Based on some of their most recent output, developer Techland would seem like an unlikely studio to release a downloadable off-road racing game. But playing their stunt-heavy racer Mad Riders, you start to see the game as an extension of what they were doing with Dead Island, which is to say creating a set of mechanics alongside some eccentric physics, and letting the player go wild.
That kind of approach can be fun in a sandbox action game like their open world shooter, but with a racing game, more than anything else you're banking on your own skill to get you through the race and not the whims of the engine. So is Mad Riders a fun, loopy ride in stunt racing? Or do the crazy physics stall the game out at the starting line?
As the game gradually unfolds—it'll take until about your third of fourth set of races before Mad Riders reveals its full set of mechanics—you'll discover complicated, impossible tracks that curve at right angles (and sometimes closer to 60 or 45-degree twists), a modest but easy to execute selection of stunts, and a game that might seem a little busted if it weren't so fun.
Mad Riders' closest comparison would be to the Disney Interactive-published Pure from 2008, another off-road stunt racer that emphasized high jumps and tricks to build up your boost meter. But then, Ridge Racer Unbounded is in there as well, with hidden shortcuts.
You'll pick up boost by sliding and performing stunts as the tracks send you 100 feet or more in the air, or you'll collect power-ups that increase your available amount of boost or open up shortcuts. There is, of course, the usual compliment of unlockable vehicles with diverse stats, as well as a host of selectable riders, both basic and cartoony (among the more fun unlockables is a mummy racer). Mad Riders contains your basic compliment of modes—race, time trial, stunt—as well as up to 10-player multiplayer which gets the job done, and you can drop right into an online race in the middle of your current race by pressing right on the D-pad. Still, this mode suffers from the occasional networking issue where racers will vanish from the track, only to pop up somewhere beside or ahead of you.
Even with a fairly robust selection of vehicles, your ride feels strangely weightless as it slides across the track. That's where the slight learning curve will come from—well, that and navigating the frankly lunatic tracks with their series of hairpin turns and leaps into the abyss. Frustration might peek into your Mad Riders experience the third or fourth time you crashed into a roof off of a jump whereas every fifth time, you'll be able to land and bounce off of that same roof and take the lead. Which is to say, the track boundaries are sometimes inconsistent, and you'll end up getting automatically reset and losing precious time because of it. This isn't helped by the convex, almost fish-eye camera which stretches the action at the extreme edges of the screen, giving the game a unique look, but sometimes acting as an obstacle of its own when trying to navigate tight, unexpected turns.
Highly variable, wild action
Those goofy physics mean you'll never have the same race twice.
A diverse lineup of tracks, riders, vehicles, and events
For a $10 downloadable game, you're definitely not going to want for content here.
Techno techno techno
While I'm sure the music in the game is composed of fresh cuts, there's something almost refreshingly 2002 about getting drum and bass in a racing game.
Those tracks, that view
The hairpin turns in Mad Riders and leaps of faith are admittedly part of the fun. At the same time, they'll also require a couple of playthroughs to really get a sense of where the turns and shortcuts are. The fisheye camera view doesn't do the game any favors, either, deforming the outer edges of the action, and in some instances disrupting the overall experience.
There's nothing about Mad Riders that would lead me to give it an overwhelming endorsement or outright rejection. While the handling could be a little tighter, and the camera a little more cooperative, it's still a solid racer with more than enough content to warrant your $10.
Mad Riders is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
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