Milestone S.r.l. are part of an unusual breed of developer; a small Italian studio who have been developing (mostly) racing titles since the mid-90s, they’ve managed over the years to snag themselves the official licenses to World Rally Championship, MotoGP, MXGP and were even contracted to make the official game of Ducati’s 90th anniversary. It’s safe to say, then, that they have some clout in the world of motorsports; so why is it that they aren’t as much of a household name as the likes of Codemasters or Playground Games? Delving into the latest release in their series of Motocross World Championship games might provide some answers to that question – but it also raises a few new ones.
MXGP 2021 brings players once again on a journey through the international world of offroad motorcycle racing; boasting all eighteen official tracks from the 2021 MXGP series plus four classic tracks, such as the fantastic Águeda in Portugal (due to return in the 2022 season.) In addition to the expected roster of tracks, we have all of the usual bikes from the likes of Yamaha and KTM, and over forty riders from the MXGP and MX2 classifications (including current champions Tim Gajser and Maxime Renaux.) The game has all the names and places you would expect from an officially licensed product, then, but these days a few famous names and some recognisable branding is far from enough to satisfy the hordes of ravenous gamers who are excitedly sipping on a can of Monster Energy in anticipation of a new Motocross game.
We are in the midst of a generation where hundreds of hours of content is the norm, games are expected to be playable for years without much more than a patch and maybe some DLC, and thanks to excellent work from the likes of Digital Foundry, standards are higher than ever when it comes to graphics and framerates. Milestone is clearly aware of this, that much is obvious in their attempts to add content to their series, but over the years it has seemed like they just don’t have the budget to match the needs of the modern-day gamer, as their games have typically been good, but barebones affairs, with a great deal of re-used content. We can probably point some of the blame for this at the yearly release window, but MXGP 2021 is a full price game and should, therefore, meet full price standards.
What you do get with the game is mostly excellent. There’s a career mode, which allows you to create a rider and either join a team or go solo through the official MXGP 2021 calendar. Each race has a multitude of customisation options; races can be as short as just the two main races, reduced to around three minutes each, all the way to a full race weekend, including practice and qualifying, played at a realistic length and everything in between (I generally went for shorter races but a full race weekend to allow me to learn the track and get a decent place on the starting grid.)
For Motocross aficionados, this is great, and I honestly think that some bigger-name racing games could learn from Milestone here – they frequently offer the option to go full-on simulation length racing in their games and it can be a great way to while away a Sunday afternoon.
In addition to customising race length, the player is given the option to alter a variety of assists to make the game as user friendly or hardcore as possible. Turning the physics to the advanced mode and turning off joint breaks certainly tweaks the difficulty up a notch but rewards the player with greater overall control over their bike and rider, allowing for much faster lap times with some practise. There’s even an option that forces you to manually tear off the sticky layer on your visor when it gets too muddy, which adds a wonderful sense of immersion in the first-person camera mode.
In addition to a lengthy career mode there is the return of Playground mode; anybody who played the brilliant MX vs ATV games for the original Xbox will recognise this; essentially an opportunity to mess about in a free-roaming environment filled with humps, bumps and landmarks, around which you are free to make your own fun. You can also engage in user-created challenges such as waypoint races and time attacks, or you can create your own and allow others to compete against your best time. It’s surprisingly engaging, but still feels like it’s lacking a little something. The map is lifeless, even adding a few collectibles to unlock some new rider gear or bikes, or maybe even a few open-world quests to accomplish would have gone a long way toward making the mode more of an enticing long-term prospect.
With all these options and a selection of AI difficulty settings, the career mode can go from a relaxed way to waste a few hours, to a very long, sometimes stressful battle for championship glory that never relents. MXGP 2021 never quite hits that sim-racer vibe that some players will be longing for, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get in the genre and being able to essentially choose how long a game lasts is a handy form of accessibility when your audience could be made up of anyone from children to busy parents.
Where MXGP falls short, then, is not in longevity or the overall experience of thrashing a bike over obscene jumps at high speeds. It is in those little quality of life features that separate a good game from a great one. A player who is brand-new to the sport, for example, may be told how to perform a ‘scrub’ early in the game, but will be left with absolutely no idea what one is, or why their bike keeps falling over every time they try to do one.
The graphics are fine, but fine isn’t really enough to sell a game anymore. Similarly, the sound effects are good, but there is no in-race music and after a few hours the incessant sound of a 4-stroke engine buzzing away can get a bit grating; the game could really have done with an infusion of nu-metal and punk to liven up the action, because when you really get into the flow of things, perfectly sailing over a series of jumps and landing flawlessly on the other side, ready to take the next corner, while Drowning Pool blares from your speakers and your rivals eat your dirt, this is a fantastic experience and one that is highly worth your time.
When it comes to creating your own races, though, Playground mode is far from all MXGP 2021 has to offer. The game features a fully-fledged track editor, which allows players to create a proper Motocross track using an easy-to-use editor – it quickly brings to mind playing Excitebike back in the day and making the most frustrating track possible just to sit and gleefully watch as your friends grew increasingly annoyed trying to beat it; I highly recommend doing the same in MXGP 2021.
If you know nothing about Motocross but would like to start getting into the sport, the beginning of the 2022 season has been delayed, so this might be the perfect time to give MXGP 2021 a go. If you’re a grizzled veteran, go crack open a can of Boomer Juice, whack on some Powerman 5000 and rev that engine!
MXGP 2021 is available to download from the Xbox Store