Have you ever played a game and thought, “This isn’t as fun as the trailer made it look”? You know the type: hyped up music, various camera angles and editing tricks, all to make something look like pure eye candy. Sort of like Call of Duty does, before funneling you into linear corridor shootouts and handheld set pieces. Well, MXGP 2020 falls under the same bracket.
Now, don’t take that as a damning indictment of the game. It plays well enough, and to a fan of motocross you can go far wrong than this game. Also, for comparison, the last MX games I played were back in the MX Superfly and Freekstyle, which are vastly different types of games. There’s no triple backflip Superman’s here, unfortunately.
MXGP 2020 is, by comparison, a sim racer. That means grounded, sensible racing across the board from all competitors. Sadly. Now the real question: is it bad because I didn’t enjoy it, or is it just not that much fun? Let’s go full throttle into this review and find out…
Motocross (or MX if you’re cool) is pretty straightforward, as a racing concept. You and nineteen other riders are all aiming to be the top dog on the scene. You do this by, and apologies if you’ve figured this out already, racing each other on tracks that are made as a circuit.
These tracks, be they in Britain, Turkey, New Zealand (to name a few) are the yang to a superbike’s smooth, high speed yin. They are bumpy, nefariously twisty and muddier than the arena at Download Festival after a bit of rain. Forget your formations, racing lines and slipstreams, this is all elbows and nudging your way to first place. There’s no gentleness when it comes to motocross.
Races start with all the riders on a line, revving at the bit but physically hampered by a gate. Like runners waiting on blocks, when that light goes and the gate drops, it’s showtime. Riders compete for the Hole Shot: the bottleneck where the wide start becomes the track. If you’re in the top few through it that’s a good sign. Should you be at the back for it, it’s the aforementioned elbows to climb the ranks.
It creates a mad scramble that can really determine the outcome of the whole race. The Hole Shot can decide if you’re going to be on your game to maintain a place, or riding like hell to make a name for yourself. It’s here that the game hints at excitement, that make or break at the start. It’s just a shame the momentum stops immediately afterwards.
That’s Some Pretty Lookin’ Dirt
Before I get into why MXGP 2020 didn’t stroke my engine, I will instead go into what I did enjoy in my time with it. Oh yes, it is possible for me to enjoy some aspects of a game that isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. Shocking, I know.
One thing that deserves praise is just how good the tracks look. Whether it be Indonesia, Portugal or Norway’s courses, you can see Milestone have put the effort in. Tracks looks well worn, like they’ve endured many a race and weather season, shaped by the pros over time. Mud and dirt react accordingly to you and your opponents trying to find the right groove to get some grip out of. Tracks feel lived in, rather just static variants on the same theme.
This is helped by having one of the best first-person views in any game (behind Star Wars Squadrons, obviously). It sounds like a weird thing to praise, but the goggle and handlebar camera modes add a wonderful feeling of immersion to proceedings. You actually feel invested when you’re vying for position, you get stoked watching riders try and push themselves off your front mudguard. The latter of the two gets you closer to action, as you see every imminent landing or perfect corner exit. It sounds exaggerated, but Milestone clearly put in the effort for the sport’s enthusiasts.
The goggles even have that clouded perspex look to them, with mud splats and exhaust fumes obscuring your view when you get stuck in. This is the kind of experience you’d want VR for, if it was available for MXGP 2020.
Round And Round We Go…
And this, dear reader, is where the enthusiasm wears out. Or pops a tyre, or runs out of fuel. Whatever bike analogy you think is appropriate for, “This game gets boring really quickly”. Not through lack of trying, I did try and get through some championships.
But when each event is fifteen races long, with some duplicate courses, it’s hard to get enthused. You could argue that that’s the same with any racing game, and you’re right. But what makes games like this and, say, Forza Horizon different is the versatility. Horizon treats you to a wealth of cars, customisation and creativity. All MXGP 2020 has to offer are bikes that, whilst of differing brands, all sound and do exactly the same thing.
Admittedly, I still don’t fully understand the format of races here. There’s a race countdown thing, which I initially took as a time-trial counter. But no, once that runs out it becomes a remaining lap counter instead. Would have been nice if there was some kind of tutorial explaining that, but no. It feels like one of those, “Well if you were a fan you’d already know that” moments. Far as I understood it, you race until you cross the finish line enough times. That, sadly, is where the tedium set in.
The other fun-killer is your rider’s lack of commitment to his steed. That is to say; he will pop off of that thing like an over-enthusiastic crash test dummy. Crashing into signs at speed I can understand, we’d all do that. But catching a slight bump in any gear above first? Woosh. Conversely, taking a corner too slowly? Off you pop. Lean just that little bit too far forward on a landing? Looks like Team Fuckit is blasting off again…
At first it was amusing, but when you’re in first place, not so much funny as it is infuriating. That’s if you can get to first place. Much like Milestone’s other series, Ride, the AI takes itself too seriously here. Even on its easiest difficulty, I could barely stay in the top ten, let around podium. I’d like to think I don’t suck at games, but this was testing my patience.
The Bare Minumum of Bells
Outside of its championship modes, MXGP 2020 offers very little besides. There’s Time Trials, if you fancy taking on a specific track to improve on. There’s online multiplayer too, if you fancy sitting in a lobby until a race finishes only to be kicked out because there’s no public/private separator.
There are two modes that might apply to the creatives, though. Firstly, there’s a track creator, which (if the name hadn’t given away) let’s you make your own course. And sure, it is fun if you’ve got that desire to make something simple or fiendish to mess about on. Now, I’m not patient or artistic enough to rival the already made tracks. Hell, I couldn’t finish building a LittleBigPlanet level back in the day. But what I did make was simple and entertaining enough (like yours truly) to have a chuckle with.
The other is its Freeroam mode. Now before you think, “Sweet, I can mess about on any of the worldwide locales” like I did, hold your horsepower. You get one location: Norway. Far be it from the Motocross Madness days of miles upon miles of space to explore, you get very little. Usually a freeroam/mode would bring excitement, the chance to mess about and whatnot.
Not here though. You get a few kilometers to explore and if you’re feeling fancy, you can set some waypoint races up. I know, exciting stuff. If you really want to push the boat out, spend enough time aimlessly riding about for some distance based trophies/achievements. That is literally the sole purpose of the mode.
Grin(d) and Bare It
So by this stage, you probably think I’m about to set MXGP 2020 up for the slaughter. I’ve complained enough about it, it would appear that I don’t like it. But here’s the thing: just because I’m not getting on with it doesn’t mean the enthusiasts won’t.
If you know what you’re doing, there’s a lot to get stuck in to. Budding mechanics can tune and tweak their Yamaha’s and Kawasaki’s to their optimum preference. I won’t pretend to know what any of it means, so I won’t try and blag it to you on here. It doesn’t help that this game really doesn’t go out of its way to help you. It’ll give you a brief summary of what each function does, but again, it’s more in the “helping hand to those who know” vein. It’s great that Milestone are clearly enthusiasts in the world of bike motorsport, but unfair to assume that everyone’s on their level.
In summary, this review is as brief as my time with MXGP 2020. Not in a, “Oh I’ll only play five minutes and bodge a review” sense. It’s just, as I’ve mentioned with the insane difficulty and literal racing curves, it’s just not fun. However, that’s because I’m not up on the world of motocross and my experiences are of the SSX-style era of games. Were I an avid fan, this simulation of the muddy thrills of dirtbike racing would be incredible to me.
So whilst my conclusion may sound like a contradiction, instead take it as a recommendation with a caveat. It is a fun and enjoyable game if you like this kind of thing. If it’s not your bag, and you fancy a dabble at something fun with bikes, stick to the MX vs ATV series. At least they add some fun to the proceedings. This is a sim game, and Milestone knows their market.
Offering no degree of hand-holding or tutorial, MXGP 2020 isn’t an easy ride. If it does take your fancy, however, you’ll fine a well-polished and authentic look at the world of motocross.
MXGP 2020 is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC. It is also playable on the respective newer consoles.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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