By now, gamers have come to expect a couple of things from any Motocross title that’s released: huge jumps on large racetracks, picking the right bike for the right course, and mastering the art of pre-loading for maximum height. In fact, these three facets have become so ingrained within the bike race genre that designers have to strive for either more realistic gameplay or additional features to distinguish their games from competing ones on the market. Left Field Productions, who gained some motocross experience with Excitebike 64, decided to take a page from both books as they started to work on their latest title, MTX Mototrax. The result? A game that’s a mix of realistic racing action with Tony Hawk-esque gameplay.
In fact, a number of elements from Hawk’s skateboarding games have found their way into Mototrax, starting with the immediate creation of a character as soon as you start a game, a la T.H.U.G. Initially your options are somewhat limited during creation: The amount of equipment you can choose to initially outfit your rider with is restricted to one or two choices, many of them generic. While not as detailed as its fellow Activision game, the create-a-rider mode helps establish the main thrust of the game, that of the career mode. See, your basic gear reflects the fact that you’re just starting out in the racing world without sponsors or endorsements. As a newbie rider, your new coach provides you with a PDA and instructions to try to learn as much as you can from Travis Pastrana out at his compound. Hopefully you pick up your lessons well, because these skills will land you a spot on a team and potentially have companies knocking your door down.
While it seems like a roundabout way to get you into the action of the career mode, visiting the Pastrana compound is a decent tutorial that instructs players in the basics of motocross biking while also exposing them to the other modes in the game. As you race around the backwoods of Travis’ estate, you’ll be exposed to Freestyle racing, which places an emphasis on properly completing acrobatic tricks on a racetrack or open area. This is contrasted with that of Free Riding (a format much more familiar to skate fans), where players ride through environments, taking on tricks or assignments from people scattered throughout the area. As Travis explains the differences between these modes, you’ll also become accustomed to the distinctions between racing Motocross (outdoor tracks across sprawling areas) versus Supercross (indoor stadium racing with large jumps).
Many of the adjustments you’ll need to make to race each type of event will come through the subtle adjustments of the clutch, as well as acceleration, braking and compression to take the checkered flag. Unlike other games, which simply place a value on hitting the acceleration button to go, Mototrax lets you give your bike an extra speed boost by disengaging the engine between gears. As you feed your bike extra gas, making the engine race, re-engaging the clutch makes your machine shoot forward. This is particularly useful as you exit a turn and would like to maintain or increase your speed out of a curve. The interesting thing about the inclusion of a clutch mechanic is that it becomes a strategic element in races: Do you use the speed boost as you approach a curve to keep your lead, or do you save it and engage it for a jump that might let you overtake another rider if you fall behind?
You can also use this speed boost to perform what’s known as a holeshot, which is the first racer to pass a certain point on the track before the other racers. As many riders will tell you, if you wind up taking the lead and you run a clean race, you’ll most likely take the win home with you. Well, achieving wins and holeshots adds to your bank account and draws sponsors to your team, who will contact you via PDA to display their equipment in their next race (in return for a decent check made out in your name). This money can be used to acquire new bikes or gear which can be used in larger race classes or other game modes. Bought equipment can also be used in 2 player single or series races as well as “king of the hill” and “freestyle battle” online races.
One of the things that you’ll immediately pick up on is the sharpness of the environments. Large, expansive and somewhat more detailed than the average track found in a racing game, Mototrax does provide a visually distinctive racing experience for players. You’ll also get a definite sense of speed as your biker goes racing across a straightaway contending with minor hills and jumps. This is easily conveyed by the solid 60 frames per second rate at which the game clips along. However, as you begin to get deeper into the game, you’ll also notice that there are a number of clipping problems that can sometimes occur, especially if computer opponents drive through borders and other obstacles. You’re also not necessarily going to be able to pick out which rider is which without computer assistance thanks to incredibly similar character models performing similar moves and animations. Finally, thanks to the lack of variety found within the game, you’ll often race on the same track over and over again, letting you get a sense of each path after a while.
Thankfully, the sound effects make up for a large number of its shortcomings. Bolstered by a healthy punk and rock album, featuring Slipknot, Ill Nino and Pennywise, the songs found within Mototrax fit in just perfectly with the racing action found onscreen. Along with the accurate difference in pitch between 125 and 250cc engines (which is rather noticeable), many of the race sound effects sound nice, particularly collisions with the ground. However, some of the vocal acting can feel either stunted or bland when you hear a rider “congratulate” you, particularly from some of the professional riders who seemed bored to be at the voice recording session.
As uninspired as some voice acting is, gameplay comes across just as weak in certain spots. For instance, the sponsor idea is a creative way to get players to perform their best to acquire money, but there really isn’t any way to pit sponsors against each other for the best or most lucrative offer. You can’t simply sign multiple deals with certain people to merely have your bike and jersey patched and branded with names, so in effect you have to choose wisely and see if it’s worth staying with a group or moving elsewhere when the time comes. Aside from limited sponsorships, the number and location of tracks is rather limited also, so you’ll often tire of racing the same place over and over again, even when you’ve move up in bike weight class. While the track editor can allay some of this boredom, it can only go so far. What’s more, some of the other modes, such as free mode and freestyle, feel somewhat tacked on and not as fleshed out as the career mode is (even with its limitations), turning the events into afterthoughts instead of actual sections of play.
The other thing that isn’t fully implemented is the trick system. Mototrax holds a number of popular tricks, including Nac Nacs, Supermans and Cliffhangers. Each one is accurately modeled after the real tricks and look great when you pull them off. However, actually pulling a trick off is a huge amount of trial and error. Aside from having to unlock tricks, you’ll have to gain an understanding of the specific timing when you can pull, say, a Hart Attack from an Indian Air. If you pick the wrong time, you may wind up triggering a completely different trick or not performing any trick at all. Even odder is the fact that in Motocross and Supercross modes, there really isn’t any benefit to pulling off a trick except boosting your track score, since it doesn’t affect the money you receive if you win.
MTX Mototrax is somewhat of a mixed racer in the end. The career mode and the concepts behind the single player game are definitely innovative, and are a solid addition to the racing genre. However, a somewhat tenuous connection between modes, a lackluster inclusion of a trick system and a limited number of tracks keeps Mototrax stuck at the gate for all but the most enthusiastic Motocross fans.