In 2014, Milestone – a dev with a very long history working with motorcycle games – launched a new series with MXGP: The Official Motocross Videogame. While it was an alright title, it didn’t exactly blow us away. Skip ahead to present day and Milestone has released the third entry in the series. During that time, has Milestone been able to make any meaningful steps forward in the evolution of this franchise?
MXGP 3 is a motocross racing game about the official Motocross Grand Prix tournament, an annual 18-race tournament spanning a large portion of the world. The game includes the tracks that are used in the tournament, as well as the actual riders. All of the major bike manufacturers and lots of other licensers are on display, too. And all of this attention to detail and authenticity, while not new to the series, is appreciated. This doesn’t only apply to the look and feel of the game either. There is even an official mode that represents the Motocross of Nations event – which, if you follow motocross, is quite a big deal – but the problem is that much like everything else that we mention, this isn’t new to the series. In fact we were hard pressed to find anything in this game that actually felt new.
The only standout would have to be the dynamic weather, where you can encounter more than one weather condition per track, as opposed to the usual fixed weather type. The problem here, though, is that the dynamism feels very wrong. The weather stops and starts as if toggled by a switch, rather than swell and wane, resulting in varying weather that simply feels very rigid. Not to mention, the rain itself looks atrocious.
While the theme of “been there, done that” is an omnipresence running through this title, that also includes some good things. The game’s robust tuning and customisation options pervade just about every facet of the title, and while the more casual of you will likely skip the tuning options, the feature set is still quite good. This is especially important in the game's career mode, where you start as a rookie and try and work your to the top as the best rider in the world. This mode – minus a few UI tweaks – feels nigh indistinguishable from the career mode in the first MXGP, but in fairness the career mode was quite good in that.
This extends beyond the purely aesthetic stuff as well. The handling and control of the bike actually feels like it took a step back from how things worked in even the first entry. Even pre-loading the suspension for jumps feels inarticulate: it worked as well when we didn’t press anything as when we did, so eventually we just stopped bothering altogether. We get that actually racing in motocross is by no means easy, but the game’s controls just feel too finicky, and no amount of tinkering with the full button-mapping aids that. The gap between turning too much and too little is far too close together for instance. And that’s not even the biggest problem with the gameplay.
Line selection feels like a massive waste of time in this game. Picking the path you want to take your bike through around a corner is one of the most important elements of motocross, and as such, selecting your lines should feel impactful in a game trying to capture that atmosphere. Unfortunately, MXGP 3 seems to have utterly trivialized this. The lines in the ground only feel like they’re there for show, and there’s no strategic element in using them to be found whatsoever. In fact we had just as much luck taking the straightest path possible through the tracks as we did actually picking out our lines and riding the berms when appropriate. One of the most important elements of motocross is essentially missing from the title altogether. It’d be like shipping a hockey game where you weren’t allowed to pass.
A lot of these problems feel like they simply come down to complacency. The market for motocross games isn’t exactly big, and beyond MXGP, there’s really not much to be had. Sure neither of the first two entries in the series were masterpieces, but they still felt like they were moving forward, not treading water, or in some cases headed backwards.
MXGP 3, made in 2017, is almost imperceptibly different from the first entry in the series, released in 2014. Sure there are a few minor alterations, but at its deepest, this is a game that has a truckload of issues when it comes to the actual feeling of riding a dirt bike. Add to that a feature list that is seemingly identical to MXGP 2, now with very poorly implemented dynamic weather, and you get very little bang for your buck. Milestone needs to take a step back and reassess where this series is going, because right now it’s only going backwards.