Activision has dominated the extreme sports world, with the likes of Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, Shaun Murray’s Wakeboarding and the king of them all, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. Leaving no sport unturned, they’ve now entered the muddy realm of motocross with MTX Mototrax. Building off of the successful formula in Hawk’s fourth installment, Mototrax offers fans the chance to live the life of a motocross star. And the result is a motocross life to remember.
The game offers players the ability to step into the shoes of one of today’s hottest riders, including Carey Hart, Kenny Bartram and Tommy “The Tomcat” Clowers, or customize a rider of their own. The create-a-rider option offers a good level of customization, with hairstyle, hair and skin color, racing gear and street gear among the available “unique” components. Although it isn’t as comprehensive as some other games with this feature – it’s no Top Spin – the game strikes a good balance between wanting unique characters and wanting to plunge players right into the action.
Once you create your player, you can take your newly created personality into one of three gameplay options. The first is Exhibition mode, which involves racing around the few tracks that are open at the start of the game. The second is Online multiplayer, which supports races with up to eight other people. The third mode, and the one you’ll want to dive right into if you want to open up better bikes and more tracks, is the Career mode.
When you enter the Career mode, you’re given a PDA in order to keep in touch with your team manager, sponsors and the MX whiz kid, Travis Pastrana. The PDA is a handy device, as it allows you quick access to many different functions. You can keep track of your stats, jump to new events and change your rider options, and it also holds the ever-important save screen. Unlike THPS 4, Mototrax does not prompt you to save after completing an objective, nor does it auto save, so you need to save your progress before you turn the game off.
Your first stop as a rookie will be a free-ride session at Travis’ Compound, the dirt bike equivalent of Dave Mirra’s Camp Woodward. The Compound is one of several free-ride areas in the game and serves as a training ground where you prove yourself worthy to the other riders and to your team. It’s here where you learn new tricks and are given objectives to complete.
Taking a page from THPS 4, Mototrax requires you to talk to people in order to gain objectives, some of which you’ll have to chase down on your bike. Many of the goals are fun and a good way to practice your skills, such as participating in a race or completing a series of tricks. Other objectives can seem pointless and frustrating, leaving the impression that they are just filler. Despite these few rough spots, though, the free-ride areas are expansive, and there is quite a bit of terrain to explore.
As is true with most extreme sports games, the best part about playing is the ability to perform tricks. Racing is all well and good, but when it comes down to it, the adrenaline comes from pulling a string of insane stunts. You begin the game with only a handful of tricks, but as you progress through the ranks, you will open up more. In all, there are more than 100 tricks to be “thrown down” in the game.
The trick system works well and is user friendly, requiring only the push of one of the two available trick buttons in conjunction with a direction on the thumbstick. Similar to most other dirt bike and ATV games, Mototrax allows the bike’s suspension to be pre-loaded, or compressed, before each jump in order to get the right height. Compressing the suspension is essential to maintaining your speed through the rhythm sections and having a smooth ride.
You can forget that smoothness when it comes to the graphics, though, which are sadly the worst feature of MTX Mototrax. In a game that takes you all over the United States, including Hawaii, and all the way to the Australian Outback, it’s a shame that more time wasn’t spent making these environments more detailed. At first glance, racing around at 60 mph with the scenery flying at you, everything looks fine. But upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious that something is missing. The trees look two-dimensional, as do the crowds at the competitions, and there’s very little texture to any of the surfaces. Even the other riders, though based on the pros themselves, seem bland and lack animation. If there’s one redeeming quality it’s the framerate, even in the first-person “handlebar cam,” but it doesn’t quite make up for the other graphical shortcomings.
The game features voice-overs by the pros, but like the graphic snafus, the dialogue just comes out flat. Between the sound of the bikes (loud) and the music (louder), there isn’t a lot of background noise. You can turn down the music volume if you choose, in which case you’ll hear the bikes and an occasional bird or frog, but you’re not exactly out for a Sunday stroll on that bike, are you? Engine noise is a good thing. The soundtrack certainly won’t be for everyone, although Faith No More, Slipknot and the Distillers fit with the mood of the game, but the game features custom soundtracks, so you can play whatever music you like.
Playing Mototrax on Xbox Live is a fun experience, with little or no lag, but there are a few key areas with room for improvement. The biggest inconvenience is that the host can’t change the track without shutting down the room. The choice is to either to race the same track over and over or start a new room every three minutes. Another interesting online aspect is the lack of a lobby when you join a room. As soon as people join the game, they’re automatically put on the track to ride around until the host starts the race. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but eventually you get used to it.
As with Project Gotham Racing 2, you can be connected to Live even in career mode. Unlike PGR2 though, Mototrax does not give you easy access to Live from the career mode, which is incredibly frustrating. For example, let’s say you are in the middle of a supercross series and you receive an invite. You would need to quit the race, save your career progress, enter multiplayer mode, choose network play, select your rider, then your bike, choose “Live” and then click on the Friends menu. In the time it takes you just to find out who the invitation was from, you could’ve eaten breakfast, taken a shower, walked the dog and read a book.
The online scoreboards track your overall lap time, weekly lap time, overall mileage and global time. When you access the scoreboards, you will be shown your position and the other nine players around you, alongside another window that shows the Top Ten, so you can compare your times to those of the top players. As nice as it sounds, there are two main problems with the scoreboard system. The first is that you can’t scroll through the list to get a feel for just how many people are ranked on that track. Sure, you might be ranked number 100, but is that out of 10,000 or 106? The second flaw is that you can’t access your friends’ scores. I can’t help but think that the Live component was rushed and that not much thought went into the setup. It isn’t as if this game is a trailblazer when it comes to this feature, either. In fact, the first Live lobby ever used was in Moto GP, and it’s still one of the best in terms of usability, functionality and convenience.
Despite the unpolished graphics and the less than perfect Live interface, MTX Mototrax is still a great experience, on or offline. There is plenty of variety in the single-player mode with freestyle events, supercross circuits and motocross series, and the online aspect just adds that much more replay value to the game. The shortcomings of the game, although noticeable, are not enough to detract from the game’s overall quality. The fun you will have while racing around, flinging mud from your tires as you perform gravity-defying stunts, will easily make you forget those other things.
- Gameplay: 8.3
- Graphics: 7
- Sound: 7
- Replay: 9
- Overall: 8.6
- Dirt bikes, mud, crazy tricks, and did I mention mud?
— J. Paradise