Mad Riders – Review

Title   Mad Riders
Developer  Techland
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  XBLA, PC, PSN
Genre  Arcade racer
Release Date  30th May, 2012

Despite catching a huge amount of hype for their previous game – the brilliant-but-flawed zombie holiday-’em-up Dead Island – Polish dev. crew Techland are a fairly obscure unit. Most famous for the utterly dismal ‘this-one’s-for-ma-pa’ Western trilogy, Call of Juarez, and with a garage full of unexciting driving games in their softography, they aren’t exactly Rockstar. So when they announced Mad Riders, a new ATV racer for Xbox Live Arcade, there wasn’t much to get excited about. Even if the trailer did gain a little notoriety for poking fun at the games industry as a whole.

Mad Riders follows on from their previous racing game, the hopelessly blaverage Nail’d, in that it is a very arcadey take on the whole off-road racing genre. The Xbox 360 is no stranger to the genre, with countless titles such as the ATV v MX series, Pure, Baja and FUEL all offering very similar gaming experiences to each other. Being an Xbox Live Arcade title, the expectations are likely to be lower for Mad Riders, even in such an underwhelming genre, but to Techland’s credit, the game does initially turn heads.

If you’re going to call your game Mad Riders then there needs to be a bit of insanity in it. A good sense of speed and some stomach-ejecting drops are a good place to start and Mad Riders delivers. The whole thing whips along at a ridiculous rate and with ten riders on each level clogging everything up and making things dangerous, the game is initially pretty exciting. There is always a feeling that any drop in concentration is going to see you Marc Bolan your ATV right into the nearest tree and there are plenty of vertical drops to bring back memories of Wipeout and Hydro Thunder.  The Hydro Thunder comparison even goes further than that, with shortcuts to be found, boost-tokens to grab and some extremely arcadey handling – none of which can be a bad thing. Beyond the straight racing there is also a stunt element that allows you to earn extra boost by pulling off air and land-based stunts, and with forty five tracks with various modes to compete in, there’s a fair bit to like about Mad Riders.

What really struck me, however, were the lovely visuals. For a game primarily set on mud, Mad Riders offers some detailed, vivid graphics and there’s a case for saying that it looks better than some of its full retail competitors, especially the viciously ugly MX v ATV games. This level of visual quality is exactly what Xbox Live Arcade needs if it is ever going to get over the this huge apathetic slump it is currently in.

So where does it all go wrong? Well, without being game-ruining, a few of Techland’s design decisions do conspire to rob Mad Riders of a much higher score. The big problem is that despite the tracks being mostly linear (there are only a few of the aforementioned shortcuts), it is very easy to get turned-around and make wrong turns. Corners are signposted but the signs are too small and everything is too fast so they are easy to miss. Also, there will sometimes be a gap in the scenery that looks like being the way ahead but is actually certain death. Not great. Racing games live and die by their track design and Mad Riders has a fair bit of work to do on that front.

The whole thing is compounded by Techland’s stupid ‘extreme’ camera which does that stupid distorted, fish-eye thing you see on videos of skating pricks fucking themselves up on staircases. The effect isn’t too strong but can really affect your perspective when trying to judge (or find) the next turn and can often leave you staring at nothing but ground when landing from a big jump. There are just too many times where the viewpoint has cost me a race and that’s something that should have been worked out in playtesting. Of course, it’s fine when playing through the single-player career as you’ll be learning the tracks as you progress, but in multiplayer that won’t be an option and you’ll likely be having a very frustrating experience.

The handling is also a little bit off ,with your ATV’s control seeming a bit loose and flabby, not to mention a tad synthetic thanks to fairly poor physics. It can be all too easy to lose control, and things get even worse when even a small bump in the road can sometimes cause you to wipe out, seemingly for no reason. A bit more durability combined with a decent bounce would have improved this game immeasurably. Although, that said, the difference between success and failure Mad Riders is hard to pin down when you sometimes finish first despite driving poorly, and yet can end up outside of the podium positions despite feeling like you’ve done quite well. The old spectre of rubber-banding AI also occasionally rears its ugly head, with them always seemingly being able to punish you for one slightly bad corner despite never showing evidence of flawless riding themselves.

The tricking system is thoroughly underwhelming, with tricks being too slow to really combo them sufficiently and the game’s stunt tracks being oddly flat compared to the racing ones, which is a baffling decision. Air control is also very limited, which is odd given that the game drops target markers for you to land on for extra points. Once you leave the ramp there’s not much you can do to control your course.

The price 800M$P seems like a fair one, but with DLC being available from the menu already (albeit for a price of over four billion M$P!) there’s already some nickel and diming going on, which seems ridiculous (pre-day one DLC? You pricks, Techland) and with the infinitely better, yet horribly neglected, Gripshift available at the same price, Mad Racers is hard to recommend.

  • A decent sense of speed
  • Hectic, arcadey racing
  • Definitely one of the better looking XBLA titles out there
  • Poor track design
  • Too many unexplained crashes
  • Shallow tricking system that may as well not be there
  • Weak, unconvincing physics
  • Poxy 'extreme sports' camera that ultimately needs to fuck off
  • Day one DLC seems a bit mean-spirited

A splendid technical effort marred somewhat by bad track design and an insistence on being 'gnarly' for the sake of it. The impressive visuals and high-octane gameplay are commendable and the game offers a good challenge for solo gamers who don't mind memorising tracks. However, the poor handling and track design stop this game from reaching the heights it should. There is still fun to be had and the game is a lot cheaper than some of the disc-based alternatives, but it definitely needed play-testing by someone who wasn't a twat.

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  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    Ace review. Am gutted that this game turned out to be anything other than the dog’s bollocks, however, as it looked stunning based on the trailer and screenies. I loved the blistering pace it appeared to have, but if the track design is as poor as you say, then that is a big no no :( How could they get something so crucial so wrong?

  2. Ian says:

    Worth getting on an inevitable deal udder week? Or not even then?

    Also, release date says 30-May-2011 at the top.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    These games never particularly started a fire in my eyes, so I’ll stick with me Mario Karts and me F1s, thanks :D

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