Friday, July 22, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

MXGP2 Box art So let me get this out of the way first and foremost: I know absolutely nothing about motocross. Before delving into this review I had no idea what ruts, 2-stroke, scrub, or even holeshot meant. Now that I’ve put a couple dozen or so hours into MXGP2 I’m by no means an expert, but I could at least carry on a conversation about the topic should it ever come up. Though some might see my lack of motocross knowledge a bad fit for this review, I rebut this notion by saying that I was looking at MXGP2 objectively as a game player and not a fan. Milestone S.r.I. is known for their racing titles, so I had high hopes that this would be another ‘great game’ under their name. While they did do some things right, there’s also many faults that are hard to ignore.

Sports games these days need a career mode as it gives players an objective aside from winning. Usually this means progressing your character, earning new items, or other forms of rewards as you play. If you’re meant to spend hours playing through a campaign you generally want something to strive towards, aside from some possible achievements or completion. So it baffled me that there’s no real end goal aside from winning in MXGP2’s career mode.

As you begin you’ll create your rider, choose a helmet and your colors, a starting bike, and off you go. Your goal is to earn points in races to eventually become the world champion. You’ll get offers to sign with teams and sponsors, and purchase new bike parts, but there’s a severe lack of customization of rider and bike. Aside from earning money and reputation for your wins, there is no other form of progression. Your rider doesn’t level up and become more skilled with stat increases, and there are only a handful of bike parts that can be purchased, but they are all the same stat-wise regardless of brand.

There’s also not much in the way of rider customization. Sure, you can pick some base colors and a handful of helmets, suits, and boots, but that’s about it. For some reason there are even some numbers that you display on the back of your shirt that aren’t selectable. I’m sure someone with more motocross knowledge than myself might know the reason, but it’s not explained to the non-fan. The lack of personalizatoin results in you not really looking that unique from any of the other riders on the track, and the same goes for your bike’s visual options as well.

Career mode tries to offer more depth by giving you a manager, a team, and sponsors, but they don’t result in any differences at all, at least that I could tell, aside from roleplaying purposes. Using GoPro as my sponsor was no different than choosing a different one, so it feels like a shallow choice in the end. The same goes for team selection, as there’s no real benefit in choosing one over the other, unless you’re a real fan and want to virtually support them.

I slogged through the campaign, making my way from track to track, eventually becoming the world champion, only to find out that the first season ended. Needless to say I was disappointed, as I put in hours into the campaign only to be rewarded with nothing of significance, and the game just expects you to work on the next season of races. There are other single player modes outside of career, such as MXGP, Monster Energy Motocross, Stadium Series, and even a Real Events mode, the latter I argue should have been the focal point of the game.

Real Events mode allows you to relive significant moments in motocross history. The first example is when Ryan Villopoto’s bike malfunctioned at the start of the race but he managed to recover and beat his rival. This mode starts you off in specific real life situations where you need to recreate the outcome. It was fascinating as a non-fan to see how many interesting stories and drama the sport has, even though I’m sure this is just a very small glimpse at some of the more memorable stories.

When I first started playing the game my first few races did not go well. It took a good 4 or 5 races before I finished higher then dead last. It doesn’t play like a standard racing game, nor should it, but the controls took quite some time to learn and adjust to. MXGP2 is clearly made for fans of the sport, and rightfully so, but there’s no effort taken into easing the non-fan into the sport and explaining what differences exist between bikes, classes, and more. Not that it’s hard to pick up as you go, but some explanation would have been very welcome. A true fan will feel right at home, as there’s a handful of real racers and teams that you can choose from in certain modes. A friend of mine was enlightening me on some of the more famous racers and it was cool seeing their virtual counterpart represented. For the super fan there’s a lot here to excite you.

As you begin a event you’ll need to race the track a few times. The first for determining your position, and then twice more to determine your final point tally for that specific leg of the circuit. Luckily there’s an option to forgo the qualifying race and let it default you to the outside starting lane, which is generally considered the worst, but it’s nothing hard to overcome once you become proficient in your virtual motocross racing skills. For those wanting the full experience, doing the qualifying race is obvious, but I found doing the same race track three times was to lengthy and tedious.

MXGP2 prides itself on being a realistic take on the sport, and as such it tries to make the gameplay realistic as well. Don’t expect any backflips or tricks that you can pull off (aside from a scrub) as the realism is the primary focus. This means you won’t be barreling into corners trying to drift out of it. It's almost exactly the opposite as you need to seriously slow down and work the brakes at almost every turn if you want to win. The realism doesn’t carry over into the rival AI though, as they will race their line, regardless who is in the way or not, sometimes resulting in hilarious AI crashes.

As you learn the controls and start to win races you will earn money which you will spend on new bikes and parts, but sadly there’s almost no reason to. You begin earning only small chunks of change at a time, but constant first place finishes, and winning seasons, will give you more money then you can spend. The other problem is that only a few pieces like exhaust, brakes, and tires, increase your bike’s stats. Even though there are a different brands to choose from they all have the same stat bonuses, so once you buy the best part, there’s nothing else to do with your money. Sure you could buy another bike, fit it with different looking parts, but it’s the same result in the end for the most part.

At first you'll find yourself settling for minor upgrades to allow you to progress further and win more races, earning more money, getting you closer to the best gear. You'll also realize that there’s no way to actually customize your bike for races either. Sure, you’re buying new tires and suspension, but you can’t actually tweak any of the performance of your bike in any way. Apparently this plays a huge role in real-life for pro racers and their bikes, and it’s simply not here. It’s a huge miss for a game boasting about being official and realistic.

If this doesn’t frustrate you, the inherently slow loading times will. Every time you load up a new race be prepared to wait at least a good minute or so. Yeah, I know it’s only a minute, but with today's technology it’s unacceptable, especially when you factor in that the graphics aren’t really all that impressive either. Not all is bad though, as there’s been some major improvements since the previous game. There’s now a rewind button you can use (up to a maximum of 9 times per race), there’s three types of realistic physics setting, the hardest of which will have you struggling to even stay sitting upright on your bike, and you can now also use the clutch, which is needed to get a holeshot.

As I mentioned above, the biggest hurdle I struggled with was the controls. You need to slow down, sometimes almost completely on some hairpins, so don’t expect to do much drifting. The bikes feel heavy, and even though you float as you go off a jump you land real quick and with some heft. The tutorial is something left to be desired as it doesn’t do a good enough job at teaching you the ropes. There’s some massive over-steering issues that you simply need to learn to deal with, and it will take a handful of races to even get the hang of it before you don’t have to constantly think about it at every turn. Even a couple dozen hours in I still make mistakes when it comes to over-steering, as it doesn’t feel natural but it’s simply something I’ve learned to manage.

You control the front and back brakes independently, and couple this with the fact that you need to balance your rider with their weight, it can be very confusing in the beginning, especially with the poor default controls. By default the Left Trigger is front brakes and the rear brakes are controlled by the A button. Yes, you’re expected to steer with the Left Stick, lean with the Right Stick, use Right Trigger for gas, and somehow use the A button if you want to use your rear brakes; asinine, I know. Luckily you are able to remap the buttons and triggers, so once I changed the rear brake to Left Trigger it changed my gameplay experience instantly. It’s a good thing that the game allows the remapping, or else an Elite Controller would almost be necessary to play effectively.

In regards to multiplayer, it took a good three days for me to finally get into an online match. After searching for quite sometime I was finally put into a lobby where my disappointment began. When you are in the lobby you can see in real time where every racer is on the map and in what order, what you don’t see is what lap they are on, how much time is left, or how long you’re expected to wait until the next match starts. There’s no spectating while waiting and you’re literally just sitting in the lobby waiting for it to be completed so you can join the next race, that is if the host doesn’t quit after the race, ejecting everyone out of the lobby and forcing you to start the search all over.

Once I finally got into a match after much searching and waiting I experienced some terrible lag when playing with others online (empty spots are filled with AI). I don’t know if it’s simply host based and that’s why, but after a single horrible race of finishing last because of lagging and rubber banding, I went back to single player.

I enjoy racing games and thought I would enjoy MXGP2, but it simply feels like too much is missing. It doesn’t look pretty by any means, the framerate can be abysmal at times, and the realistic physics are only realistic when it wants to be. Sure, ruts will cause me to dig in and get traction, but other times I can seemingly wall ride banners when I’m not taking a jump straight on. Landing on a racer doesn’t cause either of you to crash, but simply sliding at an angle with an AI hitting you, and you launch into the air. Also, riding over a crashed racer, or their bike, seems to do absolutely nothing in terms of messing up your race line, so no need to avoid them really.

There’s a lot of challenge to be had with MXGP2, and it does take quite a while to get used to before you become proficient in your motocross abilities. Yes, the game is flawed, but it can be enjoyable once you start to get a knack for it. If there was any sort of progression for your rider in the career mode, it would have made me want to continue playing, but there’s sadly no reason to other than ‘one more race’. If you’re a super fan, then it’s an obvious purchase as you’ll get to race as your heroes, but strictly speaking as an objective view to the game as a whole, it’s hard to look beyond the glaring issues, even more so if you don't follow the sport.

Overall: 5.6 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 5.5 / 10


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