourself — often in situations where pulling to the right or left would have totally fixed the problem. Mad Riders might just dethrone The Run as the king of ridiculous respawns.

The problem with  mostly wild race tracks is that divining a safe path is often fraught with peril. Mad Rider’s environments are extremely unforgiving. If you graze a wall or brush a seemingly harmless bit of geometry, the game instantly respawns your vehicle. Touchy resets completely obliterate how races flow and certainly kill momentum.  If this happens, you might as well start the race over.

Blur effects
Mad Rider’s environments are gorgeous but only if you’re sitting still. Racing requires players to continuously earn and spend boost power. This has an adverse affect on visibility and can cause a bit of disorientation when trying to navigate tricky jumps and narrow pathways.

Clearly, a lot of work went into making Mad Riders extremely vibrant and interesting, but the blur filter completely ruins that. You’ll spend more time desperately searching for a red course beacon outlining suggested trails and not taking in the course’s grandeur.

The controls
The faster your ATV gets, whether you’re boosting or selecting speedier models as you unlock them, the flightier controlling your racer feels. Offroad racing has an inherent slipperiness to it, but driving should feel very responsive. Mad Riderss feels out of touch with its environment, like the steering wasn’t quite suited for the sharp slopes and knobbly wooden bridges strewn throughout.

Sometimes using a full boost meter to catch up with other racers can have disastrous results. On more than one occasion, the game decided that the ATV needed to hook strongly to the right and suddenly go the wrong way on the track. And if this happens, you’ve most assuredly lost the race as the non-player character riders feel about a thousand times more capable than you no matter how familiar you are with a course.

CONCLUSION

Mad Riders is a good idea as the ATV racing game market is rapidly narrowing now that the genre’s main publisher, THQ,  plans to drop its line of MX vs. ATV games, but Mad Riders doesn’t really make good on its premise. It’s an uninspiring distraction from games like Pure and Nail’d. The lack of congruency between the level design and control scheme definitely doesn’t help.

If you’re looking for an ATV game, you might consider checking out THQ’s older MX vs. ATV releases before considering Mad Riders.

Score: 65/100

Mad Riders released May 29 2012 on PC, PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade. Ubisoft provided an XBLA code for the purpose of this review. 


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