MXGP Pro Review: Physics Conundrums And Feigning Realism
MXGP Pro Review

[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]

Milestone’s MXGP Pro is a mixed bag of sorts. It’s available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One for $49.99, and the budget price is supposed to reflect that it’s not quite as large-scale a game as its other racing counterparts. It also appears as if this was Milestone’s way of separating the dirt and sports bike racing disciplines into two separate games and charging near top price for both. So if you want to race on asphalt you buy MotoGP 18 and if you want the dirt tracks you stick with MXGP Pro.

Both games offer only the bare bones amount of features, even more-so for MXGP Pro, which has a limited number of tracks, a rather repetitive career mode, and a buffet of customization options designed so that you’ll have to grind through the game to unlock the liveries, parts, and rider gear that you want. The game also boasts a lot of “realism” in its difficulty settings, but it’s certainly not the rFactor or Assetto Corso of motorbike racing.

MXGP Pro - Holeshot

Game Modes

So let’s start with the basics. You have a single-player mode, a multiplayer mode, a customization mode, training, options, extras and add-ons. The multiplayer mode is only attuned for online races against other players. So if you’re on PS4 or Xbox One you will need Xbox Live or PS Plus to access the multiplayer. There are no split-screen or local multiplayer options in MXGP Pro.

The add-ons mode is for DLC and microtransactions. For instance, one of them is a credits multiplayer, so if you’re having a hard time grinding, you can purchase the credits multiplayer so you don’t have to grind so much. Yes, it’s one of those pay not to play features. Worse yet is that it works both in single-player offline modes and in online multiplayer modes. You’ll have to pony up $4.99 if you want to pay-not-to-play.

The extras mode has stats, credits and tutorials. The training mode goes over everything featured in the opening tutorial mode, and the customization feature allows you to customize your rider and the bike.

In single-player you have Grand Prix, Time Attack, Career and Championship. Grand Prix is a single race that lets you choose from one of the 21 tracks, while enabling you to modify the race settings – such as sunny, cloudy or rainy – your bike settings, the difficulty, and the race options.

Time Attack is exactly what it states it is, where you attempt to get the fastest time on the track. Championship is where you race through a series of tracks to win a championship, and the Career mode takes you through a normal or extreme season as a rider, earning fame and fortune as you attempt to climb the ranks in the MXGP and MX2 categories.

MXGP Pro - Dirt Race

Career Mode

I feel this deserves its own section, as the Career Mode isn’t very robust at all. Once you select your rider you’ll need to select your starting sponsors. The sponsors will give you objectives to complete for each championship race. If you complete those objectives you’ll earn fame. The more fame you earn the more sponsors and manufactures you can unlock. This is probably one of the better features of the game, as it compels you to complete objectives earn fame and unlock new sponsors.

Each new set of sponsors provide more and more difficult challenges for you to complete, such as staying in first place for so many laps, or performing technical maneuvers on a track, or maintaining a certain standing on the championship rankings.

Unlocking new sponsors means upgrading your bike with new gear in between seasons.

There’s also a rivalry feature, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense and serves almost no purpose. Basically at the end of a race some of the riders will make comments via text messages and you’ll have the option to respond neutrally, negatively, or positively. If you respond negative too many times you’ll develop a rivalry with another rider. Again, this doesn’t really affect much since there’s no story mode or any stakes on the line, so it’s something you can ignore during your career run.

MXGP Pro - Jump

Bike Customization

This here is probably the best feature in the game. There are a lot of customization parts available in MXGP Pro. As you unlock more sponsors and gain access to more liveries, you’ll realize that there’s a ton of content when it comes to modifying the bikes. I imagine gearheads will absolutely adore the ability to change everything from the handlebars and sprockets, to the brake discs and tires.

There’s also a ton of different liveries from various parts manufacturers that you can unlock for the bikes. You can also change the colors to most of the parts, so you can very easily ensure that your bike doesn’t look much like everyone else’s bike when playing online. The only problem is the amount of grinding required to unlock enough customization parts to make your ride standout.

You can save up to four bike configurations on a profile. Unfortunately you can only make one custom rider. You can unlock new duds for him, though, including boots, suits, helmets, neck braces, and goggles.

Gameplay

As for the most important part of the game… many of you are probably wondering how well MXGP Pro plays? Well, this is where things begin to really break down. You see, the game doesn’t play very well at all if you’re looking for a realistic dirt bike simulator. It does play decently enough if you’re looking for an arcade racer with the pseudo-options to pretend to be a simulation racer. And by that, I mean that the options menu is setup where you can turn on or off certain difficulties to increase your earnings so you can make more money and buy the stuff you want. However, some of the options are just there as a facade.

For instance, you can change the bike and rider physics, supposedly making them more “realistic”. The realistic setting makes it where you have to manually control the rider’s weight distribution using the right analog stick. While this sounds complex and engaging, it’s not. You see, there’s a huge discrepancy between this feature’s intended purpose and the lack of technical competency to make the feature feel complete.

To explain further, the bike animations and rider animations don’t really afford for manual weight distribution. The rider acts like he’s stuck to the bike, and the bike doesn’t behave with proper realistic behaviors of an off-road bike. So this feature falls flat because it doesn’t have the dynamic, physics-based bike properties that’s required to make it work as intended.

And also speaking of difficulty… the AI is wildly inconsistent. The starting difficulty is “Easy” but it plays more like normal or hard. The AI almost never messes up on the “Easy” setting and races almost perfectly. So if you plan on winning any of your starting races you’ll have to take it down to “Very Easy”.

While the actual gameplay is somewhat solid and most certainly far from spectacular, there are a lot of really small annoying things that detract from the overall enjoyment of these mediocre races. First, there’s the fact that the bike’s behavior is inconsistent during jumps, so sometimes you’ll land right and other times you’ll fall off even though it looks like you landed right.

Another problem – and this really burned my bum – is that if you go even slightly off track a three second respawn timer will appear and reset you back onto the track. If you attempt to ride alongside a mound the game will auto-respawn you back onto the track. If you attempt to cut a corner really short, you will be auto-respawned back onto the track. Basically, you always have to ride perfectly within the track boundaries or you will be forced to respawn. It’s extremely annoying.

MXGP Pro - Resting

Controls

While the left analog controls the bike in terms of turning, the right analog is supposed to control the rider so you can perform willies, scrub in the air, and supposedly pull off more complex, “realistic” movements. But this isn’t true at all.

First of all, you can’t do backflips. When you pull all the way back on the right analog the rider just stops and hangs in a vertical pointing position. They can’t complete the flip rotation. This means that there’s a limit on the extent in which the rider can be maneuver both on the ground and in the air. You also can’t pull off endos. If you ride really fast, slam on the brakes and lean all the forward with the right analog, the rider and bike just kind of jerkily wobble forward and come to a halt. So physics-wise there are certain real life things that you should be able to do that you can’t do, even when you set the gameplay physics to “realistic”.

In fact, there’s hardly any difference between the physics settings other than that the harder or “realistic” settings forces you to fight with the rider by having to make lots of micro-adjustments to stay upright, but even then something silly can send you flying, like nicking a nearby track obstacle, clipping the edge of a dirt mound, or brushing up against an obstruction.

To further explain: even though you can’t perform flips or certain tricks, you still have to keep the rider balanced. So it’s like you’re trying to race but also trying to keep the rider from falling off, and just about every little bump and cranny in the track can very easily cause you to crash in unspectacular and unrealistic ways.

A lot of this is due to the fact that the rider doesn’t sway and move into the turns with the bike based on the momentum and balance of the bike. So it’s sometimes difficult to judge how much of an adjustment you need to make while riding, which turns more into a guessing game of what’s required to stay upright as opposed to looking at the rider and being able to tell based on the body language of the animations and physical reactions.

Even though the game boasts a “realistic” physics setting, everything still controls very much like an arcade game rather than a realistic racing sim. In fact, MXGP Pro plays closer to games like Nail’d or Fuel, where once you get into the rhythm of the race it’s just a matter of maintaining that pace.

If you do mess up and fall off you can very easily use the right bumper to rewind and try again. Yes, they borrowed the feature from Forza Motorsport. It definitely feels like a cheat because it basically is a cheat.

MXGP Pro - Rivals

Graphics & Performance

Graphically MXGP Pro is what you would call passably adequate. The riders look decent when they’re fully geared up, and the bikes look quite detailed up close. Riding through the mud will cause both the rider and the bike to get dirtied up, and the environments are jam-packed with a lot of detail in the backdrops.

One thing of particular note is that the tire track indentations from the bikes is really well done. The terrain deformation feature actually does affect the gameplay, too, because as more and more bikes ride over a surface and indent the ground, it makes it smoother. The smoother the ground, the faster you can ride. It’s a nice little touch.

I did find it annoying, however, that the mini-map doesn’t show the other AI riders as dots, so you only see your rider on the mini-map. This means that if they’re farther ahead or behind, you have to manually check for their position using the ‘Y’ button on the Xbox controller or Triangle on the DualShock 4.

On the home consoles the lighting is standard fare, with the usual overlay of environmental shadows from tall structures and objects like trees and checkpoint gates, while object-blur is applied to the riders so that while you reach certain speeds there’s an impression that you’re going fast.

However, this all comes at the hefty price of the game only running at 30 frames per second on the home consoles. This was terribly noticeable as I had been playing Trials Gold Evolution in my spare time on PC, running it at max settings and at 60 frames per second. The drop in frame-time was horribly noticeable and even worse yet for a game like MXGP Pro because the 30fps isn’t hard-locked.

So what does that mean? It means that the game frequently drops below 30fps. Instead of sacrificing shadow resolution or scaling back shader effects such as reflections or light rays when things get taxing, the game attempts to chug along anyway while constantly dropping frames. This happens all the time when all 22 riders are on-screen and you’re averaging about 25fps.

The worst part of it is at the starting gate, where there’s a frame-delay every single time the race starts, so when you come off the line there’s a hiccup in performance. This is rather egregious because you have to hold down the left bumper for the clutch and rev up with the right trigger. Once the gate drops you let go of the left bumper to go, but since there’s a frame delay what ends up happening is that there’s lag from the input between letting go of the clutch and the gate dropping, so you almost never get off the starting grid with a full rev.

Some of the other tracks also perform horribly throughout the race, whether other players or AI are on-screen or not. For instance, the MXGP of Leon Mexico has horrible frame stuttering during about the first quarter of the track, especially coming out of the turns where the LOD stream seems to cause some noticeable performance hiccups. I would have to rewind frequently because a stutter during a turn with the full grid would almost always result in falling off the bike. Hopefully this issue is patched for the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game.

One thing I doubt will be patched is the load times, which are absolutely horrendous. For some really odd reason the game always defaults back to a sandbox-style map called the compound. The free roaming mode lets you train and ride around at your leisure, but it doesn’t make sense why it defaults back to that map if all it does is increase load times. It’s frustrating because it takes such a long time just to get into the game and then to get into the career mode and then to get into a race. If the races were really, really fun I could probably be forgiving for the loading, but the tracks are extremely long, very tedious to race across, and you have to deal with a lot of the wonky rider physics and stringent race rules. It’s an exercise in frustration at times.

MXGP Pro - Wheelie

Closing Thoughts

MXGP Pro definitely feels like a budget game, but not a $49.99 budget game. A game like Vampyr seemed like a $49.99 kind of game given how much content is available and how replayable it is. MXGP Pro has a lot of technical hang-ups that prevent it from being as enjoyable as it should be.

The tracks being super long and very challenging wouldn’t have been bad, but the rider physics leave a lot to be desired. While the bike’s handling can be nominal at times, there’s the issue of small bumps and weird indentations seemingly throwing the rider off without much warning. Again, this is part of the issue between the dichotomy of having arcade-like physics while attempting to implement track minutiae that demands more realistic bike handling.

Once you learn how to handle the less-than-thrilling rider and his bike, and begin to get the hang of each track, it can be somewhat enjoyable. However, it would have been more enjoyable if in-game music was a thing. There’s some menu music but it all goes away during the actual race, which doesn’t make much sense to me. You also don’t get the choice of listening to music unless you load in Spotify or the Xbox music app and have it play over the game during races.

Overall, it’s hard to say what would justify spending $49.99 on a game like MXGP Pro. If it were combined with MotoGP 18 I could definitely see an argument being made to spend $60 for that kind of experience, but as it stands the 21 tracks available in the game and the limited gameplay modes don’t inspire a lot of replayability.

If you’re an absolutely diehard dirt-bike racing fan who adores the challenge and you don’t mind the inconsistent rider physics and wonky weight distribution mechanics, you might like MXGP Pro. However, for everyone else, I can only suggest to…

About

Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

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