Developer: Left Field
Release Date: March 2, 2004
Regardless if you are an avid participant in the sport, simply watch it on TV or in person, or barely know about the sport at all, you have to admit that motocross racers have to have some balls. Race cars go much faster sure, but when is the last time you saw a car race that involved the cars to ramp and then make a series of hairpin turns with one false move pitching the rider off of their bike like a sack of potatoes? MTX Motocross tries to bring that same feel and sport into the living rooms of armchair riders everywhere, though the end result isn’t quite up to par with some of the other motocross games hitting the market as of late.
There should be no surprise that in MTX Motocross you play the role as a motocross rider who is just starting his career in the sport. The main mode of play in MTX Motocross is the Career mode which has 4 sub modes, motocross, supercross, free ride, and freestyle, broken down further into classes like 125cc and 250cc. Motocross races take place outdoors in large courses made to test a riders sheer racing skill as they fly over dusty hilltops and wind down turns flanked by woodland areas. Supercross races require more of a riders technique to succeed as since they take place indoors (Stadiums with a dirt track in the center) the track is filled with sharp turn after sharp turn and jumps that require you to not only leave one bump on the track but land on another just right so that you keep your speed. Free ride isn’t based on racing at all but rather plays much like another title Activision is involved with, Tony Hawk Underground. In free ride you have free reign to ride your bike across rather large environments, talking to people or other riders to get and complete objectives, finding new tricks, and occasionally participating in the odd one on one race. One thing this mode lacks that THUG has is a real sense of direction or purpose, as there is no real draw to the mode other than to unlock new tricks which, in turn, don’t make up much of the gameplay except for their use in the free style mode. In free style mode racing is thrown to the wind in favor of pulling off tricks and impressing judges.
To tie your career as a motocross racer together there is a PDA-style menu interface that allows you to pick your gear and bike, choose what events you want to enter, and check email sent to you from your team manager, potential sponsors, other riders, and other teams who want you to leave your team and join theirs. After completing a series of races you normally return to a series of emails, such as your team manager congratulating (or chastising) you, based on your performance. You also get mails from the race series newsletter which tells who won and the final standings. The first time you get this particular piece of mail it makes for a rather cool addition to the game, but after the second or third time you get the exact same message only with different track names the novelty wears thin.
Besides the multi-faceted career mode MTX Motocross has a few other modes of play, such as exhibition, multiplayer, and Dirt Wurx USA. Exhibition mode needs no introduction, and as its name implies this mode allows you to play on any track or locale that you have unlocked in free mode. Multiplayer mode is the same in that you can only play on the places you have already unlocked, but in this mode you race against other players either on split screen or through system link. Dirt Wurx USA allows you to create your own supercross track selecting from various pieces of track, not unlike the Tony Hawk games.
The one thing that plagues MTX Motocross from the get-go is the rather sloppy controls. The scheme isn’t bad in itself, with the left stick guiding your bike, the right trigger gives your bike gas while the X button serves as the brakes. The left trigger controls the clutch, A controls suspension compression, and B and Y in addition to directions on the stick allow you to perform mid-air tricks. The problem is that even though the Xbox face buttons and triggers have 256 degrees of sensitivity MTX Motocross uses all of two of them, lending itself to a huge loss of control that would have been useful. Say you are taking a turn too quickly, in real life you could possibly just give the bike a little less gas to adjust your angle. In MTX Motocross you either let of the gas and depress it again, causing your rear tire to swing out, slam on the brakes (also causing your rear tire to swing out), or hold the clutch which really doesn’t work well as a means to decelerate your bike. One can only guess the lack of acknowledging the Xbox gamepad’s button sensitivity levels comes from the fact that the game is also on the Playstation 2 which lacks the feature.
As noted briefly in MTX Motocross you have control over your bikes suspension compression. In layman’s terms this amounts to squatting back on the bike to compress the shocks or standing up to release them, which allows the bike to jump for longer distances when leaving the ramp. This is controlled by the A button and though it can also be controlled by moving the left stick up or down it can sometimes interfere with the players ability to steer. The amount of compression you use is variable dependent on how long you hold the A button down, tap it before a jump and you’ll only gain a tiny amount of distance, hold it and release it and you’ll soar through the air. Like the other means of controlling your bike this feature could have benefited from the use of the Xbox gamepad’s button sensitivity levels, which would allow the player to simply change the amount of pressure to put on the A button rather than having to time it to the top of the jump.
One thing that MTX Motocross really could have used a little more polish on is the AI of the other racers. Throughout every race, every turn, and every jump, you are constantly reminded that you are racing against non-human opponents despite their human looks. The AI racers rarely make mistakes and almost always put the perfect amount of compression on their bike. Even at the race start this is apparent, even though the start of a race is semi-random when the gate drops and the race officially begins the AI will almost instantly react whereas an actual human would take much longer.
The graphics of MTX Motocross continue to remind the player that they are, in fact, playing a port, though not to the same extent as the control scheme does. The rider and bike models look fairly detailed, but the textures applied to them look washed out and blurred when viewed up close such as in the custom rider creation screen. Granted you rarely see them up close beyond that, as when racing your viewpoint is a considerable distance behind the rider, but the Xbox is easily capable of much higher texture quality. The tracks themselves exhibit the same behavior, while they are modeled and laid out in a detailed and realistic fashion the textures used in them really don’t look crisp enough. Trees are made up of a polygonal pole crested by two sprites, and bushes are simply just the two sprites. One area that the game doesn’t fall short in whatsoever is the draw distance, as players will be hard pressed to find fog or any pop-up. Effects such as riders getting dirty (and dirtier) after falling off of their bike is a nice touch, as is the more subtle effects such as smoke emanating from the bikes tailpipes and dirt kicked up by their tires as they scream across the track.
MTX Motocross boasts a fairly high quality mix of songs from professional artists, some in both vocal and instrumental versions. The likes of Dope, Slipknot, Pennywise, and Disturbed and be heard among others, and the instrumental versions of the songs seem to mesh better with the game as a whole as they are not only songs people are already familiar with but without the lyrics they sound more like what game music traditionally sounds like. MTX Motocross is also strong in the sound effects department. Each bike has their own distinct sounds as they sit idle and as they are unleashed on the track. This is in stark contrast to games where you can choose different vehicles with different engines, only to have them sound the exact same. The only real problem with MTX Motocross’s sound effects some when you go airborne, since the bike automatically idles as it goes into the air in the exact same way, the exact same sound is played every time you leave the ground.
Many games have been ported to other game systems with little effect to their quality and MTX Motocross is one of them. However, what would be above average or par features on one system can be sub-par on another, as evident in MTX Motocross’s control scheme and textures. Games are made on deadlines as we all know and while upgrading the graphics engine for a new look takes much more time for not a whole lot of relative game, in the control scheme MTX Motocross would have vastly benefited if Left Field would have devoted one or two days to implement button sensitivity. There is a reason racing games no longer use the d-pad, there is much more to steering rather than a black and white approach, and accelerating and braking are the same way.
Still though, MTX Motocross can be a fun game despite its shortcomings. The career mode pales the others in comparison and stays fresh throughout its duration, constantly switching up the tracks you race on and the bikes you use. The free style mode allows you to flex your trickster urges, and even the rather aimless free ride mode can be entertaining for a while. Mastering each track takes time, skill, and a potentially large amount of frustration, with the payoff being the ability to finally rip through a course with a solid 10 second lead. It’s just a shame that not only is MTX Motocross held back by a few major flaws in its control and gameplay, such flaws could just as easily been fixed had the game spent a little more time in testing and development and really hold the game back from being much more than a rental.