Publisher: Plug In Digital
Cards on the table: I've never once wanted to own a motorbike. Sure, you can get from A to B extremely quickly in zigzag fashion, but I'd much rather tilt the seat back in my clapped-out 2002 Fiesta, crank up The News Quiz and enjoy the traffic jam. I prefer leather shammies to leather trousers, F1 to MotoGP, headrests to pillions and four wheels to two in real life, all day long.
But real life be damned, because virtual motorbikes are always a blast. From MotoGP simulations to the arcade brilliance of Motocross Madness 2 and even the Trials series, there's nothing quite like leaning into the corners and sticking countless ridiculous landings - all without sweating into a leather outfit and undergoing painful reconstructive surgery.
As such, MXGP revs my throttle. Focusing squarely on the mud-churning Motocross side of things, it's a hot mess of ramps and jumps, boasting a scalable simulation model, real riders and addictive career mode. Though decidedly lacking in flair and flash, diehard fans will find a lot to love here.
First things first: the fan service. MXGP offers sixty real riders along with their official bikes and teams, who'll thrash their chunky tires around 16 real-world circuits. The level of detail is impressive on the circuit front (Milestone promises 1:1 accuracy, and I have no reason to doubt them), though don't expect anything much in the way of official voiceovers or rider-specific flourishes. FIFA this ain't, but Motocross fans will enjoy racing as - or usually against - their favourite icons.
Billed as a hardcore simulation with a cut-throat handling model, MXGP is surprisingly generous for newcomers thanks to three scalable handling and a clutch of useful assists (though you'll need to learn by doing due to some poxy video tutorials). Starting out on Base mode with balancing assist and simultaneous front/rear brakes allows riders to get to grips with the basics of independently controlling the bike and rider's weight using both thumbsticks, riding up onto the berm during corners, pulling off controlled wheelies over rough ground and whipping the bike sideways before large jumps to minimise wheel contact. It's almost an arcade experience, enjoyably so, but you'll want to quickly ramp things up to avoid becoming complacent.
At which point MXGP bares its fangs. Without balance assist, you'll have to maintain perfect control over your rider's centre of gravity to avoid falling over straight out of the gate, let alone landing an ambitious jump. Then factor in manual gearing and independent braking for the front and rear tyres, before amplifying the effects of gravity. It's brutally tough to maintain concentration during longer races while juggling so many variables, and MXGP demands much from its more dedicated players.
The connection between tyre and track surface feels absolutely fantastic whatever mode you favour; whether hurtling down a straight, leaning into an impossibly tight corner or churning up a ramp. Tracks also deform and over the course of each race, ensuring that the perfect line slightly changes each time you approach and making mastering your own personal style more important than rote-learning the 'best' way to master each track. There's a nice balance of memorisation and improvisation.
In terms of game modes, MXGP serves up a businesslike dollop of predictable single races, grand prix and laborious championships, alongside functional 16-player online races that are best engaged with as soon as possible. Not only will your veteran opponents become more skilled with each passing day , but it's unlikely that the niche game will retain much of a player base for long. The lack of splitscreen is galling to say the least.
This being a Milestone game, though, you'll spend most of your time in career mode, progressing from Wildcard newbie to MX2 sensation as the sponsorship deals pile up. After setting up an avatar and choosing a manager from some tragically hideous portraits, you'll proceed through numerous race weekends (pleasingly being able to participate in or skip practice sessions and qualifying before the two races). Managers and sleazy executives start noticing your prowess as you rack up the points, real-life Motocross legends challenge you to beat them in each race, and a pared-back MXGP magazine and social network give you a taste of the lifestyle.
It's simple and streamlined stuff, effectively just wrapping the same races in a bare minimum of context, but the net result is undeniably compelling due to the constant feeling of progression as you continually accrue fans, experience and recognition after each race weekend.
That said, career mode sometimes feels lacking in personality, which is arguably MXGP's biggest failing as a whole. Off-track, everything is businesslike to a fault, from the uninspired menus to the lack of licensed voice acting and much in the way of showy beyond introductory track videos. It's a little too clinical, coming across as soulless on occasion, offering little in the way of flair and 'wow' factor for such an exciting motorsport. There's something to be said for taking things seriously, mind, as opposed to assaulting our ears with wacky commentators, energy drink power-ups and fireworks and an attempt to pander to a more casual crowd.
The visuals don't help matters. MXGP is acceptable when you're moving at speed, mainly down to tunnel vision and soft focus, but falls apart if you're ever moving slowly enough to notice the middling texture work, primitive lighting, embarrassing character models and awkward animations. Milestone also made a tragic mistake by prefacing each race with an aerial camera pan, which throws the spotlight on the spartan off-track environments and spectators. I daresay that many gamers will demand more graphical grunt for their thirty notes, and rightly so.
When it comes right down to it, though, MXGP absolutely nails what's important: the racing, the feeling of churning up the mud under your wheels, the relationship between rider, bike, traction, balance and gravity. Casual racing fans should go elsewhere for their fix, but Motocross aficionados will relish the opportunity to get good and dirty. Not to mention very, very airborne.
- Impressive (and scalable) physics and handling simulation makes for intense racing
- Accurately modelled deforming tracks
- Career mode is as addictive as ever, solid multiplayer netcode
- Underwhelming visuals, no background music or voiceovers
- Off-track experience lacks personality and verve
- No local multiplayer
The Short Version: MXGP is a solid stab at recreating the muddy thrills of motocross that excels on the simulation side of things. One for the fans.