The official game of the FIM Motocross World Championship had a bit of a trying time in 2020. It was solid, if unspectacular. 12 months later, and MXGP 2021 is a step forward in several areas, with a greater sense of solidarity.
Some of the rough edges have been filed down, and the result is a game that runs smoothly, is visually pleasing and, for the most part, delivers an authentic experience.
The thing is, in this day and age, that isn’t quite enough to elevate a racing game into the upper echelons of greatness…
In its most basic form, what you have here is every track – but one, at the time of writing – rider, team and motorcycle from last season’s real-world MXGP championship. There’s a track creator, an open-world area, online multiplayer, a single-player career with rider creation and bike upgrades plus the smooth 4K graphics and rapid loading times you expect from a game in this era.
It also helps that with your computer-controlled rivals set to easy, and the motorcycle-riding physics set to standard, gameplay is accessible and free-flowing. When you do up the difficulty level, learning every bump, dive and berm of the courses is essential – as it should be.
The aforementioned 2020 release was beset by buggy online races and a lack of online leaderboards at launch, both of which were remedied by post-release updates. Thankfully the network play is relatively plain sailing with 2021’s version straightaway.
There’s also a proliferation of new, subtle, details, such as your rider removing visor tear-offs once it’s splattered with mud and a slicker voice-over pre-event or when introducing you to different game modes. The replays are now genre-leading too. From certain angles, you will double-take, not sure if you’re watching the game or a real-world race.
I personally found the handling to be more benign, the rear wheel less likely to break traction at an aggressive angle. Easier to control, more lifelike, if lacking a certain edge.
The main bulk of gameplay remains in the single-player career, and happily, there have been some changes here too. Simply, you start out in MX2 and work your way to the main MXGP class with the goal of becoming a champion.
Four ‘Legacy’ tracks are included in MXGP 2021 and, initially, I thought these were a throwaway addition, reserved only for the odd online race. But there are bonus challenges to earn additional credits and EXP to help you to buy new bikes and advance through player levels respectively, and these utilise the venues from previous seasons.
Alongside duels, which are one-vs-one races for further EXP, they help to break up the monotony of season progression.
What I find slightly deflating, however, is a lack of significant progression year on year, and in fact, over the past six years. Several noticeable improvements over MXGP 2020, of that there is no doubt, but outside of the motocross game bubble, this franchise is being left behind in several key areas.
You only have to take a cursory glance at MotoGP 21 to see what could be. Created by the same company and also an officially licenced yearly release, its career mode is far more detailed.
There’s research and development progression, team member management and even the option of overseeing a junior team. All of this is absent in MXGP and has been for several seasons now. You can upgrade your equipment, but the changes are minimal and hidden within a sub-menu of a sub-menu.
On four wheels, the F1 games offer up ranked online play where you are matched against similarly skilled drivers, again something absent here, making this mode feel flaccid.
While the AI does a dependable job at being approachable or the best motocross riders on earth, the difficulty in-between seems mismatched. It’s too easy to dive down the inside of your rivals at the first corner and then never see them again. If you don’t grab the lead at the start, however, the leader will pull away and dominate. Inconsistent at best.
There’s a lack of overall incentive to continue to play after you’ve finished a season of the career and tried each other modes once or twice. Featuring an open world, set in Wales, the Playground is a superb idea, but aside from trying some Waypoint events created by the community, the area isn’t big or diverse enough to explore. There’s nothing to unlock by playing here, consequently, it’s superfluous.
Similarly, the Track Editor allows you to invent your dream venue within four, and now five following a recent update, locations. Creating a new level and sharing it across the internet is satisfyingly, but there’s little to no guidance for newcomers and completing a track is always tricky as it’s not immediately obvious where to place the finishing line and how to complete the circuit.
While I enjoy the riding, visuals and the mere existence of a licenced motocross game, the elements outside of the mud tracks are starting to feel stale. The game’s basis is solid – arguably this is the game that should have been released in 2020 – and there’s potential, but it’s time to innovate further with the next instalment.
|Release date||30th November 2021|
|Available platforms||PC (Steam), PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.