Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame doesn’t sound like a game I’d get into. I’m going to be honest, most licensed video games, outside of FIFA, Madden, and NBA2K, tend to give me the heebie-jeebies. It’s not that all “official video games” are bad or anything like that, but that subtitle does have a tendency to be tied to less than stellar experiences. But after seeing the first trailer for the game, you can say that interests were piqued.
In a private room at New York Comic Con, the game’s team showed me what would be the first trailer for Monster Energy Supercross. I got to see the cover star walking to his bike and then suddenly there were jumps, dirt spraying across the screen, bikes vying for the top spot, and a crowd going wild. As this happened, one of Milestone’s team members leaned in and said: “that’s all in-game.” The attention to detail was impressive, with game races looking just like the real thing.
To get this level of detail, Milestone is using a fully customized Unreal Engine 4. This enabled them to bring in a realistic atmosphere, visuals of the tracks, racers, and bikes, as well as develop a tight physics engine that is easy for new players to get into, but also offers depth for those who truly understand the sport. Something I got to experience first-hand after watching the trailer.
For the NYCC demo, there were two tracks available, one of which was the exact same Las Vegas track where the game was officially announced today. After choosing a rider, it was off to the races. If you’ve played a motocross game before, everything will be extremely familiar. There’s a dirt track with jumps, bends, and tight turns, gates keeping you from cheating with a head start, tons of flashing lights, and a roaring crowd. Once the race started, it was a fairly standard affair. Each bike on the track was vying for that number one spot and willing to do anything to get it, which meant other racers on the track played a bit dirty.
You could get forced off the track during a turn, have someone mess with a jump, or find yourself being treated like a ping pong ball in the middle of a pack. It all looked so real, and the physics reacted as you’d expect. During my first race, I kept it simple. Relying on my throttle and brake, I was able to coast through the track, managing jumps and avoiding losing control during some particularly tight turns. It was, just as described, easy to pick up and play. But, with the difficulty turned up, I still lost. That’s because the developers have added in some depth that has been absent from the genre for those players who really want a challenge.
The bike you choose, the upgrades it has, and how you utilize your weight as a rider all play a part in the mechanics. Leaning into your turns, pulling slightly back to smoothly traverse trails of bumps, and even pulling off a scrub over a jump. It’s an interesting system, but not necessarily because it’s new or anything. Racing games have been using physics for some time, but it’s because they’re easy to pick up on, yet require skill to master. However, in Monster Energy Supercross, there are tools to guide you to that mastery.
When playing, you can rewind at any time. Think Forza, with how games like Horizon let you erase the last 20 seconds or so, so you can learn how to squeeze that gap, make that turn, or not paint that pesky wall with your vehicle’s paint. You can do this in Monster Energy Supercross, at least while playing solo, in order to learn the tracks and grow accustomed to the nuances of each one.
Speaking of those nuances, they can change over the course of a race. The physics systems go beyond how you control your rider and the bike. The tracks themselves react to everyone on them. The surface changes as wheels drive over and crash, making each turn feel just a bit different. If you happen to be playing in the rain, mud makes driving and controlling your bike much more difficult. Nothing is just for show, it all has an effect on how you experience each race, making each one feel unique.
What’s impressive is the number of platforms this game is slated to hit when it launches (which is right around the corner on Feb. 13, 2018). Monster Energy Supercross is heading to PC, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. When asked about the parity between platforms, Milestone did say that they were working to make the best experience for each platform. Does this mean a racing game that takes full control of everything the Switch specifically has to offer? Because I can definitely get behind some detailed races while on the road. For now, though, as the game is still being worked on, it looks very nice.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a motocross game go for this level of realism. Roads that react to everyone on the track, bikes that you really need to control as well as the riders on them. It’s also interesting that it manages to offer all of that while still being easily accessible. Anyone can jump on and win (at least against the AI), and that’s a great thing to help get people into this style of game. There will be tutorials and ways to learn the more evolved mechanics, and that may prove to be just what’s needed for the future of motorcross in video games.