When I started playing this game for our preview not so long ago, I knew virtually nothing about supercross. About the only exposure I’ve had to anything like it is Excitebike on the NES when I was a kid. Now that the game, plus a bit of research (more on that later), has given me a crash course, and I have to admit, it’s more interesting and more technical than I could have imagined.
While Monster Energy AMA Supercross: The Official Videogame 4 (Henceforth “the game,” available for current PS/Xbox consoles and Steam, the latter played for this review) probably won’t have me looking to saddle up on a motocross bike anytime soon, it certainly has been a wild ride outside my usual comfort zone. Let’s drop the gate and get this thing started
The Gate Drop
For the Career mode, the main new feature in this iteration of the franchise and the game’s main single player experience, you’ll create your own up-and-coming Supercross rider, on a quest to become a professional with all the glory and sponsorships that come with climbing to the top, while starting at the bottom (“Futures”).
Essentially the closest thing there is to a story, you will begin by competing in weekly events after undergoing training exercises and special challenge events each week, developing your skills and, when successful, earning points to enhance your rider’s abilities. The main event in supercross competitions is quite long, and so it will take many hours of playtime to complete a career.
As you go you’ll eventually join a racing team or seek personal sponsorships, and each path carries different risks and rewards. All of the choices you make (together with your performance) shape your career. Everything matters and it’s great in the sense that it makes you feel like the master of your destiny.
There is a problem though, where if you struggle to perform well (like I did) you will get fewer ability points, and potentially save yourself into a corner being unable to meet the performance requirements of your team or sponsors, potentially necessitating you to start over, which can be frustrating in such a long competition.
Let’s get it out of the way quick: As I mentioned in my preview, this game is a simulation through and through. While there are many assistive features for the purposes of a video game, they are all optional, which is a good thing. You have to have some basic knowledge about motocross going in or you will have a tough time getting the hang of it.
In case at any point I seem too negative for you, I want to make one thing clear: I really enjoyed playing this game. It offers a lot of variety, with tons of courses, the ability to make your own, and many modes of play plus (of course) online multiplayer. It’s just hard as all hell. Even after many hours played for the preview, and many more spent on the Career mode, I found coming in anything better than last place was a victory.
The experience itself of riding the track, flying off jumps, having some amazing crashes, and managing whoops and turns was a ton of fun and the primary reason I kept at it for so long. (That’s not to mention the Photo Mode, where I had a lot of fun just trying to create the perfect screenshots.) But these AI drivers I was losing against were on the “Very Easy” setting. And aside from one time, I just could not beat them. Dare I say it, it makes Dark Souls look like one of the easier video games out there.
It had me asking if I was just missing some fundamental thing or technique. The tutorial race doesn’t tell you a whole lot. It tells you about the Rewind feature (which gives you a limited number of opportunities to undo mistakes), how to get a good start, and flashes some controls at you as you complete a lap on a course by yourself. But I noticed when looking at my stats during the career mode, that even after several races, I had done zero “scrubs.” And since there are rewards for reaching stat milestones, I had to ask, “What’s a scrub? What’s a whip?” Though a replay of the tutorial did indicate what to press to do these things, there is no glossary or explanation about these things within the game. I had to google it to find out what these things meant. Armed with this knowledge, I still had a hard time but improved considerably.
It is worth noting that the difficulty is higher in the career mode with your created rider since you start with inferior abilities to the official riders you play as in the event and time attack modes. As a result, getting run through the wringer in Career will certainly improve your performance in the rest of the game.
Something to note – starting a race seems to take a lot of unnecessary steps. First you pick your course and rider, confirm. The announcers introduce you to the event, and you get another menu to either start the race or adjust your bike settings. Then another screen asks you to select your starting gate, which seems meaningless as outside of the tutorial, I never encountered a situation where there was more than one gate selection available. This could easily be skipped if there is no choice to be made. Then comes another scene (skippable) where the gate drop is announced. Then finally the race starts. In other words, the UI experience could do with some streamlining. The game lets you skip scenes and click through menus quickly, but it’s a minor stumble.
The Main Event
This game totally nails the looks and the music. The stadiums you race in are faithfully recreated, with multiple courses from real AMA Supercross events. The dirt looks real, and it even builds up on your bike and rider. Rain can occur and and turn the dirt to mud. The physics are excellent, as one would expect from a simulation. It creates an experience where you can almost feel the dirt flying through the air, not to mention the pain your rider is probably feeling after a crash (ha ha). Also on offer are lots of customization options for the looks of both your bike and rider.
Every race feels like a real life Supercross event. The game features the voices of actual Supercross announcers, and character introductions along with the build-up to the gate drop at the start of the race and the follow-up chatter after it’s over. All serve to create a complete, near-real-life experience.
The game offers an excellent soundtrack with styles that befit the experience. Lots of electric guitar and base, varying in energy level from loud metal type music during races to lighter string tunes in the menus. It seems clearly designed to pump you up, and certainly seems like the sort of thing you’d hear at real events.
Some technical stuff: This game is well polished. I experienced minimal technical issues, and the game ran beautifully on my less-than-bleeding-edge PC on high settings. Unreal Engine 4 is really flexing its muscles here. I did hit a few minor snags with the UI experience. Mainly, there is an overabundance of menu pages to click through for events.
The Finish Line
All in all, I have to say that, while brutally difficult for me, Monster Supercross 4 was still a lot of fun to play because of the overall quality and completeness of the experience. The game is a thrill, that much is certain. I imagine fans from the previous entries and people who real know their Supercross are past the learning curve and will get into this game instantly.
While the experience is epic, even for a total noob at realistic sports games like me, I have to dock points for the rough on-boarding experience in this otherwise excellent title. A persistent beginner will have the game grow on them and potentially make them an even bigger Supercross fan. But if you’re totally new and curious about the sport, the weak tutorial and lack of explanation of terms in the sport is a significant barrier.
Review copy provided by Milestone S.r.l. for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.