Motocross Madness 2
Motocross games are everywhere. We have a preview of Edgar Torronteras' Extreme Biker next issue, and the game we're looking at here is not entirely dissimilar. Both games look like being a right good laugh, but where Extreme Biker boasts comedy tracks and more realistic physics, MM2 is simply more of the same, which in this case is no bad thing at all.
Fans of the first game may remember the time when they first discovered the joys of flight, etching up normally impassable mountains and riding over mines that threw man and machine into orbit, only to succumb to the forces of gravity and bounce across the desert. That single comedy feature turned what could have been a (literally) dry, humourless game into something that still is the most fun PC gamers can have on two wheels. But the fun didn't stop with coming off your bike either. Staying on the damn thing was just as enjoyable. With deft use of the Freestyle gamepad resulting in all manner of handlebar trickery, the doubling of the number of stunts that can be pulled off in the sequel should ensure legions of fans will return. By comparison, Extreme Biker's Tekken-style combos look just as impressive, but seem trickier to pull off.
From what we've heard, Rainbow Studios are planning to incorporate more natural and painful looking crashes (something Deibus have already managed to achieve). However, we're not going to see arms snapping off or spokes puncturing eyeballs - Microsoft would never allow such features to sully their squeaky-clean image. What this means is that by careful use of sound, the humour will be more subtle but just as powerful. For a hint of things to come, you only have to look at MS's most recent Madness title, Midtown Madness.
As well as outdoor stunt areas, motocross tracks and indoor supercross arenas, the developers will be including two new race modes -enduro and ghost races. Ghost races are nothing new, of course (racing against yourself is akin to a dog chasing its tail), but enduro-racing could be a little more entertaining. It's a long-distance, part-road, part crosscountry endurance contest - very sweaty, apparently.
More than that, though, official bikes will make it into the game, highly customisable both in look and performance, with the option to 'paint' your own leathers. And on the multiplayer side of things, you can expect to see bots, with a world ranking system of the top 100 bikers available for all to see, sporting their achievements on their licence plates.
Graphically, trees, shrubs, bridges and roads will provide a fresh challenge above the undulating landscapes of old, with riders and bikes recreated in greater detail.
To top it all, a full track editor will ship with MM2, so you can expect some bright spark to convert Quake deathmatch levels for use in it. Joy.
But where the first game was unrivalled, the developers now have two other teams vying for the motocross crown. As well as Extreme Biker, the irrepressible EA Sports are also on the case with the yet-unseen Supercross 2000. It all could go a bit Pete Tong for Rainbow Studios, but for the punters, things are looking good - whichever game comes out on top.
When the original Motocross Madness washed up in the squalid basement that passes for the PC, it's fair to say that more than a few eyebrows were raised. New-fangled 3D accelerator cards were all the rage and the game utilised them fully, throwing around some impressive visuals in a perfectly acceptable manner. More importantly, it was an extremely playable game, and grown men were seen to laugh like children as riders were tossed around like rag dolls in a burlesque display of bone-crunching action. And it wasn't just us simpletons that lapped it up, the world in general clutched the game to its collective bosom, and it probably went some way towards establishing Microsoft as a major games publishing force.
Two years on and the obligatory sequel is upon us, and while it hasn't quite inspired round-the-clock vigils, there has been a modicum of interest It's a tricky title to follow up though, largely because the first one was so good, but also because of the nature of the game. After all, there's no tenuous licence to update and no tedious storyline to rehash. It's simply a case of attempting to make it better. If bigger is better, then that's what they've done, as Motocross Madness 2dwarfs its predecessor, both in terms of graphical detail and physical size of environment.
Basically, the developer Rainbow Studios has thrown in everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink, from trains, planes and automobiles to trees, bushes and entire trailer parks (albeit sadly without white trash living oft road kill while listening to Elvis Presley and watching Godzilla with the sound turned down). These and other delights are to be found in the "all-new" Enduro Racing section, which is basically a larger version of the original Baja section, but populated with the aforementioned objects.
Not since Death Chase 2000 on the Spectrum has a motorcyclist been in such close proximity to such a large number of trees, and while the graphics may have moved on a tad, the outcome is the same. And it can be extraordinarily annoying. Watching your rider go arse over tit is undeniably amusing. Unfortunately, watching it every 30 seconds isn't. One of the best aspects of the first game was the wide open spaces and the unfettered throttle opportunities they offered. Being sunk up to the nuts in cacti doesn't give the same sense of freedom, and while a careful rider can easily dodge them, you end up wishing they weren't there. And by the magic of "computer wizardry," they don't have to be. At least not in the traditional sense of solid, dangerous (and irritating) objects. By deselecting the so-called Vegetation Collision option, said vegetation can be reduced to the role of mere decoration, thus rendering its inclusion pointless, unless of course you derive a perverse pleasure from driving through solid objects like a ghost.
So you can lose the trees, and for the sake of close racing it's probably advisable to do so.
However, the same can't be said for other objects, and while riding through the discarded wreckage of a light aircraft might make for a hilarious press release (unless you're David Coulthard or Frankie Dettori), actually getting entangled in its undercarriage is no more fun than playing Extreme Biker. The gimmicky approach continues with the so-called ambient vehicles, which aren't so ambient once your face has shattered their windscreen, leaving your body a twisted, contorted wreck. If the public information films of the 70s have taught us anything, it's that cars and bikes don't mix (and that gas explosions can be triggered by the spark from a light switch).
High speed collisions involving motorcycles and more conventional four-wheeled vehicles generally end with the motorcyclist crushed beneath the wheels or tossed through the air like the aforementioned rag doll, something that happens regularly thanks to the scripted appearance of the odd juggernaut. Likewise, cars suddenly emerge from the midst of the desert in a somewhat contrived manner, almost as if they're there to make you crash.
Hang on though, that's exactly the sort of thing that happened in Midtown Madness, which was undeniably ace and skill. This might just be a random theory concocted during a brief moment of clarity, but it's quite possibly due to the fact that with a car there is a greater window of opportunity for evasive action. On a bike, it's all or nothing. If you clip something you're off. In a car you can scrape a bit of paint work without greatly deviating from your course, leaving you to concentrate on the time-honoured ritual of pretending to shuffle dice while unleashing a torrent of foul-mouthed invective into the rear view mirror.
All of which is a mildly damning overview of the game's supposed new part, which isn't really new, just bigger (with the added bonus of causing chronic slowdown on a borderline recommended spec PC with 3D card).
So what else is new? Well, there's a career mode, which is covered in a mildly informative fashion elsewhere. Otherwise it's the same as it ever was, comprising open-plan Baja races, outdoor Nationals, indoor Supercross events, and the much feted Stunt Mode, as well as some multiplayer tag-based comedy. From the top, the Baja races really allow you to let rip -particularly if unhampered by vegetation -with success hinging on a combination of speed, skill and navigation. The Nationals are virtually identical to the first game, and as such are raced over tight tracks that offer numerous opportunities for extended air time, with almost as much of the race spent off ground as on it. The supercross tracks offer even more airborne action, with the addition of a crowd to whoop at your aerial prowess.
If anything, the handling of the bike seems to be based on a more arcadey model than before, enabling you to comfortably make unnaturally lateral landings that would normally result in a pelvis-shattering experience. Also, the bikes seem to be grossly overpowered for the circuits, with one injudicious blip of the throttle enough to launch you into the shrubbery, or in the case of the stadium races, almost into the crowd. You then have to re-enter the track via the route of exit within five seconds lest you be magically transported back to where the indiscretion occurred. The game is also extremely unforgiving in this aspect, as simply straying off the edge of the track for a second can result in this penalty, even if no advantage was gained. Bastards.
The stunts are as elaborate as ever, and while not providing a particularly fierce test of manual dexterity - press a button with a direction - they are undeniably spectacular, particularly if viewed with the aptly-named thrill-cam. On the subject of cameras, the game defaults to a fairly zoomed out chase view, sometimes giving the impression that you're operating the bike by remote control - which of course you are - rather than up close and personal. It can be zoomed in, at which point it becomes immediately unworkable as you can't see where in the name of Christendom you're riding. There is a first-person view, but without the reference point of the handlebars, it's akin to someone gluing your eyes open and shaking your head about in a life-threatening manner.
Getting back to the handling for a moment, a further modification is available in that accelerating in the air forces the front of the bike to rise whereas braking makes it pitch forward. Either or both options can be selected, but they do seem a little superfluous, given that leaning backwards or forwards has the same effect It was, of course, this independent rider movement that helped make the first game such a belter, and it makes a welcome return, going some way towards countering the perennial problem of bike game dynamics.
Mud In Your Eye
Ultimately though, it doesn't really capture the feel of motocross, a sport that - for a competitor at least - is about more than sticking your legs out 30ft in the air to impress the ladies. In reality, it's about tight braking and acceleration, choosing the right line, and stalking your opponent until an overtaking opportunity arises, aspects that are rarely alluded to in this game. Motocross is also about the sheer terror of leading a field of 40 riders - the game allows only ten - and of being engulfed in a choking cloud of dust. Some weather effects would have added variety, but as it is, the sun always shines.
The developers have clearly gone for the Pepsi Max angle, with the raucous soundtrack from beach metal no-marks Incubus providing an early pointer. To be fair, it isn't pretending to be a simulation, and despite the above gripes, there is still enough here to engage the weak-minded for a couple of hours. It's just not the great leap forward hoped for, and the gimmicky additions seem to be a case of over-egging the cake. Describing it as a glorified expansion pack might be a little harsh, but to all intents and purposes it's just some more tracks. Motocross Madness in new trousers.
Download Motocross Madness 2
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Motocross Madness 2 Screenshots and Media
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