With the release of Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame from Milestone earlier this year, I was tricked into thinking this meant they would be taking a year off from their long-standing MXGP franchise. I was wrong. You can imagine my scepticism that, just four months after their new Supercross game, Milestone would release yet another dirt bike racer and, after last year’s terrible MXGP 3, that it would be any good. Again, I was wrong.
As you can probably tell from the game’s title, the focus this time is realism. This game is meant to be a simulation, providing a more serious experience compared to the previous games in the series. Surprisingly, this vision is realised.
MXGP Pro is hard. If you are not prepared to fail, this game is not for you. There may be in-depth tutorials to guide you through all the various techniques and a handy introduction gameplay segment, but they still won’t prepare you for the number of crashes that will almost certainly beset your poor rider. Whether you go for the toughest settings in the game or stick to ‘semi-pro’ physics and medium AI skill, you should brace yourself for a real challenge.
Get on the throttle too early and you’ll crash. Turn in to a corner a tad too soon and you’ll crash. Go over a jump too quickly: crash. Touch a rival: crash. Trust me, you are going to fail, a lot. Thankfully, there is a rewind button and I used it liberally. If you want to go full hardcore, there’s an Extreme Career mode that removes the rewind feature and elongates the races to the length of a real event, but only sadists need apply.
This is the first MXGP game where I have felt that learning to ‘scrub’ is an essential skill. For the uninitiated, this is altering the bike’s profile and trajectory when in the air, to scrub off some speed and make sure you aren’t away from terra firma for too long. The higher and longer you are in the air over the jumps, the less time your wheels are on the ground and you will lose time to rivals. To perform a scrub, you have to move both analogue sticks at just the right time while on the crest of a jump, flinging your bike sideways in the air. Before you land, you then have to use the right stick to straighten up or you will inevitably crash. Again.
Learning to do this correctly is the key to success, but it requires real determination and superlative finesse. Just learning which way the track goes is simply not enough anymore, you also need learn which jumps to scrub on and which to not, requiring a huge amount of trial and error. This lessens the mass-market appeal of the game, but let’s face it, an MXGP game was never going to be a number one seller, so a more focussed, simulation, approach is a positive step forward for the series.
It all means that when you do pull off a lap without crashing or land the perfect jump, it’s GIF-worthy. The sense of accomplishment is similar to spinning a plate while standing on one leg and reciting the alphabet backwards. It can be that difficult, but it can also feel oh, so sweet.
Alongside the regular career mode, where you create a custom character and race against the official MXGP and MX2 riders, there is also the nice suprise of a compound. This is an open playground, where you can do single races and tutorials. Set in a spectacular looking 1km2 wooded landscape, there are two dirt tracks to find and mess about on. Once you have done the initial introduction, however, this area is under-utilised and lacking in things to do.
Outside of the compound, the real life circuits have taken a huge visual leap forward and are based off the 2017 layouts of jumps, bumps and corners. They evolve with each lap too, with your bike laying down real-time tracks in the mud surface, and when the rain comes, so do the puddles. If you’re further back in the pack, mud is flung up from the bikes in front of you, too. The attractive visuals, slippery track surface and punishing physics model all combine to provide an authentic experience. At last, Milestone has created a good looking game with a deep attention to detail.
However, there are some strange idiosyncrasies. For one, with a large field bikes all jostling for position on the first lap, sometimes game performance on PS4 hitches and the sound can drop. The loading times are slow, as per usual for Milestone games. The AI can be a bit hamfisted, with one lone bike usually miles ahead of the rest of the pack, which makes them a real pain to try and catch. There is XP to be acquired during gameplay, which you can use to purchase bikes, but there is no real need to do so. The bikes float above the track, with a couple of centimetres between the rear wheel and the ground beneath. These are relatively small issues, but they dilute the overall experience.
This is by far and away the best MXGP game to date, and the result of developer Milestone finally getting to grips with the Unreal Engine — despite the recently disappointing MotoGP 18. MXGP Pro still lacks technical polish and misses the magical ‘wow’ moments that the best racing games feature, but this is now a great platform that they can build upon for the future. The difficulty curve will not be for everyone, but MXGP Pro is all the better for it.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on Xbox One and PC