Mad Riders (PC, 360, PS3) – Review

Have Techland Nail’d the notion of Pure fun, or will the competition pass this cheap racer in a Blur?

You would execute a man for unleashing such a horrid assembly of racing game-related puns upon the innocent, but in the United States, that can set the taxpayer back an alarming 3 million dollars. Luckily, Techland’s rejigged semi-sequel to 2011’s Nail’d only costs ten dollars on all platforms, so the act of indiscriminate punning can (power)slide for the moment.

Ha. “(Power)slide”. Contextual.

Being one of the three people globally who not only played Nail’d, but — perhaps predictably — liked it, I was very surprised and elated to see the Polish developer giving it a second pass. Techland, much like the Battlefield developer DICE, have curious and oft-forgotten roots in racing titles, which make for fascinating revisiting. Moreover, both developers cut their teeth in the racing genre with offroad titles; Techland with Xpand Rally and DICE’s revered Rallisport Challenge series.

However, forget the Square Left/Hairpin Right/Easy Left world of maps, co-drivers and tasteful European coverage, Mad Riders picked up where Nail’d left off as a ridiculous display of bombastic verticality and speed, all under the camouflaged misnomer of an ATV racer. Mad Riders has more in common with the now-geriatric franchise Jet Moto than something like MX vs ATV or even Blackrock Studios’ terrific PURE – a game often and unfairly used to highlight comparative flaws in Mad Riders‘ rougher prequel.

But cut to the chase, they cried. Mad Riders is a rough and ready high-speed offroad racer. There is no great sense of weight to the vehicles, with Techland coding in favour of high-fidelity arcade responsiveness. Utilising an easily-interpreted mechanic of trick and reward boost harvesting, players find themselves churning up near-vertical mountains and off ridges, through jungle passes and forests, dodging Siamese statues and aiming for the various point and shortcut-trigger items scattered throughout the track. The aforementioned physics leads a feeling of near-lunatic uncontrollability at first, but once players realise that this isn’t really an ATV game – much like Ridge Racer really isn’t a car game — and learn the nuances of Mad Riders, then surmounting the terrain and obstacles in the race, timetrial and trick modes will be, if not a joy, at least interpretable.

Incidentally, it’s great to see Techland build upon their first effort in Nail’d with this mostly-tropical redux. Nail’d suffered from a awkward synergy of speed and track design/palette. Simply put, the flow of racing in Nail’d was often undermined by unnecessary detail and obfuscation of direction. In Mad Riders, the shift in colour palette helps to alleviate confusion, but more importantly, track design has seen a marked improvement. Where Nail’d sometimes felt a victim of its own manic speed, Mad Riders is elevated by it.

For ten bones, Mad Riders contains 45 distinct tracks, a levelling system with unlockable riders and quads (with customisable colour editor), single player containing both quick race, tournament and platinum races, as well as a multiplayer component for up to ten players including the option for drop-in.

However, Mad Riders is not perfect when put under the microscope of digital rev-head scrutiny. The instituted trick system can feel a little stiff, especially when placed against not only its’ direct contemporaries, but also in comparison to games such as SSX or Tony Hawk. The track edge realisation is also a little haphazard and can lead to some frustration when trying to land large jumps, leading to an irritatingly immediate respawn. The saving grace in these instances is the ability to steer an airborne ATV during flight, so all is not lost when leaving a ramp or ridgeline at a less than desirable trajectory.  Once again, this could be simply a case of learning the slew of tracks in all their detail, but the overprotective automated respawn trigger can feel somewhat pedantic in many instances.

Despite these misgivings — and the uneven edge/lightning respawn equation would be a decidedly large factor for some people – Mad Riders is great value for the asking price. If you have at any point harboured love for F-Zero, Burnout, Extreme-G, Motorstorm or even strange outliers like Insane 2, Techland’s budget effort here is well-worth investigating.

Demo available for consoles.

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