MXGP Pro is Bicycle Races, But Not For Casuals Like Me

By Callum Agnew on at

MXGP Pro is the latest iteration of Milestone’s 'Official Motocross Videogame'. For those unfamiliar, MXGP is a popular and near-annual game series with a dedicated group of fans, the minutiae of which are usually left to the hardcore. There's no desire to make a breakout mainstream success here: for the more casual player, anything that might be damning to its fans is entirely unnoticeable or inoffensive. MXGP aims for a 'real-life' experience, it's aiming at the fans, and it obviously features the tracks and pro racers of the sport.

Considering that, on some level, the game's goal is a realistic portrayal of the sport, I was shocked to discover the AI racers running off what appeared to be Uber’s driverless car program. The computer was incapable of adjusting their course to compensate for the single human driver. My custom character Don Simpson found himself repeatedly speared on every turn by the computer’s Yamaha dirt bikes. The hivemind was intent on keeping Don from that podium. Theirs, his or the lives of the low-textured audience members be damned. It wasn't just the competition who had it in for him either.

When Don Simpson won his first race, the game decided to intercede for the others by placing him in 22nd. Last place. I can imagine the adrenaline pumping through poor Don’s veins when he crossed that finish line. Hell I felt it. It wasn't just his best race yet, it was a total whitewash. Don had left the other bikes in the dust: practice did indeed make perfect. As Don made his way over to the podium to celebrate his hard won victory the champagne was suddenly snatched away then, in an instant, used to knock him out.

Look. Either the game bugged when I won, or the motocross sport is rife with systemic cheating and this is actually a super-serious simulator. In which case, kudos to MXGP Pro for the dedication.

Fortunately, this is the worst MXGP Pro ever got. For someone who only just found out what a “whip” was, I enjoyed the weekend I spent with it, and overall found it enjoyable despite the problems. It does try to bed newcomers in, and has some nice design decisions about how to acclimatise total noobs like me.

That said, the bugs I did encounter dragged on things. Aside from winning a race and finishing last, Don would regularly find himself launched off his bike after smashing into an invisible pixel of terrain on a flat road. This is infuriating, but MXGP Pro has one saving grace.

Well, Race Driver: Grid had a saving grace, and this nicks it. But fair play, because the time rewind mechanic (if you haven't played Grid think Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) adds accessibility to a relatively hardcore genre and lessens frustration for people who generally cannot drive from A to B without a few pedestrian casualties. Be that accidental or otherwise. If you crash out of a bad jump, get knocked down by the impertinent AI, or mistime that counter on the enemy boss, a simple press of L1 and the sands of time take you back to a point of your choosing. A deep understanding of each track is crucial, and being able to take as many tries as you need to nail a specific, troublesome part allows you to learn them all with minimal fuss. By the third lap, chances are you won’t even need it anymore. It is a brilliant alternative to restarting after every mistake or miserably trailing in last place for three races in a row.

For a hardcore racing game, where knowledge of the lexicon feels like a necessity, the opening tutorial did a good job at getting me up to speed, while providing plenty of room to experiment as I familiarised myself with the right analogue stick weight distribution system. An intuitive mechanic that, while optional, added a lot of depth to every race. Throwing your body’s weight around a sharp turn while keeping yourself seated was an exciting, if literal, balancing act. Leaning as far as you can whilst remaining on your bike is brilliant.

The game’s bike customisation is extensive. You can get down to some truly unnecessary levels of detail, from the handlebar brand, the spokes of your wheel, and the levels of their suspension. It even allows you to choose the colour of your bike’s nipple. I’m still not completely sure where that is. While the effects and worth of each part are shown via accompanying graphs, aside from your bike's top speed only those who spend an exorbitant amount of time experimenting will notice any major differences. I suppose it's all about how in-tune the player is with their ride, though I always found it hard to hit a good frequency.

After every race, there's a strange comment screen that appears, showing the opinion of three of your fellow racers. Their response is one of 30 or so possible sentences, ranging from fanatic flattery to petulant whining: to which you can respond by selecting the positive, negative or neutral options. Doing so will affect their opinion of you, creating a friendship or rivalry, helpfully represented by a smiling green, a neutral orange, or an angry red face.

I never noticed what effect (if any) this had on the races and, after receiving the same tepid put-down from A. Lupino after beating him for the sixth time running, I found it all baffling. Let it go, B-Lister, this is MXGP Pro. A hardcore racing sim, with meticulous customisation, 'pro physics' and deforming tracks. I went into this with an open mind, but didn't expect to be playing social media footsie with the 2017 professionals. That is the one thing in this game I can actually do myself. I don't really understand why, in fantasy scenarios, we need a relationship manager.

MXGP Pro is a decent enough racing game, but I don’t see myself returning after the dozen or so hours I put in. There's a long-term structure here but I’d had quite enough by that point: the career mode already felt stale, and the excitement of repeatedly going around the same track with little to no deviation, I think, caters to a very specific taste. If you haven’t already bought MXGP Pro, then like myself, you are not part of the game's usual audience. If you're just curious about these types of games then look: getting down in the dirt has its moments. But next to some of the other rides around, this never seems to get close to high gear.