Be careful what you wish for. That’s an old adage that still regularly rings true. It’s certainly applicable to MXGP3, the latest game to come out of Italian racing game factory Milestone. For what seems like forever now, fans have been hoping that the developer would move away from its occasionally wonky proprietary engine – and they have, but results aren’t quite what anyone had hoped.
Officially licensed FIM Motorcross World Championship racer MXGP3 has shifted to Unreal Engine 4, a modern engine that should make the game look like a modern take on the extreme sport of Motorcross. It doesn’t though. The models for the riders and the bikes themselves are serviceable, but the muddied textures of the dirt tracks and the periphery look like they’d be at home on an early game from the last generation. In many ways, it looks worse than the last game, none of which is helped by a filter that makes everything on screen look like it’s got an oily, Vaseline film over it. It’s a distracting haziness that seems to be in place to try to steer your eyes away from how poor its visuals are.
It’s common for fast-paced racing games to skimp on the texture assets for the sorts of things that you never have much of a chance to look at. Even the mighty Gran Turismo uses ugly cardboard cutouts and half-rendered marionette people for its crowd – but this is somehow worse. The whole thing just seems to be lacking any real sort of polish. The menus are dull and dreary, the load times are abysmal and the pre-game animation is jittery. It doesn’t help that the audio is grating; the sound of the bikes themselves are a perpetual whining drone, like an army of mechanical mosquitoes. It’s coupled with a wub-wub-wubbing electronic soundtrack that made my ears bleed. Didn’t we call a moratorium on dubstep in video games?
And still, there’s a decent racing game buried under it all.
Rider physics, particularly during accidents, is laughable – but the meat of it, the actual bike racing is often a high-stakes, thrilling experience. There’s something electrifying about zooming around an increasingly dangerous, dirty track, skimming around corners and flying off of ramps in your quest for first place.
There’s a pretty steep learning curve though, with the responsive handling reacting to the tiniest of inputs, and the thumbsticks not just shifting the bike’s steering, but also the player’s weight on top of it. With it being a two-wheeled sport, there are two sets of brakes to contend with, and it can all become quite technical. For newcomers and those who’d prefer their racing to veer towards the arcade side, there’s a host of accessibility options and driving aids to make it a little less of troublesome. Thankfully, for racing plebeians like me, the rewind feature from the last game returns. A little like Forza’s rewind, it lets you go back in time to undo your mistakes. There’s also a first-person mode for thrill-seekers who want a different perspective.
One of the better features is that bikes cut lanes in the muddied patch of the 18 or so included tracks. It means that the game has a sort of dynamism to it, that’s given an extra sense of urgency in wet weather conditions afforded by improbably large raindrops that turn the track into a veritable mudslide. Unfortunately, despite a shiny new engine in a 2017 game, there’s no dynamic mud spluttering out from behind your tyres. Motorstorm did that on the PS3 back in 2006, so it’s a little unforgivable 11 years later.
There’s a fair bit to do in MXGP3 beyond just trying for a spot on the podium. A fairly robust campaign has you starting at the bottom, as most sports campaigns do, trying to work your way to the top. As with many games of this ilk, you’ll have to play nice with sponsors as you race your way from beginner to biking hero. At first, keeping sponsors happy is simple, but placating them, later on, requires that you don’t end up face down in the dirt as I tended to, far too often.
There are more modes of course. Championships and Grand Prix, both offline and on and the Monster Energy FIM MXoN which lets players take control of real life MX riders from all over the world on their chosen bikes across three races.
One thing that’ll appeal to fans of the real sport is the nearly overwhelming customisation options. Just about everything can be customised; helmets, clothing and bikes can all be emblazoned with licensed sponsor labels – with everything from Monster and Rockstar, to KTM, Yamaha, Suzuki and Husqvarna. Earn enough of the in-game currency by winning races, and you’ll soon be able to afford better bikes, and outfit them with tiered modifications to just about everything, including exhaust, suspension and all the sorts of technical vehicle stuff that makes my eyes gloss over.
Despite its presentation problems, it’s not a terrible game. It’s really just more of Milestone doing what Milestone does – make completely serviceable racing games for niche markets. Fans of the real sport are likely to get a kick out of MXGP3, but there’s too little here to entice those without real-world affection for Motorcross. Even for fans, there’s not very much to differentiate it from MXGP2 beyond the engine change – which has in some ways taken the game backwards.
Last Updated: June 8, 2017
With a bit more polish, and less of a lingering sense of obligation to hold on to the licence, MXGP could grow to become a premier racing sim, but right now it’s muddy at best.