I don’t know how it’s come around so quickly, but with the August Bank Holiday behind us we’re nearing the end of the summer. Shorter days and longer nights are just around the corner. Of course, that also means it’s time for the release of the now yearly official MXGP video game, following last year’s MXGP Pro with the more obviously titled MXGP 2019.
The FIM Motocross World Championship is a serious off-road dirt bike racing world championship, with professional riders taking on many different tracks around the world and close battles across two tiers of rider skill and bike power. All riders and most of the tracks are represented in the official game, alongside other additions such as a playground, track creator and fairly limited online multiplayer.
14 months ago, the MXGP video game series changed course and went down a simulation-focussed route with MXGP Pro. I found this change to be refreshing after the yearly MXGP releases felt too similar to the last and it clearly differentiating itself from Milestone’s other off-road bike racing game franchise, Monster Energy Supercross.
The gravitas of the handling, harsh track edges that would throw your rider into the scenery with the slightest of touches and the requirement to practice gave the game less mass-market appeal but more longevity.
Well, throw that progress into the bin, as this year’s MXGP goes back to basics, regressing to a game that plays very similarly to 2017’s MXGP 3. That is to say, the nuances of rider balance, scrubbing and learning the precise line for each corner don’t matter so much any more. The training sessions have been removed. Mistakes are largely forgiven, providing a higher degree of accessibility, but I believe robbing the game of purpose. I wasn’t determined to get under the skin this time around.
That’s not to say the game is without improvements. The mud that makes up the tracks has taken another step forward. It was only a few iterations ago that we had the first implementation of deformable tracks and MXGP 2019 perfects the art. Especially if the rain is pouring, deep ruts appear on the circuit with each passing lap in an authentic fashion, with mud also splattering over your rider’s visor – you can wipe this with a tap of the touchpad on the PS4 version – and attire.
Weather is changeable now too, with a race starting in the rain and then switching to sunshine. The only problem being, the track dries instantly, which makes the simulation feel half complete. Sadly, not all of the official tracks are included, with Palembang (Indonesia) a notable omission, and the Monster Energy FIM Motorcross of Nations also not present, despite it being in previous games.
New for this year is the aforementioned track editor, somewhat borrowed from the Supercross titles. You can create your own tracks set in one of three locations – wood, desert and riverside. There’s a huge range of corner and jump types to make up your track of up to three minutes in lap length, with a tutorial to get you started. In the singe-race Grand Prix mode, you can select from the official tracks or one that someone else online has created.
The Most Popular section is already filled with ‘short’ and ‘trophy’ variants, but aside from that, the feature works nicely and some of the creations can be good fun. This is largely a box-ticking exercise though, with a lack of scenery variation or integration with the main aim of the game making it a menu option you’ll likely only try once.
What has more potential is the Playground. This is an open-world map which you can explore on your bike. Within the world, you can find events to try, from time trials to dexterity. Simply rock up to the marker on the map and hit one button to start. Sadly, the game then loads for quite some time, robbing any momentum or any truly open-world feeling. The challenges can be fun, breaking up the monotony of the career mode, the environment varied, but the implementation is laboured.
These additions are nice but mask a career mode which hasn’t had attention for many years. Sure, you can select to ride for a real team or create your own, and you can change your mind part-way through a season, but most of this is the same as any other MXGP or Supercross game. There are visual and performative upgrades for your bike to spend victory money on, but there’s no upgrade tree, in-depth team management, rider market, testing or rider development. It’s just a trudge through one junior MXGP2 season, followed by the senior MXGP championship.
While the career mode is largely unchanged, there’s been a concerted effort to brush up the presentation. Gone is the drab grey, and in comes bright white, with a summery colour palette and hip bassy music. Even the tracks have been brightened up like someone slid the vibrancy slider to the right on Photoshop.