When I was at an age where I was still too stupid and brittle to be left alone, I spent my time with a kind babysitter who took residence in an eventful cul-de-sac. The kid who lived in the house to the left of my caretaker, a radical teenager if I’d ever seen one, had a garage wherein four dirt bikes stood highly and proudly on custom centre stands. Admiring the largest bike, the patriarch of the collection, I said, “Wow, this thing looks fast!”
“It’s not just about speed,” the teenager replied; “It’s about balance and control – and feeling the rhythm.”
Feeling the rhythm? What is this, Cool Runnings 2: From Bobsled to Dirt Bed? Get out ‘a here with your anachronistic sports doctrine, the child version of me should have thought while back-pedalling out of the garage (I was actually incredibly impressed, and thought very highly of him just for having a dirt bike).
But he was right, sort of.
Nearly two decades later, after spending ample hours negotiating dirt, sharp turns, and aggressive (almost suicidal) A.I. opponents, I’m overjoyed to find that MXGP: The Official Motocross Videogame is an eerie celebration of that teenager’s, and his family’s, motorist ideology. It’s about balancing your rider when leaning into a turn, controlling your brakes and throttle on jumps and straightaways, and memorising the rhythm of the many villainous obstacles and turns that define the individual courses. Speed, the ever-pursued mode of operation, eventually comes with mastery of these principles, meaning if you’re a fan of the intricacies of the sport, or if you’re a balls-to-the-brick-wall racing aficionado, MXGP’s two-wheeled riding mechanics will satisfy and maybe even impress; however, the below-generic presentation of the Career Mode and the unruly but manageable sound effects are issues that strip this chariot of bits of its authenticity and impact.
|In first-person, you can smell the riders pants in front of you.|
Unfortunately, the way the game begins illustratively rather than interactively doesn’t help with first impressions. Before you can ramble around the game’s modes or options menu, you’re handcuffed to a handlebar and forced to watch a five-video tutorial on steering, jumping, and scrubbing (the technique of leaning the bike post jump so as to reduce air time and increase speed), which is stupendous since you’ll be scuttled directly into an instant race to apply these skills you’ve only just observed. While this is an impersonal approach to tutelage, I admire it for lobbing you into the deep end of the game-play possibilities, leaving you to apply discerned theory in a pit of glory-hungry A.I. opposition.
And as such, you will suck your first race.
You will come in so dead last that the guy who usually comes in dead last will grovel toward you after the race to kiss the warm, shamed seat of your motorbike in reverence of your lofty dishonour.
Okay, maybe you won’t do that badly, but I almost certainly did:
|I spent the majority of my first few races in Tactical Mud Bud position.|
Not to worry, though; after nearly championing a couple of instant races, you become more comfortable with the “Base,” arcade-like control scheme, a configuration that automatically coordinates your rider’s bodyweight and bike physics to make the terrain more manageable for beginners, and combines the front and rear break into a single L2 button press. Once you accumulate confidence, you can switch the physics to “Pro,” which grants you almost total control of the degree in which your rider adjusts his body weight (which works by manipulating the right stick) as well as separates control of the front and rear break to L2 and X, respectively.
As someone who dons a helmet with a silver, reflective visor and charges from recreation centre to college campus at the speed of “Major” on a two wheeled stallion of my own, I was thrilled with the somewhat accurate “Pro” physics and controls. In the constraints of reality on a road bike, knowing when to lean and accelerate into a turn, or gradually decrease speed by engine braking, or turn with assistance of solely the rear brake are essential, basic skills for returning head-in-helmet from a common joyride, and in MXGP, they’re imperative to completing a race with any degree of style and competence.
The benefit of this accuracy is obvious in the multiple ways you can approach an obstacle: when coming upon a steep turn, do you want to come in on the inside, rapidly down-shifting while simultaneously applying your front and rear brakes? Or, because there’s a pack of starving racers crowding the inside of the track, do you keep to the outside, engine breaking to gradually reduce speed, then, at the proper moment amidst the turn, shift your bodyweight to the left with the right stick and crank that throttle to “Swift Magician”? The choice is yours, as long as you have the willingness and skill, whether you prefer an arcade (Base) or simulation (Pro) experience, though I suggest that everyone eventually go “Pro”; along with the terrain deformation, which alters the contours of the track according to rider interaction, it adds a complexity and verisimilitude that is, naturally, unique from four-wheeled racing simulators.
|The starting line can be hazardous when other racers muscle-in on your territory.|
There are a variety of modes that allow for the aforementioned development of racing skill – Instant Race, Grand Prix, Championship, Career, Multi-player, Time Attack – but the two that you’ll probably spend the majority of your thrill-seeking time with are Career and Multi-player. While the other modes allow you to role-play in the muddy boots of one of sixty pro racers, Career mode grants you the freedom to (kind of) create a character, assign a manager, and sign a contract with a team so as to pursue a quest to gain notoriety and become world champion.
Of course, winning or gaining a decent place rewards you points, and the more points you have, the more fans you attract and the more teams that take interest in signing on your skill-set. While this is a serviceable system that issues and excuse for man-on-bike competition, the creative and meta-social features that are built around it lack any sort of depth or consequence. Creating a character, for example, is so embarrassingly limited with its short list of pre-set, smirking facial portraits, you’ll be convinced that instead of creating a legend in your own image, the game is creating a legend in its own image. And what a ruggedly handsome image it is! Here, check your email and social feed, you handsome bike wrangler. Oh, your fans and managers and rivals are spouting the same redundant compliments and warnings race after race? Gosh, never mind.
|“Are you sure I’m pretty enough to race?”|
Speaking of handsome, MXGP is a vivid dust storm of dirt, grand and authentic track layouts, and staggeringly bright sponsorship logos. Each track looks unique in itself and within the location it’s presented, and the riders, though a bit jerky and eager to drop into a rag-doll demeanour on a sharp lean or bruising impact, animate with enough fluidity to make you sympathise with each contextual action.
In terms of audio, please excuse my rant: the ceaseless revving engines and crowd cheers are fine, delightful, even, but can somebody please SILENCE THE DAMN FOG HORNS (you can turn them down or off in the options menu). After about two hours of having my ears bombed by what started to become a demon’s makeshift mating call/ dinner bell, my hand turned off the television without my conscious brain’s permission, just to get away from it. That’s how bad it was.
Demonic fog horns aside, MXGP: The Official Motocross Videogame is a little underdeveloped in terms of character customisation and meta-social features, but the mechanics and physics that define its inspiration, which are most important, are enjoyable to the point of motivation. If you appreciate arcade or racing simulations that aren’t just about speed or horsepower but rather the balance, control, and rhythm it takes to manipulate them, MXGP would make for a most reliable partner at the starting line.
|“Yep, still here. Did I win yet?”|