Ah, summer. A time for fragrant flowers, gentle breezes, lazy sunsets, and belligerent off-road vehicles that tear through the earth, roaring like T-rexes engaged in territorial battle. The month of May brought with it a trio of achingly aggressive mud racing video games, and we've sifted through the spewed dirt to see how they stack up.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse (ESRB: Teen)
If Michael Bay floors. It's pure spectacle moderated by accessible, arcade-like driving physics.
The only place Apocalypse really falters is in its cheaply animated narrative sequences, which half-heartedly attempt to show us the sort of people who might willingly engage in such suicidal shenanigans. Un-likable hooligans, all. But that's what the "skip" button is for.
MX vs. ATV: Alive (ESRB: Everyone)
With its roster of actual motocross drivers, realistic tracks and environments, and authentic bike and ATV handling, THQ's dirt racer for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is a surprisingly serious go at a sensational sport.
Controlling vehicles through quick turns and over massive jumps requires one's digits to engage in a strange sort of ballet, forefingers delicately adjusting throttle and brake while thumbs nimbly manoeuvre the joysticks to steer and shift the rider's weight. Landing properly on all four wheels and expertly careening through tight corners delivers an unexpectedly physical satisfaction that only other players - or perhaps real off-road racers - can fully appreciate.
Unfortunately, this entertaining driving experience lacks a compelling framework to keep us racing. There is no traditional career mode, and new tracks and races take what seems like forever to unlock. More modes and courses will eventually come via download, but at additional cost.
DiRT 3 (ESRB: Teen)
The best of the racing games featured here, Codemasters' DiRT 3-available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PCs-sits at the head of its class by dint of a deep and rewarding career mode.
Harrowing rallies through narrow Norwegian back roads and precision-demanding challenges set in Aspen snowstorms give rise to trickles of tension-induced sweat. Thankfully, players are given a chance to let loose their aggression in rough and tumble rallycross races through the streets of Monaco and land rush events set in and around Michigan's abandoned manufacturing plants. The variety is simply unmatched.
Throw in the ability to make these races as punishingly realistic or as casual gamer-friendly as you like, a nod to social media via the capacity to instantly upload spectacular race clips to YouTube, and an addictive progression system that begs you to play just one more race before switching off and you have an off-road racer that's nigh impossible to quit.
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