We’ve covered a few motocross games here on Codec Moments, mostly the Monster Energy Supercross series, and for some reason the MXGP games from Milestone have managed to pass us by. Being the officially licensed title of the European based championship, and coming from a developer renowned for their two-wheeled exploits like Ride 4, you’d think this would be a shoe in for one of the team to have at least played, so how has the dirt and noise of this frantic sport slipped by us? Now we’ve got our hands on the latest version in MXGP 2020 – The Official Motocross Videogame, that landed on the Xbox One, PC, and PS4 at the end of last year, and is now coming to the Series X and PS5. Is it a series we wished we’d played sooner?
The first thing that might strike you with MXGP 2020 is that it’s a bit barebones menu-wise – there’s little fanfare. It’s like it’s been stripped back to be functional only, much like the machines it’s replicating. You know there’s something there, but until you get it into gear it’s not worth spending a lot of time with. It also might feel like it’s throwing you in at the deep end too by only offering up the ability to dive into an MX2 race after picking a bike and team, then making you figure out how things work just as the gate drops. Have I come to take part in the MXGP championship or what? I mean, it is in the title. Being restricted to the lower league to begin with means possibly some frustration as you’ve to earn your place on the grown up bikes, but for newcomers to the game it’s a heavy handed nudge into making you learn how the basics work. Given the tutorial is a handful of pop-ups whilst you’re in the first championship race in the UK, it’s probably not a bad thing that it’s easing players in gently.
After dismal failure and coming in 20 seconds behind the slowest rider in your first race, it might be tempting to sack it all off (MXGP 2020 at this point will finally let you head to the main menu), but this is where it pays to stick with it and have a look around the settings pre-race and see if there’s anything that can help make you quicker. Options are there for physics simulation, gearing, rider weight shifting and a few other bits that let you tune the experience to your competency level. Then there’s the bike setup menu where it’s worth spending a bit of time reading what each setting does and changing the sliders for how you want the ride to respond. It’s surprising how much this changes the feel of racing around the dirt tracks and whether the bike will absorb the bumps or chuck the rider off, and getting a basic setup to quickly apply as a starting point for each circuit is a good move. Just remember to load it every single time, because despite the Grand Prix weekend consisting of several sessions, it will default between each one.
No matter how deep you’ve gone into the weekend (full length replica or short sprints) the race elements are the same – points are awarded in each of two races across the course, with qualifying setting what position you’re in for choosing your starting slot. Skip quali and it’s the one that no one wants for you. Blasting out of the starting gate and navigating the sometimes tortuous tracks for a prescribed period is the first stage of the race, then when that’s up, the first time the leader crosses the finish line triggers a 2 lap dash to the end. Finishing positions award points and those points go towards the championship total. You’re also awarded XP for where you end up, and there are bonuses for not using the rewind function, or getting the Holeshot – being the first rider out of the blocks to get around the first corner. These are handsome additions that turn into ranks and cash to spend on customisation, including new performance parts, so are definitely worth going for. Racing might seem like a free for all to begin with, yet there’s a bit of strategy in knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your bike and the opponents, and longer races can be quite gruelling depending on the surface type.
With 17 courses that can be ridden in the dry or wet, and each being distinctly different in layout as well as their type of dirt, there’s quite a bit to learn. Dry soil gives decent grip and traction to let you be a little more reckless with the throttle. Wet clay-like mud is going to bog you down if you go too slow so avoid dropping too much speed in tight corners. Equally learn to love and fear hard packed banks of dirt as they can either pull you around a corner with barely a lift off the gas, or push out the front wheel and send you careening off the track into a reset… assuming you don’t fall off. At least these flashes back to the circuit are quick, but mistakes will be punished by the AI. There doesn’t appear to be any rubber-banding in effect, so it’s the aggressive nature of the sport and the other competitors that deliver the wheel to wheel action. The learning curve isn’t too steep though and genuine improvements are noticeable, especially if you’ve gone the privateer route and are upgrading the bike yourself. It’s solid from the physics side too with the bike reacting how you’d expect, but being forgiving enough that it’s fun.
Stepping up to the full MXGP series brings a boost in power and a change in weight. The race tracks are the same though now you’re hitting jumps at different speeds and angles, so there’s a bit of re-learning to do. There’s also more torque in the engines and throttle control comes to the fore. I reviewed MXGP 2020 on PS5 which implements the use of the adaptive triggers and I found it really useful to manage the low revs. The force and pushback on the L2/R2 buttons means more of a feel for keeping the engine in the right range and stopping the rear from getting away. Likewise, the haptic feedback gives a good indication of traction and makes it easier to stay balanced and heading in the right direction. In fact it all controls well, especially if you’re not sure on how to use the weight shifting and decide to lean on the game to help out. There might be realism underpinning the mechanics, but it feels like it’s borderline arcade that allows a bit of confidence in what you’re doing, and that brings a thrill when hurtling down inclines and blind jumping crests. Some circuits are technical and want slow complexes of precision hairpins mastering, others are a bit more wild and demand high speed, lots of air time and heavy braking.
Getting away from the championship side there’s an entire Playground free roam mode around a Norwegian fjord that throws in some time trials and races to discover, as well as create your own waypoint courses to share online. It’s a pretty big map and OK for bombing around and crashing into the nicely rendered trees, but there’s not a lot to actually do. There’s more meat in the track creator that gives a good amount of freedom to define a circuit and upload for others, though it’s missing a few instructions… like how to actually race what you build. It could be a pre-release thing, but loading in other creations crashed the game, so it’s not clear what they’re like, or the multiplayer for that matter. It’s a little rough around the edges in other areas too. The chase camera hits a ceiling on jumps sometimes that jars with the smooth flow it usually has; the adaptive triggers stop working in the Playground; and the XP awarding sound at the end of a championship weekend doesn’t stop. Ever. Seriously. The only way to make it quit is reboot the game fully. Not an ideal fix by any means. Still, on next gen it runs quickly, load times are reasonably short, and it’s quite pretty with good level of detail, though expect a framerate hit in very busy areas if it’s raining. There’s nothing a quick polishing patch won’t fix, so here’s hoping that comes soon after launch.
Sometimes sports games based on real championships can be alienating to those who don’t follow it, but MXGP 2020 is enjoyable as a bike racing game even for those with no knowledge of who or what the teams are. The bouncy yet realistic feeling physics provide a challenge that’s coupled with just enough options to tailor it to your skill level so you never really feel left behind. The depth of bike and ride customisation is pretty surprising too with just about every part being able to be changed, coloured or decals applied. That initial impression of there not being much to go at is deceptive, and there’s a lot of hours that could be sunk into this game when you’re in the right mood. Plus, there’s no avoiding that PS5 and Series X games are a bit sparse at the moment, so maybe it’s worth taking for a spin even if it’s simply to put some mileage on the new console.
A PS5 review copy of MXGP 2020 – The Official Motocross Videogame was provided by Milestone’s PR team, and the game is available on Xbox One, Series X, PC, PS4 and PS5 now for around £50, and new features are planned to be added over time like co-op modes and race streaming options.