Each year, the development team at motorcycle experts Milestone create an official game of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross real-world championship. It represents the brash glitz of the USA’s premier dirt-based motorcycle series, with the official riders, bikes and locations.
However, since the first in 2018, for the most part, changes have been iterative. Be in no doubt that across the past four years updates have been made, with 2021’s Monster Energy Supercross 4 making the leap to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S for example, but there’s never been a leap.
This year marks the fifth instalment, and for Supercross 5, it seems like there are more changes than in any previous release in the franchise.
We were able to go hands-on with an early, unfinished, preview build of the game, so let’s dig into the updates.
Leap of faith
One key criticism I’ve had with recent Supercross games has been a lack of approachability for newcomers. Heck, 4 was even a struggle for those who were already acclimatised.
This has taken a significant step forward with Supercross 5, thankfully.
Previously there were featherweight tutorials and a lack of physics explanations. Once you’d completed the main Tutorial – and I use that term loosely as it was simply one lap around a track and a handful of vague on-screen prompts – you were out in the open and a little lost.
This time around, there’s the ‘Futures Academy’ where seven-time AMA Motocross 450cc and five-time AMA Supercross 450cc champion Ricky Carmichael guides you through some basic challenges.
It’s nothing earth-shattering, the ‘GOATs’ voiceover work is a bit wooden, but at last, there is an explanation of how to use the rider’s weight with the right analogue stick around corners and before big jumps. This was purely assumptive in past games.
Combined with overviews on how to scrub and adjust your rider’s position over a series of smaller bumps comes a slew of new assists.
There’s a Jump Helper, Flow Recovery and Automatic Weight Jumping, all absent from previous Supercross releases. While these do not take complete control away from the player, they are a welcome helping hand, aiding you through the trickiest sections and making it feel as if you’re doing all the hard work.
Riding with these subtle aids is the equivalent of adjusting a car’s traction control to suit.
I realise that hardcore or experienced Monster Energy Supercross players won’t see the big fuss about this, but finally, the game gives you a gentle nudge of encouragement.
Accessible, but not easy
Your on-track rivals remain a stern a test as ever, however. Sure, you can switch their competence to ‘very easy’, but even on the medium setting, you’ll need to learn each jump, bump and berm to an nth degree to even finish mid-table.
Based on this limited preview, I enjoyed the challenge more this time around thanks to the deeper understanding of the game’s physics and switching on a couple of the assists. I’m not afraid to say that, and you shouldn’t be to try them.
Once you’ve acclimatised, how your motocross steed controls in the air is much improved too. Whips and scrubs can be used on bigger jumps to not only look cool, but help the bike reach the ground quicker and therefore save time.
This time around, while you can’t do them with your eyes shut, it’s more straightforward to transition and easier to land without eating mud.
There’s also split-screen multiplayer too, something not seen in this series before. It works as you expect, allowing you and a friend to compete against each other within a pack of AI-controlled rivals.
On a more powerful PC equipped with a GeForce RTX 3090 graphics card, we suffered from screen tearing and frame rate dips, but the visuals were still detailed. With some further refinement before launch, this could be a worthwhile addition and is something that will also be implemented in Milestone’s upcoming MotoGP 22 game too.
Much like the still rough-around-the-edges split-screen, your AI rivals could do with some tweaking as they seem as intent as ever to just ride straight through you at times. It can be as if you don’t exist.
While, generally, I feel like the riding characteristics are a step in the right direction, I found it tricky at times to correctly place the motorbike after a banked corner due to a lack of precision when small steering adjustments need to be made.
However, it bears repeating, this is far from a final build.
The full rider and bike customisation options weren’t available, but the use of unlockable euphoric rider celebrations similar to F1 2021’s radio messages top off what looks to be an expansive set of visual and performative tweaks to unlock.
As Supercross 5 approaches its release, we haven’t tried the online multiplayer, Track Editor, open-world Free Roaming or Career modes yet – and all promise improvements, including a new Rider Shape injury system.
But, from this early hands-on, things are tracking in the right direction, plus the slick visuals and visor tear-off animation from the recent technology-sharing MXGP 2021 have also transitioned into Supercross 5 but amplified thanks to the heightened panache that comes with the American championship.
While, for many, Monster Energy Supercross 4 was sadly the nadir for the video game series so far, Supercross 5 is trying to right those ills and for the first time in several seasons, I’m actively anticipating its launch.
Monster Energy AMA Supercross 5 FIM World Championship – The Official Videogame releases on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC on 17th March 2022. It also has the longest name in racing video games. Fact.