If you love cars, you are pretty well catered-for in the world of video games. With long-standing franchises like Need for Speed, Forza Motorsports, Grid, and Gran Turismo, and more coming every year, it is very easy to get your four-wheeled fix in a digital space. If you prefer the two-wheeled world of motorcycles though, you are left a little wanting. There are some great games out there, like the Moto GP series and Trials HD, but the pickings are much more slim. Well, gaming developer Milestone is looking to bolster the market a bit with the new game MXGP. MXGP is the officially licensed game for Motocross, and as such it features tracks and riders from the current championship series.

That means you get 60 riders, 60 bikes, and 14 different tracks.

What makes MXGP interesting is a focus on the special characteristics that make Motocross interesting and exciting. While car sims focus on tire physics, MXGP has a dirt physics system that sees the tracks get molded, altered and formed by the bikes, just as you would see in a real race. Couple this with a fun and advanced control scheme that takes driver balance into consideration, and you end up with a game that doesn’t really feel or play like anything else on the market.

Being different is not enough to make a game great though. I spent a few weeks digging through the various racing series, modes and features that MXGP has on offer to decide if its worth a buy, or if it’s little more than some fancy features wrapped around a boring game.

Read on to learn more about MXGP: The Official Motocross Video Game

Gameplay Modes

Tutorial

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The game offers a tutorial for new players, and if you spend most of your time with auto racing games, you will need to do the tutorial. Adding in the second stick for controlling your balance adds an entirely new level of depth and complication to the controls. It is difficult to figure out, but once you learn how it feels and how to properly exploit the system, it makes the game much more enjoyable.

Instant Race

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This mode essentially does what it says on the tin. If you are veteran player who just wants to hop on spend 15 minutes killing some time, Quick Race is the shortest route to getting a game underway. I also found Quick Match to be a great way to spend time learning to master the control scheme after the tutorial. With each match being its own isolated event, I wasn’t worried about my performance as much and I could focus on learning the tracks and the techniques to go faster. In essence I just treated it as an aggressive practice mode.

Grand Prix

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Grand Prix is a strange mode. It’s a mix of both the Championship and Career modes. You get to run through longer calendars of racing, but instead of only using your custom character, you can choose an established racer. I spent very little time in this mode. I just didn’t find it different or interesting enough from the other game modes to spend time on.

Championship

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This is the mode that many Motocross fans are really interested in. Thanks to its official licensing, MXGP’s Championship mode features the current riders and champions of the sport, and lets you take control of them for a full season. You can run through either the official MX1 or MX2 calendar. If you ever wanted to step into the shoes of Antonio Cairoli and complete a winning season, this is the mode you need. It’s fun to ride around as your hero, but it offers little else of substance beyond that.

Career

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As far as I am concerned, this is the heart of the game. Career mode starts with you creating your very own rider and then attempting to work your way through the system to become a sponsored rider for one of the big names like Red Bull. I think this mode is worthy of most of your time, if for nothing else than letting you slowly work your way through the calendar and consequently the difficulty curve.

This system works great as the jump from MX2 up to MX1 can be quite drastic. The bikes are much faster and more powerful. Working through the game and getting proficient with MX2 to start with makes the transition less jarring and you will be more competitive.

While it is great that you can create your own custom rider, the number of options you have are limited. This is thanks to the restriction of the licensing agreement, so all you can alter are the boots, the helmet, your name, number and your overall color scheme. It’s better than nothing, but it would be nice to have a little more freedom.

If you have ever played any of the licensed F1 games, there will be a lot of common themes in the Career mode. You have a home base that is used as an interactive menu system. You have access to an email system to read notes from your manager, get ride bids from other teams, and more. There is also a nice MXGP magazine sitting on the desk, and if you do well enough, you will make the cover.

The actual racing in Career Mode starts with a session of practice and qualifying that lasts 30 minutes, but you can stop whenever you feel ready and jump straight into the actual race.

Time Trials

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If you really want to learn and perfect your lines around the track, Time Trial is the place you need to be. With no extra riders on course to contend with, you can focus on perfecting each and every turn to get the most out of every lap. To access Time Trial you do need to be signed into the game servers to track lap times.

Multiplayer

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Multiplayer is an online experience that lets you play the same tracks you liked in the single player game, but with your friends. Sadly, due to the limitations in the game engine, network system or both, the game limits the number of riders to just 12. You get 16 bikes in single player mode. This is still less than expected, as legitimate races in the actual MXGP calendar have 24 riders.

Gameplay

Controls

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Controlling MXGP can be quite an interesting experience for new players — even those who play hundreds of hours in other racing sims. Since riding a bike is far more involved than driving a car, the controls in MXGP are similarly complicated. Not only do you have buttons for throttle and a stick for steering, but you have a second stick to control the rider’s lean in all four directions, and a pair of braking buttons. There is a button for rear brake, and one for front brake; just as there is a control for each brake on a real motorcycle. Having to balance steering force, rider angle and a pair of brakes can add up to a hectic experience that is both entertaining and difficult.

The side effect of this control scheme is that it can quickly turn players away. Just the sheer difficulty curve on managing two sticks at once in such a unique way caused multiple friends some major headaches. One way we found to remedy this was to move the vertical leaning to the left stick. This basically puts steering and forward/back lean on stick, with left/right lean on the other stick. For my shooter-oriented friends, this really helped them get acclimated. While this control layout is easier, I found I had less control overall when making tighter turns or more complicated maneuvers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

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It is a good thing that mastering the controls provides a level of challenge, because the racers in game likely won’t be one. The AI is on the more basic level and beating them around the track to get to first place is not exactly a hard thing to do. In essence they just tend to be in the way of you reaching first place. Of course, this gets negated in Career Mode as you can qualify at the front of the pack. In a secondary interesting twist, the AI players also have an effect on how the course evolves, and in that way they do add a touch of challenge as you are continually forced to change your racing lines as you make your way around lap after lap.

Physics

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The physics simulation in MXGP is actually pretty solid most of the time. The most noticeable and purposeful use of physics is track molding. As each bike plows its way around the track, it leaves ruts and divots in the soft track surface. With 16 bikes traveling along the track, it doesn’t take long for some serious troughs to form. This makes the race a bit more difficult and unpredictable, as dropping a rear tire into one of those ruts as you carve around a corner can upset the bike and toss you off your ride. Getting thrown off your bike is where things go a little haywire though. For the care of modeling that went into the track physics, the character models flop around like empty carcasses with barely a bone in their bodies. This was the kind of physics modeling we got back in the days of the Nintendo 64, and I do expect a little better.

Beyond the track surface and the floppy rag dolls, the bike physics are pretty good. You get a solid sense that your weight transfer, wheel traction, and throttle control are all working together in harmony to get you around the track as fast as possible. With little exception, the game feels pretty fair in its physics modeling, and if you come off your bike or crash, it was likely your fault.

Graphics

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This game is available for a wide variety of systems, including modern powerful hardware like the PC and PS4. It is also offered on lower-end items like the PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 and the PS3. I tested the game on the PS3, and the graphics could use a little help. You can tell this game was created to run on newer hardware, and it feels like the visual fidelity had to be dramatically reduced to power the fancy track-deforming physics simulation running in the background.

The characters and bikes look pretty good, but they aren’t as crisp as I would like, and the aliasing on background objects is pretty pronounced. The game doesn’t look terrible, but it falls slightly behind compared to some of the newest racing titles coming out on the PS3 and Xbox 360; this is doubly true for next-gen racing games like DriveClub.

Overall Impressions

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After several hours with this game, I find myself torn on how I really feel about it. The AI is underwhelming, the graphics are only mediocre, and some of the game modes feel unnecessary. That said, the physics of the track, the advanced controls and the sheer fun of the game kept me coming back. Whether it was just a single quick race to finish up a lunch break, or a three-hour stint in the evening blasting through career mode, I couldn’t stay away. The game certainly has its flaws on the game play and technical sides of things. I wish there were more customization options, and it would have been nice to run each track backward to effectively double the number of courses, but in the end, MXGP is a solid game that can provide hours of fun. Just make sure you practice the controls, and don’t give up too soon.

TopSpeed Tested Score: 7 of 10

Our review was conducted on the PlayStation 3 console with retail code provided by the developer.

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