How MXGP Pro Is Taking Dirt Bike Racing To New Heights

Compound racing.

MXGP Pro is a rather tricky game to get to grips with. Milestone, in a year where you’d expect them to be honing and refining their games on a new game engine, are instead racing ahead with major overhauls and new IPs. Gravel saw them taking a stab at arcade racers, MotoGP 18 is a ground up rebuild of their premier motorsports game, and MXGP Pro wants to draw a line under the first three MXGP games and emphasise a more in-depth and nuanced simulation of dirt bike racing.

I like to think of it, in many ways, like a Trials game in full 3D. It’s not a maddening physics puzzler, but it certainly has many of the aspects of one, and can gleefully punish inexperience and overexuberance. The big thing I had to learn was that I couldn’t just take every leap and jump at full speed. Gain too much height, fall too far onto flat ground that can’t ease your return back to terra firma, and it’s game over… well, it’s time to hit the rewind button and reconsider your life choices, at any rate. This is a twitchy racer that needs a deft touch.

Milestone have really leant in on the realism of the game simulation with what they’re calling Pro Physics. Created in collaboration with current and former Motocross stars Tony Cairoli, Tim Gajser, and Gautier Paulin, many parts of the game’s look and feel from MXGP 3 have been reconsidered. The game now has new rider and bike physics and animations, and that all ties directly into how you can ride those bumps and jumps. There’s an emphasis on greater realism and control, making the bike’s suspension and weight distribution matter, ruts that actually change how you can take corners, and so on.

One particular manoeuvre is the scrub, when riders flick the bike sideways in a jump to use air resistance to control the path they take through the sky. It can be used to stop you gaining too much height, bringing you back to ground much quicker and letting you unleash the bike’s power and get back up to speed quicker. It’s hugely important for Motocross, and Milestone have made it much more responsive. You still have to use the left stick for the bike and right to control the rider’s weight transfer, flicking in opposite directions and then righting the bike as you land, but the air control is faster and more fluid.

If that sounds like a bit daunting, then don’t worry too much. There’s more than a few assists that can, for example, automate the rider positioning – it’s more like semi-auto where you can still override it. The initial tutorial runs you through the basics of riding the bike, trying to get you to try out the Pro Physics, and is then backed up by further, more specific lessons. These cover things like in-air control, cornering, riding in the wet and getting a good start off the line with the new clutch-controlled starts.

The best way to learn is through doing, and MXGP Pro gives you ample opportunity to learn in The Compound, a sprawling 1km2 compound with two interconnected tracks – one a full MXGP circuit, the other a smaller Supercross track – and tons of little paths through the woods that surround them. There’s a great variety in terms of what it offers and allows you to practice, especially as you can tune the weather to let you practice in different conditions.

It’s fun to just explore, and obviously great to be able to use this to learn at your own pace while taking in the quite lovely wooded scenery. Milestone are getting good mileage out of Unreal Engine 4 here, with lovely dynamic lighting, the track deformation, and plenty of foliage. On PS4 Pro and with a work in progress build, there’s still noticeable shadow fade in and the game’s sadly limited to 30fps, but it’s a good looking game. You can see this without the pressure of having to try and place in a race, but at the same time, it’s a great place to test your racing skills. On either of the circuits you can load up a quick race with 22 competitors and whatever racing conditions you fancy, to see how you fare. I did not fare too well.

For the rest of the game, Milestone have recreated the 2017 season of riders, teams and tracks, and it’s the same reason as always: MXGP tracks are created shortly before events to provide something new each time. Naturally, you’ll be creating your own rider and seeking to win the champsionship. When the game comes out at the end of this month, I’ll certainly have to put some practice in…

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