Fun fact, Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 is the tenth off-road motocross video game released by Milestone. What makes that stat even more profound is the realisation that this incredible workflow is within only six years.
Across the MXGP games – which are the officially licensed titles of the outdoors FIM MXGP series – and the Monster Energy Supercross releases, for the mainly arena-based US championship, this has been a litany of solid and respectable evolutions, all a derivation from the first MXGP game in 2015.
With the release of Supercross 4 later this week, 11th March 2021, we have reached a crossroads for the series. Following on from MXGP 2020 in January and Ride 4 in the same month, this is the third release by the Italian developer for the next-gen systems of PS5 and Xbox Series, while many other developers are yet to release their first.
I can’t imagine the stresses and strains involved to release one game across multiple platforms, never mind three in short succession. Supercross 4 is also available for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Google Stadia too. That must have been an intense last few months for the team.
Sadly, it shows.
The end result is a game that promised some steps forward over its predecessor – and in some ways, it is – but feels a backwards step when it comes to the all-important on-track action. Worse, playing the game in 4K, HDR and 60fps simply highlights the need for a revolution instead of steady evolution. Allow me to explain…
Alongside the sleek menu aesthetic, a new feature for Supercross 4 is a refreshed career structure. You start off with a few races in the ‘Futures’ category, before progressing into ‘Rookie’ which consists of the regular 250 East or West championships and finally ‘Pro’, which is the main 450 class against all the official riders and teams.
Along the way, you can purchase performance upgrades and cosmetic items for your bike. You spend credits to do this, earnt by doing well in races but also by completing supplementary training and extra events too, held between championship rounds. The amount you can change the design of your vehicle depends if you select to ride for an existing team or chose to ride for your own setup with a sponsor. Makes sense, but strangely if you pick an established outfit you cannot purchase performance upgrades. That doesn’t make sense.
Alongside equipment changes, you can also upgrade yourself like some sort of cyborg. There’s an in-depth skill tree where you can use skill points to level up abilities such as braking performance, handling prowess and whip speed. You gain skill points by completing challenges within your journal, such as lading 50 scrubs or overtaking a number of opponents.
The combination of motorcycle and rider upgrades, optional events in-between the main races and the new tiers make for a refreshing change that reduces the interminable feeling of previous career modes. It is mildly frustrating, however, that in order to progress into the ‘Pro’ category I was required to reach a top-three placement in the ‘Rookie’ season – I finished sixth in the standings plus won a few races. I feel like in real life there’s at least a chance to move to a backmarker 450 team for that performance, but alas, I had to repeat the year like someone who failed their A-Levels.
Being an official game of a championship means you have all the tracks from a real-life season, including one based at the legendary Daytona circuit in Florida. Not only that, you get an authentic atmosphere, with pre and post-race fireworks, a vocal crowd and impressive podium ceremonies. There’s a sense of occasion.
Witnessing your custom character after a few races and choice upgrades finally reaching the podium is a real moment.
This is made all the more relieving due to the odd behaviour of the AI. There are no two ways about it, your opponents are vastly quicker than in Supercross 1, 2 or 3. Imagine being a rookie and putting the difficulty level to medium or hard straight away and that’s what it feels like. I’ve played many a Milestone motocross game, but none has had quite so aggressive and fast rivals. On the one hand, you end up being in closely fought battle packs, with plenty of fender-rubbing to keep you on your toes. You really have to work for most victories. Even on ‘Very Easy’, newcomers will struggle.
At tracks such as Oakland-Alameda Coliseum on a 250, there’s a section where try as I might, I simply could not find the right rhythm to reach a jump in the way the computer-controlled field could. On the other hand, you can walk a victory on occasion. Win one race, finish last the next. That feels a little unbalanced to me.
The AI also is sometimes so random. I mean, so are real-life competitors so I don’t mind them making mistakes, but online I had one riding complete off track and then flying back on in the middle of a corner. Generally, they find it hard to deal with you on track, often pushing you along from behind or landing on your head as if you aren’t supposed to be there.
Adding to the frustration are odd little errors. On one circuit, a rival stepped over the inside of the track limits at the first corner, resulting in a reset. But they were reset a good four bike lengths ahead of the pack. Often, during career challenges held on fictional tracks, the AutoPilot will go off-piste before you even have control, making you fail the event. From a standing start, during career races, your rivals seem to pull away from you down into the first corner. But, during training events held on the compound, they have a delayed start and you are miles ahead before turn one.
Speaking of the ‘Compound’, this is an additional open-world area. The career uses it for some optional tasks. In MXGP 2020, the other recent off-road racing game by Milestone, I found its Playground open-world equivalent to be pretty but largely pointless. In Supercross 4, it’s bland, ugly and pointless. The worst one in a long time, completely superfluous and devoid of personality.
The area looks decidedly last-gen, but unfortunately, so do the official tracks. Look closely at the ground and the textures are poor, lacking in detail and in need of a full next-gen re-design. I don’t know the full context, but I would suggest that the development team is well aware, as new to the photo mode is a mandatory blue graduated filter at the top and bottom of every image which conveniently hides the poor textures. Yes. Really.
The online is from a bygone area. You get either a straightforward lobby or Race Director mode, with no option of setting up races yourself, just a track voting system. With no ranking or progression system, you lack the ability to race with equally skilled riders. It does, at least, work in our pre-release testing.
There are a few smaller areas though that are thoroughly up to speed. On PS5, the DualSense lights up different colours as your approach the redline, it rumbles across the rutted surfaces and you feel like you are squeezing on the power and brakes. Lovely. The loading times are at warp speed in comparison to Supercross 3 too, plus the doubling of the frame rate makes a noticeable difference. But, for the most part, you never get the sense that this game is pushing the hardware.
The Track Editor also returns with some small tweaks. A cool addition and something that is fun to play with. There’s a very basic tutorial and I find it tricky at first to complete a track – the end section isn’t straight forward to validate. But, there will be a selection of weird and wonderful tracks created by other users and shared online to try out. Again though, the wacky AI sometimes cannot handle the creations, exhibiting the behaviour of someone severely hung-over.
Which neatly sets the tone for the whole game. There’s a lot here, with plenty to try. But, I think now is the time for this series to receive a complete refresh. With all that has happened in the world of late and a new console generation launching at the same time, this volume of output must have been hard to achieve. Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 feels like a rush-job or padding for time until a heavily updated version in 2022.
Either way, I just hope the Milestone development team is now able to catch up on some sleep.
|Release date||11th March 2021|
|Available platforms||PS5, Xbox Series, PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam) and Google Stadia|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.