Coming into the fifth yearly instalment of a series that has an up and down – pun intended – history and just 12 months after the franchise’s nadir, my expectations were not high for Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5. However, this is unquestionably the most polished Supercross experience to date and, hopefully, a turning point.
2021’s Supercross 4 left many wanting more. Despite being on the then-next-gen hardware, the visuals were flatter than an ironing board and the difficulty levels only appealed to seasoned veterans.
Thankfully, it seems like developer Milestone has listened to the fan feedback.
This is yet another yearly official title of the real-world Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship, featuring representations of the biggest dirt motorcycle stars, teams, tracks and sponsors. As with this series to date, it releases across PC, PlayStation and Xbox platforms and features a single-player career, online multiplayer, a Compound open-world area and track editor.
So far, so standard.
Here’s the thing, though, with Supercross 5. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it isn’t particularly innovative, but it refines many key elements.
Starting with the brutal difficulty in last year’s instalment, there’s now a suite of new assists. I realise that the dedicated, hardcore, fan who sleeps in a Ken Roczen jersey won’t look it these, but for the vast majority of players, they are a revelation.
Jump Helper, Flow Recovery and Automatic Weight Jumping help you find a rhythm or at least a semblance of one. They are a helping hand, rather than an automated system, creating the illusion that you’re nearly as good as YouTuber windham151.
You can still stack it, facepalming the mud with sometimes hilarious Jackass-style ragdoll physics, so learning which of the dips and jumps to attack over is key – but now there’s more chance of you completing a lap without falling. Sometimes.
Alongside these precautions is a more detailed tutorial mode – at last! But you need to know where it is. The actual ‘Tutorial’ is still more basic than a European youth hostel, and once complete proclaims that you are “now ready to take on the best”. You likely aren’t.
That’s where the Futures Academy comes in. Utilising a voiceover by seven-time AMA Motocross 450cc and five-time AMA Supercross 450cc champion Ricky Carmichael, it explains how to shift your rider’s weight around corners and before jumps. A simple explanation, if presented in crushingly low resolution it must be said, followed by a short hands-on test.
The assists combined with your additional knowledge work in harmony with computer-controlled rivals that have simmered down. In the previous iteration, ‘Very Easy’ AI difficulty was the order of the day for many, but the levels are now more progressive and at the top, provide close races for those with talent.
The main unleaded within the combustion chamber is the Career Mode. Once again, this theme of relatively simple additions really brings the experience to life.
There have always been side challenges, rider cosmetics to unlock and training events, but in Supercross 5 they are melded together alongside the rider injury ‘SHAPE’ system, key rivalries and contract negotiations to deliver a rich and worthy progression system.
Sure, the rider Workout Session where you collect the letters S.H.A.P.E like a 00s Tony Hawk game gets a little repetitive, but it finally makes use of the Compound area that is largely redundant otherwise. Plus, after you’ve tried a few, you can just spend 10,000 credits to mend your rider’s dislocated shoulder instead.
There are more customisation options than ever before, including tattoos and earrings for riders, and the ability to create, share and download custom helmet designs just like in the developer’s road-going motorcycle title Ride 4.
Working your way through Futures, Rookie and Pro is linear, but a slew of additional side events, skill tree unlocks, XP and credits mean there’s always something to do – which makes it even more of a shame that team management aspects are absent and the bike upgrades simplistic. Refine these elements, and this mode could be up there with something like the MotoGP game’s genre-leading efforts
Other new additions this year include the ability to join an online race after it has started, more obvious signposting for user-created tracks and, at times, outstanding visuals. We’ve played this on both a PS5 and a PC during the preview and review process, and the rider and bike details are now superlative and frame rates stable.
There is a caveat, however, and that is the ground detail on the console version is a bit hit and miss, and that’s a shame because it only takes one look at other Milestone games on these new systems to see what they can do. Hopefully, this is something that changes for the inevitable Supercross 6.
Local split-screen multiplayer is also a welcome addition, providing much hilarity as you try not to crash for the hundredth time against the AI.
Ah yes, your rivals. While they may be more in tune with most players’ skill levels, they still ride as if you don’t exist. Get caught in the midfield, and you’re going to get beaten up. This is what happens in the real world, except here it just looks so robotic.
Competitors push you along from behind like a snowplough or knock you aside as if they are made from granite.
This leads to the same gameplay as any other Supercross release in many ways. Either grab the lead at the start by holding back off the line before divebombing the entire field down the inside of Turn 1 or get bogged down, eaten alive and finish last. It’s rare you’ll finish 10th, for example, if you are of middling ability.
While the theme of revising small items to create a polished title rings true, there are still some blindingly obvious changes still to be made such as the pre-and-post-race voiceover using male-oriented terms when referring to a female, repetitive voiceover lines, AI rivals completely flummoxed by user-created tracks and – strangely for a Milestone game on solid-state-equipped hardware – lazy loading times.
I would love a form of online ranked racing too, please, but at least the network-connected options include private lobbies, the use of custom tracks and coming after launch, an esports competition.
Oh, and the difficulty of the career journal challenges – there’s little wonder that 0 per cent of players have so far completed the related Trophy/Achievement. A seemingly never-ending grind.
Monster Energy Supercross 5 will not knock your socks off, and my gripes with your on-track rival’s ineptitude remain. For some, the eardrum pummelling sound of the motorbikes combined with a lack of track knowledge may spell disaster. Losing your rhythm and trying to get going again can be painful.
But there is an honest appeal here. This is a mostly refined effort with a concerted brief to improve the title’s core competencies and eradicate the main drawbacks. Hopefully next year the console visuals take a step up too.
It’s by far and away the best AMA Supercross representation so far, and provided you find the right setup of assists and difficulty levels, you will enjoy your time. I’m going to go back to the career for a fourth season once this review is published and I don’t think I’ve ever fancied doing that in any other Supercross game to date.
|Release date||17th March 2022|
|Available platforms||PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S|
|Version tested||PlayStation 5|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.