Hot ‘cross fun
Developer: Milestone S.r.l
(Review copy provided by publisher)
Some sports games must be destined to struggle from the beginning. While it’s all very well for the FIFAs and PESs of the world, which could be released with more bugs than Ant-Man’s picnic and still sell millions because they represent the bribery-fuelled ‘beautiful game’, it must be trickier for titles that channel smaller pastimes. While not exactly as niche as curling or lacrosse, motorbike racing titles have always seemed a poor relation to their bigger brothers, car racing simulators. Despite the odd breakthrough, bikes seem to have been unappreciated, relegated to quirky DLC or forgettable arcade racers.
Motocross racer MXGP2 really doesn’t give a toss if you appreciate it, though. Not in the same way some people post memes saying they don’t care if you like them or not but then secretly check back to see how much attention it has garnered! If MXGP2 ever posted a meme, it would be a single swear word, in bold; this is a game that won’t be found pandering to anyone looking for a frivolous, casual fling.
MXGP2 is the official motocross title from developers Milestone. As a result you’ll find all the usual licences and sponsorships you’d expect, as well as a full roster of riders and teams. I’m just basing that on what I’ve been told. I haven’t checked, nor am I a motocross expert, so it could be the cast of High School Musical for all I know.
Upon beginning there’s a customisation option to cobble together your own rider for the career mode. However, rather than letting you go full Dr Frankenstein, it’s a fairly limited choice of name, gear and only three skin colours. Despite this lacklustre showing, the game has a positive wealth of modes and ways to play, and the bike modification options are indeed plentiful, making up someway for the lack of options in creating your rider. As well as the career mode and one-off options that you’d expect, there’s also the choice to play through a course with every rider from a certain country (sponsored by purveyors of bottled insomnia, Monster), an MXGP event of either a grand prix, championship or time attack and a Stadium Series of indoor events. On top of this, there’s also a handful of multiplayer games.
You could argue that having more ways to play is more important than aesthetics anyway, which certainly seems to be the game’s intention. The career mode is especially intense, offering you the option to check on your Public Relations via incoming emails, as well as gauge other potential sponsors’ interest in you, a test track to trial your new modifications and a motocross magazine to consider your progress in the public eye. You’re even assigned a nemesis for each career race, by beating whom you’ll see your reputation in the sport boosted. You can also choose members of your racing team to manage your affairs, although it seemed amiss that all of these are men. Perhaps the shockwaves of girl power haven’t reached motorsport yet.
The game provides a competent showing in the visuals department with crisp character and bike models and vast scenery, should you find time to notice it. It’s perfectly capable, rather than dazzling, and the engine handles bundles of riders skidding around the screen at once with aplomb. However, on closer inspection there are a few parts of the game that are less than impressive visually. The cracks start to appear especially noticeably when you’re treated to shots of non-player characters, such as TV presenters or crowds, dotted around the racetracks and waving mechanically, who are reminiscent of a PS2 era racing game like the Colin McRae series rather than a new PS4 title.
The sound isn’t super, either. The music is dated and uninspired EDM; the sort of industrial techno you could concoct in ten minutes on GarageBand. All music is subjective obviously, but if you like this sort of thing then you are objectively wrong. Then again, you can’t really hear it that well over the humming of the bikes’ engines, so you can’t really blame them for skimping on it.
However, focusing on these bugbears may be missing the point. MXGP2 is a serious game; if you launch into it expecting a pick-up-and-play arcade style racer you’ll quickly come unstuck. Even after watching the reasonable tutorial videos, I found myself struggling to not finish last on my first few races. MXGP2 is aiming for a high level of realism, and this is evident from the control system. Just holding accelerate and bouncing off barriers won’t get you far at all, but instead you’ll need to pay attention to the intricate skills needed to make the middle, or even front, of the pack. Indeed, the effort required to reach this status makes the eventual victories all the more satisfying. If you take a fall during a race, be assured you’ll be heartbroken as every man and his dog motors past you before you can get back up to speed.
For example, there are three types of braking possible, as well as the use of the clutch, the option to lean your body using the right stick, in addition to steering the bike with the left stick, and techniques such as ‘scrubs’ to help you keep low and fast coming out of jumps. A subtle blend of all of this is essential to reap the rewards from racing. It is somewhat difficult to manage the body-leans with the right stick along with using the main control buttons in the heat of a race, though. Early spins on the track can feel like you’re wrestling and fighting with your metallic steed rather than finding yourself at harmony with it, but this is a game with a proud and sharp difficulty curve.
MXGP2 isn’t impossible, however, and some of the difficulty I encountered could have been due to my unfamiliarity with the sport. It’s not quite the Dark Souls of racing, but it is similarly not interested in tempting anyone in who isn’t prepared to invest some serious time into it’s muddy antics. I have nothing against bike racing but it’s not something I’ve ever been heavily involved with, like caravans or Channing Tatum films. As a result, I felt a little alienated at first by the demands necessary to make your steel horse cooperate. But MXGP2 will reward your persistence; practice well before beginning your career mode and you’ll find yourself equipped with enough to keep afloat. Practice even more and you’ll banish the mistakes that keep you from the winner’s podium.
Even if you’re not a fan of the sport, you may still find this is a game that you enjoy more than you anticipated. There are a few flaws with it worth mentioning, though; the physics are at times interesting, with loose bikes pinging around the scenery like they’re made of nothing but helium and sticky-tape. The re-start mechanics are unnecessarily sadistic at points, too; if you find yourself leaving the track or your bike at any point (and you really will), the game has a tendency upon respawning your rider to either point you in a strange direction or put you on the edge of a ramp or bump so that you instantly spin-off again.
MXGP2 is a surprising game that managed to hook my interest thanks to its innovative controls, which provide numerous possibilities and ways to ride, and a rewarding learning curve. While it’s arguable whether it will do much to change the minds of people who aren’t interested in racing games, and nor does it want to, there is a solid experience underneath all of that to find a lot of enjoyment in for anyone who gives it a chance. A competent no-frills and no-quarter take on the sport that can nevertheless provide enjoyment for anyone who is prepared to give it the time, fan or not, rather than a ‘rev’-olution.