MXGP Pro Review – Muddy Hell (PS4)
From the time the first gate drops, it’s clear to see that Milestone’s MXGP Pro is leaning toward the simulation side of things. During your first lap around one of the 19 beautifully dirty courses, you’ll crash into stuff, bounce into fences, get thrown out of bounds, and probably slip over on your face a couple of times for good measure.
Your brain will tell you that this is a sim, so you need to learn the limits of your bike and take things slow. Then you leap over a jump, accidentally land squarely on another rider’s head, and watch as you bounce as Mario does off a Goomba, while your unfortunate opponent accelerates on as if nothing has happened. Slip off your bike when you’re leading in the race to the holeshot, and you’ll see one or two others fall off as they crash into your downed machine, while the other 19 riders all ride over the pile of debris without the slightest hitch in their giddy-up.
Hold the phone. If this is a sim, surely these kinds of crashes should have resulted in a heap of bodies with bits of metal sticking out of them and a few liters of blood pouring about the place? Right?
Wrong. MXGP Pro is a pure motocross sim only when it wants to be, meaning that a lot of the time, it doesn’t make much sense. Crashes and spills are largely unpredictable, to the point of almost feeling as if they’ve been thrown in for comic effect. Hammer the accelerator down while you’re leaning heavily around a sharp, muddy bend and you’ll get away with it. Good for you! Do the same thing on a more relaxed turn on the same muddy ground when you’re practically upright, and you’ll end up slipping over. You suck. Keep a weather eye open, though. On the next lap, the two instances will probably be reversed. Learning the tracks and trying to put together intelligent lines around the course can alleviate the randomness a little, but you’ll still end up looking on far too many times as your bike inexplicably throws you. Sometimes you’ll just topple over as you brake for a bend as if your rider’s head has suddenly turned to granite. Jumping into the settings menu to change things to pro-level physics doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference. In fact, I won more races on the apparently-more-punishing pro physics than I did with the reduced realism version, so make of that what you will.
Even when you do crash though, you’re almost instantly respawned on your undamageable bike, so a full-on wreck doesn’t cost you anything more than single-digit numbers of seconds in the grand scheme of things. It isn’t very sim-like to crash when you’re six seconds ahead of the pack, only to be respawned and still be in the lead. It also isn’t very sim-like to be respawned for cutting a corner, when the AI opponent on your inside doesn’t get punished at all, but that’s another story.
By the time you roll across the line in last place that very first time, you’ll feel that heading into the shiny new training mode would be a wise decision. That would be logical, was it not for the fact that the training mode – which awards you improvements that affect the entire game – is frustrating enough to see you propelling your controller skywards so high that it could knock out a migrating goose. Things you can already do in a race without a problem suddenly take dozens of attempts here, mainly due to how things are set up and how harshly the game judges you. You’ll get penalized for not landing a jump in a marked zone when the place you landed would have no detrimental effects to either speed or angle during a race. You get the feeling that if the developer could fail you for smiling, they probably would. There’s also no real training to be found, which is weird for an area of the game that is entitled “Training Mode.” You might work out how to beat the various challenges on your own, but if you don’t know how to do something, MXGP Pro isn’t going to really help you beyond shouting “DO THE THING!” repeatedly.
Also giving weight to the argument against MXGP Pro’s sim-ness are how scrubs work. For the uninitiated, as well as being a boy that can’t get no love from me, a scrub is a technique where you tilt the bike sharply while in the air to lower your trajectory over a big jump. It’s one of the most important moves in motocross, since the lower you are, the sooner you’ve got both wheels back on the ground and can accelerate away. To perform this technique in MXGP Pro, you push both analog sticks outwards as you come over a jump. One tilts the bike; the other leans the rider. Do it right, and you’ll hit a perfect scrub and fly across the sky with your two wheels stuck out horizontally. Miss the timing, and nothing happens, even though you’re telling the game to push your bike one way, the rider the other, and have the game’s optional rider weight-shifting assistance switched off. If MXGP Pro contained a decent simulation of riding physics, you’d get it wrong, pull off a sort of half-scrub, and need to correct yourself to avoid disaster. That isn’t the case. You’re triggering a pre-determined action, rather than controlling your rider in a real physics-based way.
There are other nagging problems to be found, too. AI difficulty settings don’t seem to apply to qualification, so you’ll struggle around and qualify six seconds off the pace in 15th place on a lower difficulty level, only to win the race proper by half a lap. Turn it up, and you’ll still only qualify in 15th, but you’ll get whipped when race time comes. Not that you can tell what your pace is like during qualifying in career mode, as a bug stops split times from showing. There isn’t even a place to see your fastest lap while you’re riding. You can see the time of the fastest guy, but not your own best time. In single Grand Prix mode, split times show just fine. During races, you’ll often get an alert showing the gap between you and the rider ahead. Only, it often shows you as being half a second behind, erm, yourself. Or, if you’re in the lead, it’ll just show your time and forget to mention how far you are ahead, rendering it utterly pointless. These things should be really basic stuff to a company that puts out new full-priced racing games on an almost bi-monthly basis.
Little oversights and errors like these damage MXGP Pro’s chances quite badly, but larger glitches end up putting it to bed altogether. A few tracks come complete with judders and micro-pauses that I can only assume are a result of poor optimization. In a game where small changes in direction or pace can be the difference between making a jump safely and being thrown into the crowd, that’s far from acceptable, especially when it’s happening on a PS4 Pro. Tracks that are unaffected are smooth enough, aside from some horrid late texture draw-in. There are times when you’ll have waited for the gate to drop and are now accelerating away, but your bike skin hasn’t fully loaded. It’s like you’re streaming a game over ISDN, rather than loading it from your PS4’s hard drive. It’s somewhat more insulting when you consider how long the pre-race load times are. The new rivalries system requires mentioning, too. Just one of the fascinating features of this is the list of AI riders, complete with symbols that indicate how they feel about you.
I’m sorry. I used “fascinating” in that sentence when I really shouldn’t have. I also shouldn’t have led you to believe there was more to the rivalry system than that, but what can I say? Maybe I’m just a bad person. The new rivalry system is a list. Other riders throw out racing clichés after you’ve completed a race. You decide if you agree, disagree, or feel neutral about what they said. Two of these are pointless as your fame level bafflingly only rises if you disagree. Some emojis change color sometimes on the list. Nothing else happens.
You could purposefully knock a guy down on the first corner, reverse over him a dozen times, and then watch as his rivalry indicator turns super-happy-bestest-friends-forever-green because you agreed with him that the race winner did well. If you could donate a kidney to an opponent, but then had the audacity to disagree when he says he doesn’t think it can rain any harder today, the rivalries list would say that he hates your dumb unagreeable face for all eternity. Not that it has any affect at all on the game in any way, shape, or form.
It may seem strange to go on about the rivalry system so, but it’s highly indicative of the grander picture. MXGP Pro is half-baked and no one feature is particularly well-rounded. To top things off, the developer then throws a stack of pretty basic problems into this undercooked mix before shouting “buon appetito” directly into your ear. Even in spite of that, there are times when things feel promising. When you’re learning a line around a track and managing to stay up on your wheels, cutting out beautiful new ruts in the mud behind you and skidding artfully around the inside of a sharp corner to steal a position, you start to think that maybe you’ve been too harsh. Maybe the problems were mostly your fault because you didn’t take things as seriously as you could have done. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll give it a bit more time.
But that feeling only lasts until you’re accelerating out of the final corner like you’ve done sixty times without issue in this event and your bike decides for no reason at all to rear up like freakin’ Seabiscuit, throwing you to the ground an inch from the finishing line. At that point, the promising feeling drips away, and you start to think that given this is the 15th racing game Milestone has released on PS4 in four years, we could be in for a real treat when they slow down and actually finish one.
MXGP Pro review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.03 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.