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Game Review

Sony's PSP handheld console is a thing of beauty. I mean, this little gaming machine's crystal clear images and rousing stereo sound effects feel light-years ahead of the blocky, fuzzy handheld units of just a few years ago. So, as I wrapped my hands around the virtual handlebars of the latest title in the popular MX series, I was eager to see how it would fare on this small but pristine screen. And, at first, I had to admit that the dirt bike racing and stunt jumping game MX vs. ATV Untamed was a pretty impressive sight.

The Starting Flag
Players start out with a well-defined, fully decked-out motocross racer (male or female) to represent them and then deliberate between a starter MX bike and an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) for their rocket sled of choice. The bikes give speed and the ability to rev up to quick stunts, while the ATVs deliver superior control. It's a tough choice, but you have to make it. Then it's off to freewheel around a huge open world and hit a series of hubs that connect with different racing events. These include:

Race. This is a straightforward, on-the-track supercross event with lots of dirt hills, a few opponents (featuring an AI version of real racer Ricky Carmichael), and a challenge to grind, drift and jump your way to the finish line first.

Waypoint. An open world competition that gives you an arrow for general direction, but lets you take any path over hill and dale as long as you pass through the goalpost-like checkpoints and hustle your way to the gold.

Time Attack. A test to run to the goal before the clock runs out.

Flag Challenge. A race much like waypoint only you blaze through everything from grassy gullies to open train cars in search of hidden flags.

Stunt. A challenge filled with ramps and jumps. Players try to outscore their AI competitors by busting up to 20 or so different sick tricks (mid-air stunts) and landing intact. The landing ratings range from perfect to a painful-looking ouch.

Stunt Attack. A racing/stunt event that features hoops to jump through and special required combos to master.

As you beat the different challenges you're given bigger and more powerful bikes, along with other off-road carts (golf anyone?) and monster trucks. You also discover new courses to master. And the game aims to keep ratcheting up the action by throwing a variety of slip-slidey surfaces at you, including dirt, water, mud and snow.

Adrenaline Free
This PSP version of MX loses traction in an area that it ought to have covered like a mud-splattered helmet. It's nice to look at and offers you a good number of events and challenges to keep you busy playing in the dirt. There's no foul language in the races or bloody action. So what's the downside? It's not all that much fun.

After a short bit of rough riding you realize the terrain is really pretty mundane. The driving dynamics and camera angles—particularly when trying to consistently land stunt jumps—are, in a word, frustrating. And while you do get the challenge of adjusting to the jumping rhythms and power slide capabilities of the various unlockable vehicles, it's all pretty ho-hum.

I also considered the music to be something of a leaky tire for the title. Your off-roading and racing are accompanied by a short repeating set of 22 hard-driving tunes. I shut the music off altogether after hearing the same song grind in my ears for the third or fourth time, but not before noting that the music list includes artists such as Primer 55, Nickelback, Bad Religion and Disturbed. Their songs were all scrubbed free of profanities here, but it should be noted that in real world play some of those tunes contain harsh themes and harsh words (including the f-word) that would not sit well in little Johnnie's iPod.

My Theory of Racetrack Relativity
So by the time I slid around the last digital curve, I concluded that even in the brave new world of video games, everything's relative. MX vs. ATV Untamed may look better than yesteryear's fare but when comparing it to other of today's PSP titles—or even other MX games on other consoles—it's probable that experienced players will walk away a little sore. And it won't be from pulling too many Superman Seatgrabs or from hashing an off-road power slide. They'll most likely be chaffed that they didn't get much vroom-vroom bang for their 40 bucks.

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