To paraphrase a gentleman who we once met at a motocross event, “Have you ever seen a sad bloke on a dirt bike?”. The answer of course is “no”. So how does MXGP 2019 go as far as reproducing the experience? Will you end up happy, or sad?
For the uninitiated, MXGP is a motocross simulator/arcade racing game where you face off against 21 other dirt bike riders for some high-octane excitement on some of the muddiest race tracks around the world. The buzz of the bikes and the splash of mud is every moto fan’s idea of a fun day out, and there is enough opportunity to experience that if it takes your fancy.
Players get to experience three different game modes – ‘Race Series’, ‘Playground’ and ‘Time Attack’. They’re exactly what they sound like, with no real bells or whistles outside of that. Playground mode has some fun challenges in it, and the ‘Dexterity’ event is a personal favourite, as you get to tackle some challenging terrain while weaving through slalom gates. Mind you, it would have been great if they’d thrown in some alternative events like obstacle courses or jump tracks to really add depth to the game. While there are some of those attributes in the Playground, a deliberate choice has been made to steer clear of opening up the possibility of further exploration.
The AI during Race Series events is brutally efficient. They appear to ride the same line every race and the only distinguishing difference between each event is you. If there was an option to simulate a race event, you’d get the same result every time. They’ll fight you on every corner and, more often than not, you’ll be nudged politely out of the way – most likely into the barrier. There are times where you’ll get air and the AI reacts like a rock. You’ll bounce off their bikes into funny angles, causing you to come to an almost dead stop on the track. It’s a physics quirk that will no doubt become annoying in multiplayer, when the game engine struggles to decide who bounces off who.
Pass/Fail margins for going outside the track lines are razor thin, although they have a bizarre quirk which will become a sharp and immediate irritation. One minute the game lets you smash into barriers and the next there’s an invisible wall that will teleport you straight back to a standing start in the middle of the track the moment that you cross it. There are no warnings or seemingly no reason for triggering either response. It’s a significant negative factor to the experience of the game. We’d prefer to crash straight into the wall so that we can learn from our mistakes. At least that would play into the sim feel of the game.
The bikes sound authentic, but unlike some of the fantastic racing sims from this year, we’re faced with a bunch of vehicles that sound and behave almost identically. The experience is like having an angry bumblebee with hiccups stuck in your ear. Outside of actually riding one of these bikes, the sound can be a little bit monotonous over longer periods of play. The novelty and authenticity of the sound design wears off about two laps into a race.
While we’re talking about sound design, the main game theme music in the loading screens can get a little obnoxious after you hear the same song playing for the 12th time. A bit more variety in the tunes would add to the personality of the game.
There are customisation options that will mean you can go faster and respond more effectively, but everything feels a little too balanced and not distinct enough to make a meaningful difference to your overall performance. While you can take corners with more dexterity than the other riders, you’ll immediately get overtaken again on the straight. There are no tangible advantages in the customisation, other than setting the bike to your preferred riding style.
One of the key annoyances you’ll identify is the load times. Every time you enter an event, restart a course or load a new track, be prepared to make yourself a hot drink and take a nap. Maybe even take out your actual bike for blat. Not to worry, you’ll still have time to accomplish all that and be back to be bored by the loading times. Even in the “open world playground mode” there’s significant loading times between challenges, which distracts from the immersion. Modern day games on the latest consoles shouldn’t have these types of issues. Playing this on a PS4 Pro, the load times were noticeable, so it’s anyone’s guess how much more pronounced they will be on any other platform.
In MXGP 2019 slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. You’ll find that some of your best lap times come from the controlled runs with the best lines, not the ones where you slam the accelerator through every corner. Which is fine for most games, but this is a game that wants things both ways, an arcade feel to the racing, but with strict sim level game restrictions. And at the end of the experience you just may find that you’ve tolerated it more than enjoyed it. The developers have been caught trying to have a bob each way on the final product, and the result is that MXGP 2019 will likely only appeal to the most diehard of Motocross fans.
MXGP 2019: The Official Motocross Video Game is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.