MXGP – The Official Motocross Videogame

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Complete Review & Description

I have no real affinity for motorbikes – even videogame ones. My interest in them starts with Excitebike, and promptly ends with Road Rash. MXGP, the officially sponsored Motocross Grand Prix game, almost joins that pair by doing some fairly novel things with its control scheme. However, the lack of content, and glaring presentation issues, detract from any sense of accomplishment that mastering those controls gives.

For the uninitiated, motocross is a form of bike riding that takes place on dirt or sand tracks, with hills and tight turns making up the majority of the course structure. The game does a fairly good job of capturing the insane balancing act that I imagine racers have to contend with to get around a track that is actively working against them.

Your movement and rider’s position on the bike are independent. This means that you’ll be controlling your bike with the left stick, and shifting your weight with the right. Combine this with hairpin turns, and the ability to break with your front or rear wheels, and you can start to see where the nuance comes in. The first hour of the game may see you crashing off your bike at every turn, but you soon become comfortable with feathering the brake, leaning into your turns, and knowing when to hit the gas.

That level of simulation goes even deeper with respect to getting air, and landing jumps. After hitting a jump, you can turn your bike sideways, known as ‘Scrubbing’. This seems flashy and unnecessary, but it’s actually functional. It straightens up your trajectory, allowing you to reduce needless in-air movement. This turns every jump in to a risk-reward scenario – do I risk botching this landing to straighten my driving line? Landing also takes into account the number of wheels hitting the ground. Cleanly landing on both increases the momentum you carry from the air to the ground, increasing your speed.

It’s a fun deviation from your standard, arcadey approach to motorbikes. Instead of hitting the throttle, trying to get max speed and high jumps, every track becomes a small puzzle that needs to be poked-and-prodded at. It moves at a slower pace than some may be comfortable with, but mastering the movement and finishing a race without bailing is very satisfying.

At the start of the game, you’ll have to make a racer that you’ll take with you through the career mode. The customisation options here are slim, boiling down to selecting a helmet and the numbers on the back of your shirt. After that, you can pick from a list of avatars to represent your character and manager. The pictures themselves are actually mug shots of real people. Indeed, the amount of unkempt hair and shaggy beards on display makes me believe that they just put hats on the development team, told them to smile, and then promptly took their photos. Similarly so for the manager avatars, where they look like they just grabbed John from accounting.

The career mode has you make your way through two racing brackets. Initially, you start in MX2, racing against younger opponents on slower bikes. By signing with teams, achieving their goals for events (usually, finishing in high positions), and beating randomly determined rivals, you’ll gain XP. Levelling up opens up better teams, and unlocks new helmets. Eventually, you make your way up to MX1, which basically involves doing all the stuff you’ve done before, but on faster bikes. This is bare-bones, especially by modern racing game standards. It’s not like you’re unlocking bike parts, decals, or paint-jobs – you’re just unlocking helmets and more races.

This is where a lot of MXGP starts to fall apart. There just isn’t enough content to make the gameplay worth caring about. As rewarding as the control scheme is, it does wear a little thin when it’s the only thing worth returning to. The gameplay also takes a hit when you realise that your A.I. competitors aren’t that challenging, even on higher difficulties. It got to the point where I would skip qualifying for a race (sacrificing my position on the starting grid), just to get through the events quicker – because I was confident in my ability to completely destroy my computer opponents. The online isn’t much better, as any progress you make just feeds towards your career level. Regardless of what you do in MXGP, you’re just unlocking helmets.

Graphically, tracks feel indistinct, and blend together. A lot of this could be attributed to the fact that half of the screen is brown (the tracks are mud or sand, remember), while the other half is a skybox. It can be difficult discerning where you are on a track because there are very few visual cues punctuating that brown sea. Given that the mud and dirt is also such a central part of the game, you’d think that their textures would look better – instead, they just look grimy. The tire trails that are left on the surfaces are a nice touch, but it would have been cool to see some actual deformation to the geometry. Mix all this with a jittery first-person camera (I highly recommend playing in third-person), and the game just becomes difficult to look at.

MXGP has a solid, interesting control scheme that is rewarding when you figure out its quirks. The lack of meaningful content, however, in addition to its graphical presentation, severely limits any impetus to continue playing it. It’s not enough to say that fans of something should automatically like an officially endorsed title. If you’re a motocross fan, you deserve better than the emaciated experience that is on offer here.

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