It’s a heck of a mouthful that title – Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 3… and that’s even missing the AMA sponsorship and the fact it’s the FIM World Championship out. There’s a lot going on there, and the biggest surprise of it might be that it’s the third instalment from Milestone in this series. I quite enjoyed the original back in February 2018, but missed last year’s, and I’m keen to find out what’s new and different in the latest iteration. Under all the mud and dirt will there be something deep and rewarding to discover? Will it deliver on the thrills and action of the real life sport? Or will it land awkwardly and break some bones? Let’s see if it can win the hole shot and make it through at least one lap.
It’s clear from the outset that Monster Energy Supercross 3 is here for the fans. That’s who it’s aimed at and who are going to buy into it. Not just because it’s got all the licensed teams and riders from the competition this year, but because it does the same thing that the first one did – throws you into a tutorial that doesn’t tell you much more than how to accelerate, brake and lean from side to side. That’s fine for flat circuit racing, not so good for dirt track bumps and jumps. Understanding how to pre-load suspension, shift weight and orient the bike is essential to getting any kind of speed up, and it misses most of this out. There are ways of learning these skills outside the races with 50-odd challenges to master which demand getting to grips with the underlying handling. However, if you’ve never ridden motocross (or played at least one of these games before), you’re likely to be at a loss. The key is to persevere and just keep playing, eventually some modicum of ability will shine through and progress will be made.
The core game mode is career and you pick whether you want to start on the East or West coast of the country in the 250 cc class. The more powerful 450 cc is locked off in the beginning and leads to a longer championship. Using a custom designed rider, which houses quite a lot of options, it’s time to head off into the stadiums of the US to fight 21 other racers for space in the dirt over long and intricate tracks. The rules, if you opt only for a single race event as full weekends are customisable, are basically ride for about 5 minutes jostling for position, then put the hammer down for the last 2 laps to get the best finishing place. Jumps, bumps and banked corners make up the obstacles in each configuration of circuit, and the focus on speed means finding the right flow through each of them to maintain momentum. Points are awarded for where you end up – 1 point for first, 2 for second, and so on – and the rider with the lowest score over several events is the championship winner. The idea is straightforward, visualising what needs to happen is too, yet getting reality to line up with expectation is tough.
Monster Energy Supercross 3’s physics model is punishing, there’s no other way to describe it. The way the bikes react to the slightest shift in weight, the varying traction as the surface gets churned up, and the consequence of landing a jump badly all mean that finding the right rhythm can be frustrating. Through no particular fault of your own you’ll have competitors flying past on sections that you’re doing flat out, and it’s tricky to work out why. They don’t seem to be doing anything different, why are they pulling away? This is assuming you stay connected to the bike… hitting anything at all will throw you off. The rewind feature returns, and it has infinite uses, so there’s a level of annoyance removed, but that in itself breaks up the action with constantly skimming back to a pre-crash point. There are a couple of options that will help, like switching on the flow markers and making sure the advanced physics is off, yet it still needs a lot of practice to become confident in how to handle the bike. No matter your competence though, it’ll never prevent another rider from landing on your head at some point; or being caught out by a reset timer that says you’ve 5 seconds to get back to the track, but only gives you 2.
Diversions offered by the challenges and the free roam compound do break up the racing, and it’s in these that the more compelling elements of Monster Energy Supercross 3 are found. Completing the specific challenges can get quite addictive, with short loading times and quick events to master. Whether this is hitting gates to rack up scores or managing jumps to learn how the flow markers can help, they provide moments where you’re not trundling around at the back of the pack and make you work harder at learning how to ride properly. If you want a burst of freedom then belting around the compound comes as a bit of a revelation as it’s so different from the enclosed spaces of the arenas. With a decent amount of open ground there’s the chance for exploration and finding decent jumps to speed over, and discovering a few events dotted here and there. It does feel like a missed opportunity though as much of the compound has obstacles that look like they should be there for a purpose even though they aren’t. It begins to make sense when the challenges start to make use of the space, though I can’t help feel there should have been more to it.
At least if you’re not happy with the way arenas are laid out you can build your own. The track editor returns and remains as easy to use and simple to upload as ever. Set your starting point – sweep the track forward laying whatever obstacles you want in the way, loop it back to the beginning, ride it to check it works. Done. For those that prefer to race rather than sculpt, there are already a fair few user generated circuits to download, and this will grow over time. These custom tracks can be used in single events, time trials and in multiplayer races too. Keeping online interactions easy, getting into games is pretty quick and in no time you’re shooting down a course with others. It all worked pretty smoothly and the new dedicated servers are supporting there. The only thing that they can’t help with is that the others are usually better at the game and getting lapped might be a regular occurrence. It’s not perfect though – some of the user info doesn’t seem to be displaying accurately, and it occasionally calculates the race result incorrectly. Hopefully there’ll be patches to fix these fairly soon.
I think I was expecting a bit more from Monster Energy Supercross 3 given there’s been a couple of years development available. The addition of the actual riders (and including the real commentators) is a nice touch given it’s the official game, and the underpinning mechanics remain largely unchanged, which are good if a little unpredictable. It runs at a solid framerate and with an HDR implementation that adds to the spectacle, and there’s a reasonably deep level of customisation fuelled by a fairly generous currency and ranking system. The soundtrack is agreeable too, if a bit repetitive. Mainly though I’ve found it still unwelcoming to those not fully up to date with the sport or dirt bikes in general. It’s not even a case of a steep learning curve, it’s a high bar from the tutorial onwards, and dropping difficulties doesn’t change that much. When you’re slow, you’re slow and languishing at the back without any clues on how to improve will sap anyone’s enthusiasm. Rookies be well aware of what you’re buying into here, though existing hardcore fans should have a blast.
A PS4 review copy of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 3 was provided by Milestone’s PR team, and the game is available from 4th February 2020 on every platform including the Stadia. Expect to pay around £40, depending on your hardware of choice.