There’s something strangely appealing about the way in which Italian outfit Milestone constructs a single player campaign. The developer’s previous forays into the World Rally Championship and Moto GP have all lacked polish, but have had a certain je ne sais quoi in spite of their presentational shortcomings. MXGP: The Official Motocross Game – the petrol obsessed production house’s latest attempt at simulating motocross – is no different, providing a straightforward rags-to-riches affair that will keep you occupied in spite of its shortcomings.
It’s certainly not going to win any awards, but the simplicity of the experience makes it something of a breath of fresh air compared to more complicated racing games. You select a rider from a pool of rugged pre-selected photographs – there’s no room for PlayStation Camera compatibility here – and begin your motocross journey under the watchful eye of a facially unfortunate manager. Win a few races and you’ll be signed up by a slimy energy drink executive, who’ll pay your way into the MX2 championship assuming that you endorse his employer’s syrupy squash.
As your seasonal standing improves, you’ll attract the attention of rival bigwigs, all hoping to coax you into signing on the dotted line. Throughout, you’ll unlock new helmets, bikes, and photographs from real motocross tournaments – you know, just to prove that this is actually a real sport that real people make a living from. Speaking of which, as you move up the ranks, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jordi Tixier and Clément Desalle. We asked Google, and can confirm that these are real riders.
One neat idea is the addition of a social network feed which changes after every race. This not only includes messages from fans, but also the opponents that you’ll be competing against – and you’ll form rivalries ahead of each race which award you with additional ‘fans’ if you win. While we take issue with some of the avatars employed on this faux Facebook – seriously, what kind of motocross fan would have a similar adoration for deers? – the nifty feature adds a little life to the otherwise lifeless affair.
And it can be quite soulless at times. Outside of the uninterested British narrator that pops up to feed your internal engine with instructions, the game offers an isolated experience offline. You’ll move from one muddy location to the next, battling for the podium, before doing it all again. The addition of multiple XP tickers – including the abovementioned ‘fans’ system – is ultimately what will keep you hooked, providing the sense that you’re unlocking something every single time that you hit the track.
Events are competed across full weekends, but you can simplify this if you get tired of the constant qualification. Even if you do dial this down, though, you’ll still need to compete in two races per location. You’ll earn points based upon your position, which will then be tallied up to derive your final place on the podium. This figure will then be added to your season total, allowing you to dominate the motocross scene. You’ll first compete in the slightly slower MX2 class, before stepping up to the challenge of the speedier MX1 category.
The actual handling itself is fun, but it can be a bit twitchy. You’ll need to use both analogue sticks to turn the handlebars and shift your bodyweight, finessing each to keep your bottom on your bike. Clipping makes each crash look utterly ridiculous, but at least you’ll feel the tires of your ride begin to give way as you hit a hairpin, which enables you to avoid the embarrassment of soiling your overalls. Bobbles and bumps are well replicated, too, and this is enhanced by a ground deformation mechanic – it’s just a shame that any environmental changes pop into view as you approach them.
Pivotal to setting strong laps is your ability to decrease air times. As you hit the tip of a ramp, you’ll need to shift your body weight to the side in order kick your bike out, minimising the time that your wheels aren’t in contact with the ground. This becomes a key skill, and is particularly entertaining on the pro physics difficulty tier, which is much more unforgiving than its more arcade-inspired counterpart. The steering is a little too imprecise for the title to ever feel like a true simulation, but you do get a good sense of the uneven ground that you’re riding on.
Unfortunately, the presentation throughout is sub-par. Riders animate like deflated balloons, defying the rules of the skeletal structure by contorting their limbs in celebration at the end of each race. Moreover, crashes look utterly ridiculous, as your avatar falls face first into a pile of filth, adopting a ghoulish presence while the wheels of other riders go straight through him. The tracks are well replicated – with the inclusion of defining environmental scenery and sponsorship hoardings – but the image is blurry and the lighting is flat.
The experience also falls apart when you adopt the first-person viewpoint, rendering this feature’s inclusion almost irrelevant. It’s actually quite interesting playing from this perspective, but the bumpy terrain makes it almost impossible to focus on the road in front of you, leaving you feeling nauseous, and forcing you to keep the camera behind your rider. Elsewhere, the sound is similarly sickening, with raspy engine noises and fatiguing foghorns the only real accompaniments during a race. The upbeat rock riffs aren’t exactly stellar in menus either.
Still, stomach these shortcomings and there is a lot to do. Outside of the bizarrely moreish single player campaign, the usual array of Time Trials, Tournaments, and Quick Races await your attention. There’s an online multiplayer mode for up to 12 racers at a time, too, which mimics the progression system of the single player campaign as you work your way through the various motocross classes by securing strong finishes. It’s actually quite a novel addition, but sadly we were unable to test the netcode with a full lobby due to pre-release conditions.
MXGP: The Official Motocross Game holds onto its handlebars in spite of its shortcomings, offering a solid if unspectacular motocross experience. It never really comes close to attaining a podium position, but its constant trickle of unlocks means that its presentational shortcomings struggle to detract from its curiously moreish campaign. There are more imperfections in the release than the track at Matterley Basin, but biking aficionados will find some fun here in spite of the title’s many flaws.