MXGP 2020 game review – a satisfying take on a unusual genre
Can a casual player find joy in a motocross game?
You can count the motocross games that have truly hit the mainstream on the fingers of, erm two fingers. And it's fair to say that particular series is old with a capital O. Yup, Microsoft's Motocross Madness games were for me – like many old farts – a singularly fun take on the sport of Messing Around in the Mud on Two Wheels. And if you've never been fired back into an off-road arena by a giant invisible air cannon then you've not lived.
In fact, Microsoft's 21-year-old Motocross Madness 2 was probably the last time I dragged my digital backside around an off-road course on a bike. With that in mind, I fired up Milestone's latest official Motocross World Championship game, MXGP 2020, to find out how things have changed.
The track is the enemy
Although MXGP 2020 has a free-roam arena set in Norway (largely devoid of objectives or things to do, but with waypoint races set to arrive in upcoming patches), the core of MXGP 2020's gameplay loop revolves around a career in the FIM Motocross World Championship, which sees you putting in laps on tight and twisty circuits.
You'd do well to start in the feeder class, called MX2. In real life this is restricted to 250cc four-stroke bikes or 125cc two strokes, with riders being aged under 23. For the game, this is just a chance to get to know the 19 real-world tracks on offer without wheelie-ing yourself into tibia-shattering oblivion.
A race starts with you picking your starting gate (qualifying well gives you first pick). It's worth looking up the track to pick somewhere that's on the inside for the first corner. Then it's a case of holding the clutch in and dumping it as the starting gate drops. Time it well, pick a good line and you'll arrive at the first corner in pole position and thus earning a holeshot bonus – a handful of extra XP and a decent chance at escaping the pack and leading the race.
Wherever you end up in the pack, you quickly realise that the real skill in MXGP 2020 isn't so much outwitting your opponents, but in reading the circuits. They're invariably tight, twisty and full of bumps and elevation changes. Getting your front-rear weight balance wrong at the start of a straight can mean you're 20km/h down on your opponents by the end of it.
Towards the end of this clip not only do I do a sick whip to lose height but also hit a berm like an actual pro – it's satisfying when it all comes together
Get too much air over a jump and you can see your lead cut in half. You need to read the bumps and ensure you do everything in your power to keep your speed up. It turns out motorbikes accelerate best when they're on the ground rather than doing an overweight seagull impression.
No scrubs? Loads of scrubs, actually
To reduce your airtime you'll want to 'scrub' over bigger jumps. This involves pushing both controller thumbsticks towards each other or out in opposite directions, causing your virtual rider to sling the bike on its side in mid air, cutting down the time you spend aloft. Get it right and it's immensely satisfying as you whip to victory – get it wrong and you'll end up facing the wrong way on landing, which is embarrassing to say the least.
This scrub didn't end well
The final piece in the MXGP 2020 speed jigsaw puzzle is mastering berms. Most tracks have a couple of tight corners with a raised ridge of mud on track. Hit this berm correctly and you'll slingshot around the corner without the need for much braking, which is perfect for taking chunks out of anyone in front of you. Hit the berms too hard and you'll pop straight out like an over-enthusiastic hire car driver in the Nurburgring's Karussell.
If you do make a complete balls-up of a corner then you can use MXGP 2020's brilliant rewind feature, as seen in Ride 3 and 4. Simply hit the right bumper on your controller and you can use the triggers to choose how far to rewind – it's quick and easy to use, and gives far more precise control over undoing your mistake than something like Forza Horizon, which just rewinds in set chunks of time.
What's the racing like on MXGP 2020?
Longer than you'd think. The tracks all feel quite lengthy – they're packed into relatively small areas but they curl back and forth like level 99 of Snake on your old Nokia. You can run a realistically long race if you want, but even on the short setting you'll run for five minutes plus two laps once the timer expires. This means each race ends up as an intense 8 or so minutes, and each round sees you tackle the same track twice. With 15 races in a season, there's loads of racing to be done before you finish a season and pick a new team/bike/class.
As you can see, I'm on track to entirely miss the berm into this corner
You'll want to take your time learning the game's mechanics as well, simply because the AI is pretty unforgiving even on easier settings. Bump things up to medium or higher and they'll use every trick in the book to eke out a lead. This is when you need to knuckle down and focus on beating the track to shave your laptimes and whip to a beautiful slow-mo screenshot as you cross the line for the final time.
Is MXGP 2020 fun?
Absolutely – but it's not a game you'll jump into and get results from straight away. Even with the physics set to 'simplified', you'll need to juggle weight and body position to exit corners with grip and speed. Getting too happy with the throttle on corner exit can see you slither sideways and slow to a crawl.
But when you do start stringing together corners, jumps and berms you get a huge sense of satisfaction that you rarely experience in four-wheeled games. By the time you've tried the physics on simulation mode on a punchy full-fat 450 four-stroke, you'll be holding razor-edge drifts onto the back straight and laughing your head off. But it takes time and practice to get there.
What's not so good about MXGP 2020?
The tracks, while detailed and suitably grotty, don't dynamically deform as you race. Obviously rendering 20 racers and a deforming track would be demanding even for a PC or next-gen console, but it'd be lovely to see some real-time Snowrunner-style rutting. There's also not much in the way of satisfaction to overall career progression – there are no unlocks, and the fun comes purely from beating the tracks and AI.
MXGP 2020 now comes with a track editor, albeit a basic one
The track editor's pretty basic, but does everything you need it to
A patch in late 2020 added a track editor to the game. At the moment it's a relatively basic editor which lets you drape a mix of turns, straights, jumps and yumps over an Italian orchard landscape.
All Motocross tracks have a separate start spur which is only used at the beginning of the race (it's to the left here)
You can actually make some pretty interesting and testing tracks with this toolkit, and it's easy to use, with the ability to upload tracks so you can race them with your mates. In the coming months the devs are adding more landscapes to adorn with your muddy creations.
Should I buy MXGP 2020?
Milestone's done a cracking job of bringing a relatively niche motorsport to an approachable and entertaining game. There aren't hundreds of hours of gameplay here, but MXGP 2020 is an engaging and interesting game that provides real satisfaction when you get the hang of it.
It's a bit too serious to really resurrect the childish joy of Motocross Madness, but it's as close as a sim is likely to come. Even if you've never even come close to watching Motocross in real life, there's something here for almost everyone to enjoy.