Republished on Wednesday 27th November 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of December's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Racing games are dime a dozen, but while most focus on cars or more “extreme” sports, it’s relatively slim pickings when it comes to motocross and supercross. They were more common a couple of generations ago, but now Italian dev Milestone practically stand alone when it comes to getting licensed motocross games out the door. While its titles are generally focused on the European theater of dirt bike racing, Monster Energy Supercross offers a refreshing change of pace as it shifts to North America. Unfortunately, this shift brings with it all of the trappings and flaws that most of Milestone’s games have.
Monster Energy Supercross is an officially licensed game that includes the riders and locales of the North American Supercross circuit as you race to take the championship. Bizarrely, the game doesn’t actually include the most up-to-date circuit possible, as the track in Foxboro, Massachusetts is conspicuously absent, while the East Rutherford, New Jersey track – retired from the circuit after the 2017 season – remains. This oversight notwithstanding, the 17 tracks offered in the title are loving recreations of those in the real-world tour. The venue design in particular impressively pulls off the feeling of the scope and scale that a Supercross match can offer. The uniforms and bikes too look really nice, as the overall aesthetic of the game looks far more authentic than many of Milestone’s past motorcycle offerings.
But, like with most of their titles, the gameplay itself leaves something to be desired. One of our big problems with the team's last major motocross title, MXGP 3, was that controls felt like they had taken a step back from the titles that came before it. Luckily, Monster Energy Supercross is able to sidestep this quagmire, as the controls are perfectly adequate. This is not to say they are good per se, but the controls and handling of your bike no longer feel like something you have to personally fight with.
The same cannot be said of the physics, however. We made a point of trying out the various settings the game had to offer on this front, ranging from a more realistic physics engine to a more arcadey one, and the only consistent thing about them was their inconsistency. On one triple, your bike might land hard and bounce 15 feet straight into the air for seemingly no reason, then on the next attempt, it’ll erratically veer right upon landing. It made being able to read jumps and get your timing down much more challenging than was likely the intention.
This fight against the in-game physics does make those few times where you have the rhythm of the sections of the tracks down like a pro even more rewarding. There’s little that’s more rewarding than landing three triples flawlessly, flying through a section of whoops, and steering through the finish line. That being said, of the four game modes in the title – single races, career, online, a time attack mode, and a track creator – there’s almost no fanfare whatsoever for a win, which undercuts the feeling of elation quite a bit. Not only that, but you are forced to see the faces of riders, which is a borderline punishment. The animation of the riders while they are on their bikes is exceptional but anytime you have to see anyone’s face, or see them off a bike, it might have been better to avoid that. Milestone, we’ve met Ryan Dungey before: he doesn’t look anything like that.
While we briefly mentioned the track editor, it does deserve another mention, as it’s one of the best and most impressive facets of the title. While the UI for the majority of the game is a confusing, convoluted mess, the track editor packs in an unexpectedly clean and easy-to-follow UI, without sacrificing an impressive level of creative control. Given how messy some of the menus are, we were completely caught off guard by this.
You just need to pray you don’t accidentally load the track up early, because the load times in this game are absolutely brutal. Every little thing has to load, and it takes an eternity. While working our way through the championships, if you select the “short” race length, you’ll race for about five minutes per track. Unfortunately because of how brutal the load times are, you may have to spend an additional five minutes letting everything load. In this day and age, with the power of PS4 – a PS4 Pro, no less – that is completely unacceptable. Not only do the load times take an eternity, but usually the first thing that happens after these loads (the gate drop and holeshot) has massive frame drops, as the game can’t seem to keep up. Luckily, outside of the gate drop, the framerate's pretty solid, but that’s a pretty important time for the game to be chugging along.
A lot of Monster Energy Supercross' issues on their own really aren’t too bad, but when taken all at once, the game is disappointing. Many of the problems – like load times – are more quality of life issues than game problems, so if Milestone could tidy this stuff up then it'd go a long distance. But it's the inconsistent physics that are the real kicker, and detract from the generally acceptable presentation and decent selection of modes. It's better than nothing, and North American supercross fans will surely appreciate the fact that the title exists at all, but it could be so much better.