Developer: Left Field Productions
Release Date: November 15, 2004
I’ve never understood the appeal of “extreme” sports. Why would anyone would want to risk life and limb for big jumps and insane stunts? Fortunately, I’ve got video game equivalents to satisfy those urges to crack my skull and sever my spine. MTX: Mototrax is a new entry into the extreme arena, and while it has enough features and technical merit to be an exciting experience, it falls short of the finish line.
In case the title didn’t tell you outright, MTX: Mototrax is motorcycle—particularlly dirt bike—racing. You’ll spend much of your time throwing yourself headlong off ramps, grinding through turns, and trying to outpace the computerized competition on a few dozen tracks. Most of the mode options are stock standard, featuring single-race, multiplayer, and career modes. There’s also a track editor called “Dirt Worx USA”, but I can’t see anyone spending much time there. This review focuses on the single-player elements, primarily the career mode, since that’s where most of the gameplay comes from.
On a strictly technical level, MTX will impress no one. The engine works adequately, with graphics that seem far more at home on the consoles this game was ported from. The audio is nothing out of the ordinary; the engine sound effects are serviceable, while the heavy metal soundtrack tends to grate after a bit—the playlist is a little short and rather repetitive, a constant problem with using rock music. It’s worth noting that there are no announcers other than a track description blurb at the beginning of a race—odd, given that every person you talk to in Free Roam Mode has full speech. (I may stand corrected: there was something that sounded like it could be an announcer during at least one race, but it was so indistinct that I couldn’t begin to make it out.) You’ll find no Oscar-winning vocal performances here; everything is amateurish and often just badly written. I understand that gamers don’t come to a motorcycle game for dialogue, but after the Tony Hawk’s Underground series it’s getting harder to just let this go.
From there we find another underlying design issue: MTX wants to be both a full-fledged racer and a Tony Hawk clone. “Don’t mix design concepts” needs to be tattooed on the hands of every designer; very rarely does mixing styles work out well, usually resulting in a watered-down experience on both sides. This all comes to a head in Career Mode. Starting with a weak character designer featuring very limited design choices and mostly locked outfits, you’ll run through four types of ‘events’ as you try to become a superstar in the MTX arena.
The races themselves are simple enough, (though I still don’t see the difference between Motocross and Supercross), and FreeStyle stunt tournaments can be fun, though the stunt routines are tightly scripted sequences. You’ll spend more of your time in Free Roam levels, likely, wandering around free-form environments Tony Hawk style, finding missions and unlocking stunts. The ‘missions’ are nothing you haven’t seen before, and lack the sort of wild-style creativity you’ll have come to expect from virtually every other game of this style in last two years. Everything is ‘do this stunt’, ‘race me’, or ‘score this number of points’. There’s also no listing of stunts and challenges, so a lot of time has to be spent trying to find things that are tucked away in odd places. That’s a serious problem when you’re trying to unlock the stunts, since they can only be unlocked from one ramp in the whole level, and there are no indications where they are.
My major complaint about the whole thing is the level progression. Your career is completely stymied until you finish a competition perfectly. In Free Roam or FreeStyle, that’s easy enough—score enough points overall and you’ll unlock more things. Where it comes apart is the tournament style races, Supercross and Motocross. Anything but a first place overall counts for nothing in the plot; if you don’t win, you get to do it all again. The game also refuses to unlock the upgraded cycles you’ll probably be begging for until you win the tournament, even after you’ve earned tens of thousands of dollars. Expect to spend a few dozen loops trying to get the tracks memorized.
Beyond simply requiring you to be nearly perfect, the tournament races also through a couple of other rocks in the raceway. Success or failure is based mostly on your ability to properly navigate hills and ramps, something we’ve seen as far back as Motocross Madness or even Excitebike. It’s incredibly aggravating to be winning a race by five or six seconds only to mis-gauge the angle and lose all your speed, especially when there’s another hill a few feet away that will cost you even more momentum. All this is compounded by the AI riders, who rarely ever miss a turn or jump—every mistake you make will likely cost you a few places in the standings, if not the race entirely. Races tend to be decided very early, with the pack spreading out widely by the second lap. If you’re two or three seconds behind first place, expect to score second, because he’s not going to do anything that lets you get close.
The rest of the controls seem to bounce back in the other direction—where jumps are too loose and unpredictable, the turns run on rails. Entire courses can be run without doing more in sharp turns than easing off the gas and grinding through. Once in a while you’ll want to use the clutch for a sharp burst of acceleration, but it’s not always necessary. Tricks are easy enough to pull off as well, and the game has no lack of them (some 1000 according to the in-game screens). Through most of the game, though, they’re utterly useless; you get no speed boosts or bonus money for pulling them off in races, and making a mistake will put your face in the pavement. I had a sea of troubles getting my analogue controller to work (which I will admit is a Playstation Dual Shock running on an imported Boom USB adaptor). At least one button refused to unmap from another function, while the rotational buttons listed in the configuration dialogue don’t actually seem to exist. The game itself always thinks you’re using a keyboard of all things, leaving you with lines like ‘push S to get mission’ or ‘left right A’, referring to the keyboard stunt buttons. Again, this is probably a hangover from the console version, where the controls were probably fixed in place.
I won’t stay that MTX doesn’t have its share of fun moments. There’s a certain thrill in launching off a ramp and zooming through the air, flipping and spinning, especially when there’s no threat to you involved. On the other hand, there’s too much dilution of styles here, producing a weak mix of pure motorcycle action and free-roam exploration. Neither gets the proper love it deserves, and that’s sad. If Left Field looks at what isn’t sound in MTX and fixes it in MTX 2005 or MTX 2, then I’ll come back and give it a shot again. Even Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater had a slew of issues in its original release, and Neversoft has managed to get rid of many of them. Wait and see if MTX evolves the same way, or stays mired in budget game purgatory. For now, MTX is a fine pick for fans of console racing or dirt bikes, but don’t come in preparing to be astounded.