MX vs ATV is a well-known franchise at this point, with MX vs ATV: Alive being the best title until now. Sadly, Alive is still the best title in the franchise, and you’re not likely to get much out of MX vs ATV: Supercross unless you’re a hardcore fan. Although publisher Nordic Games picked up a number of franchises which previously existed in the library of doomed publisher THQ, it seems that they might need a bit more time to truly get to grips with how to handle them.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing Supercross is that it looks dated, even for a last-gen game. You’ll start a race and see that the nice lady holding the flag at the beginning doesn’t look remotely convincing; she starts every race with the same strung-out grin that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The crowd in the stands looks like they’re cardboard cutouts, and the tracks show constant texture pop-in when you’re going at full pelt as the engine struggles to keep up with the pace. If you’re behind a bike, this is often covered by their dirt trail; but if you’re in pole position, it is remarkably noticeable. That all being said, while the in-game graphics are sub-par, the actual presentation itself isn’t bad – your rider will flex as you go over jumps, shake his wrists out after a hard landing, and you’ll even see jackets flap as you go over jumps. There’s also a nifty thing which makes it sound as though you’re listening to the music from inside your rider’s helmet, a nice addition to the already-decent hard-rock playlist.
Unfortunately, this is about the extent of what can be said in favor of the game. Supercross feels very much like a cut-down version of previous titles in the series: there’s the usual single-player races, local and online multiplayer that you’d expect, and an impressive 17 tracks to throw yourself around on either a dirt bike or an ATV – just don’t come to Supercross expecting to have the game teach you how to get around the tracks.
Basic gameplay just isn’t great – all of the tracks look and feel similar to each other, and by similar I mean dull. I couldn’t tell you which is my favorite, because they really aren’t varied enough to stand out from one another and be memorable. Each track lacks the kind of imagination required to make a racing game stand out and feel special. After the superb off-road track design seen recently in Forza Horizon 2, Supercross is a reminder that not all racing games are created equal. Rainbow doesn’t have half the budget available to a developer like Playground Games, of course, but a bit of imagination can go a long way when it comes to making the most of what you’ve got to play with. Sadly, Supercross is an inauspcious start to Rainbow’s portfolio.
Control of your vehicle is handled with the standard trigger/shoulder buttons you’d expect in this genre, and you actually have to brake and skid around corners to keep yourself ahead of the pack. It all works fairly well, but sadly this is the extent of the physics being admirable, and where the rest of the game goes out of the proverbial window. You can be going hell for leather on a straight, in first place with +5 seconds on the clock. Anyone who has played a racing game knows that this means that you are currently 5 seconds ahead of second place. Two seconds later, the guy behind you has made your time to fall to -5s, and you are wondering how he managed to cover 10 seconds worth of track in the space of 2 seconds flat. Assuming that you are both on the same size bike with similar accelerations and horsepowers, and ruling out anything from Doctor Who or Back to the Future, this only leaves two options: Either the guy behind you put nitrous oxide through the engine of his dirt bike– in which case he deserves to win with stones that big – or the AI is cheating.
This isn’t the only time I was left thinking that Supercross was messing with me. There’s the rubber-banding present on a scale which will make any racer throw their controller in frustration, and then there’s the fact that you can completely wipe out, get back on your bike and be back up to top speed in less than 3 seconds. Every time Supercross gets anywhere near good, it shyly kicks the dirt like a teenager worried that they’re trying too hard to impress you. For every thing it gets right, it fudges another two.
There’s still the ability to do tricks in the air which has become something of a staple for the franchise, but there’s no real bonus in doing so. In fact, you wouldn’t know that you could do tricks unless you roam the options menus for the control sheet in order to find the button which simply tells you that you can do tricks. Sure, it can be satisfying pulling a backflip over a rider below you, landing in front of him like a boss, but this is something I can’t help but think that most riders will miss out on. Likewise, there’s the usual rider and bike customisation screens for those who care, but rider customisation is simply cosmetic, and upgrading things like tyre traction really don’t make much of a difference when cornering anyway – it may as well just be cosmetic, too.
That all being said, even if you start a Career in Supercross by sucking dirt out of your mask for the first few rounds, it’s still possible to stage a decent comeback; your competition are all famous names and there isn’t a single racer who continuously pulls first place, making it slightly more accessible for newcomers. This still doesn’t help those who are new to the sport, and have no idea how to take a jump properly without jeopardizing their hard-won first place position, but even with all the rubber-banding and absence of a decent tutorial, it’s perfectly possible to start making headway once you take the time to get your head around things. Just expect to be required to work for it, and to need a lot of patience.
MX vs ATV: Supercross is the kind of game you should get if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise, or are bored and have $30 to burn on a game you’ll only spend two or three hours playing at a time. It’s not something you’ll spend entire days glued to, and it’s unlikely to make it onto anyone’s personal Top 10 list. Yes, there are 60 named riders, 80 licensed motorcross companies and loads of bikes you can play with – but most of the bikes are hidden behind pay-walls. Multiplayer allows you to race with up to 11 other players, but you still have all of the above problems to contend with. Although there’s plenty of content on offer, and while it manages to be perfectly competent, Supercross is inarguably a step back for the MX vs ATV franchise, whichever way you look at it.
If you want my advice, go play MX vs ATV: Alive again, or stick to Trials. By all means pick up Supercross if you’re a diehard fan of the sport; just don’t expect anything approaching a revelatory gaming experience.