Review: MUD FIM Motocross World Championship
If motocross is your thing then I’ll wager your gaming collections have been sorely lacking, as it turns out it’s quite an under-represented sport on consoles – which is shocking really, when you consider the size of the fanbase. A quick scan through the ‘Racing & Flying’ section on Xbox.com (lord knows why Crackdown falls under that umbrella) shows that all you’ve really got on offer are multi-vehicle mashups like Pure, FUEL or MX vs ATV. Fair play to the Italian-based Milestone then, for being the first development studio to attempt to bring this high adrenaline sport to Xbox 360.
Much like Milestone’s other official racing franchises SBK and WRC, MUD features all the competitors you’d expect to see hacking it around muddy courses in real life, and they’re all playable in the game’s Official Mode which features three different race types; Quick Race, Championship and the Monster Energy FIM MXoN. Quick Race allows you to pick a rider and a course for a one-off event, whilst Championship follows the real-life season, although you are able to customise the mode yourself by chopping and changing courses as you see fit. Both these modes let you specify whether you want to take part in MX1 (which allows two-stroke engines up to 250cc and four-stroke engines up to 450cc) or MX2 (two-stroke engines up to 125cc and four-stroke engines up to 250cc) class races, whilst the Monster Energy MXoN mode adds an Open race to the selection, which features a mixture of both MX1 and MX2 riders.
The difference here is that the Monster Energy mode allows you to pick a country to race for (with a default rider for that country), whilst Championship and Quick Race lets you choose from all the riders in the championship. Each rider is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars (presumably based on their overall skill and performance), but it doesn’t make much sense for you to pick the one star riders over the higher-ranking chaps, as they clearly struggle to keep up with the pack and don’t handle as well. It’s a shame, because if your favourite guy is of a low star rating then you’ll have to work harder in order to gain a decent place at the finish line – and considering you are unable to rank the riders up it kind of feels as though you’re starting the race off with a handicap, particularly when some riders handle like you’re dragging a turd around a muddy garden.
The MUD World Tour is where the real fun lies however, as you’re allocated one of four fictional ‘heroes’ to take to the top of the rankings across a series of different race types that aren’t just limited to the standard all-vs-all archetype. These range from checkpoint races where you have to clear a certain number of flaming gates in an allotted time period in order to reach first place, or an elimination round where the poor sap bringing up the rear will get automatically knocked out in a ‘last man standing’ scenario.
Each hero comes with four skills (Endurance, Instinct, Agility and Strength) and will individually specialise in a particular skill – certain races in the mode will have a more favourable outcome for you if you pick the right hero for the job, providing you’ve unlocked them on your travels. You earn points for races you complete, and the further up the rankings you finish will obviously equal greater points – which can then be spent on improving your hero’s skills or on a number of different unlockables.
The unlockables on offer are quite surprising and add a neat touch to the gameplay; new tricks can be purchased and added to your repertoire, you can buy into other racing teams and trick crews or unlock a new helmet or two, whilst improving your hero’s skills will improve their overall riding prowess. Energy drinks can also be purchased, which are activated by tapping X during a race – they have different properties, but most boost your speed for a limited time. They can definitely come in handy and at times are the only difference between winning and losing a race, especially if you choose to use them at the wrong time.
You’re also rewarded a speed boost by successfully pulling off a ‘scrub’ whilst racing, which is essentially a whip-style trick that you’re only able to perform on certain jumps in a course – you’re forewarned that a scrub opportunity is on the way by a ‘prepare to scrub’ message that appears on-screen, followed by a prompt to press and hold the A button. Timing the scrub is key; letting go of the A button before the manoeuvre is complete won’t benefit you, but holding it down too long will cause your rider to crash – pull it off correctly and you’ll be rewarded with either a ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ rating, with an appropriately lasting speed boost as the payoff. It’s a great mechanic when it works well, but it can be a real bitch at times – there are so many jumps placed around the tracks that it can be frustrating when you’re only able to scrub at certain points, and when there’s a bend placed a few feet after landing a scrub you have to brake to avoid stacking it against the walls, thus negating any headway you may have earned from the speed boost.
Likewise, if you don’t approach a scrub (or indeed any) jump at the right angle then the chances are you’ll go flying out-of-bounds and end up re-spawning on the track, losing valuable seconds for your opponents to gain ground on you. The boundaries on each track are also very strict; even the slightest deviation from the track will cause you to re-spawn, which can be very frustrating – especially if you’re on the outskirts of a pack of riders and end up getting shoved slightly off the course. That said, extremely tight races where you’re part of a large pack hopping over every jump in tandem is extremely cool, and there are some real butt-clenching moments of pure fun to be had.
Disappointingly, you’re only able to pull off other tricks in the trick mode – I think Milestone have missed a real trick (excuse the pun) by not allowing you to use them in the races – where you’re allocated a time slot and a target score to reach in a number of differently themed arenas. These arenas are essentially a blank canvas for you to show off your trick prowess, with a number of giant ramps placed strategically for you to get some air off. Tricks are easily achieved by a quick double-press of the face buttons, with more variations available after the relevant Trick Card has been unlocked. Your trick crew will reward you with extra points at the end of a challenge if you achieve the goals they set you (reach 9th place by the end of a trick session, for example), so it’s worth keeping an eye on these in your hero’s stats section.
Graphically, MUD is fairly easy on the eye, with nice touches like the rider’s jerseys flapping in the wind adding to the overall realism. The rag doll mechanics when you crash are a bit extreme though, the way the riders stick their legs out when turning just looks a bit false and the crowds look a tad lifeless, restricted to one or two frames of the same ‘jumping up and down’ animation each. There’s the odd section where racing in the shadows on some of the sunnier courses end up being a bit of a blind spot, so it can be hard to see what’s going on – but for the most part the game manages to look convincing enough with just the right touch of arcade-feel to keep things interesting.
I have to make a special mention regarding the soundtrack though; I’m partial to a good bit of metal but the song selection on offer here is on the wrong side of annoying, with the same three or four tracks seeming repeated ad-infinitum – and I have to admit to turning the music off, which is something I haven’t done in a game for quite a while. This does bring out the awesome-sounding motorbikes though, and on a decent headset or sound system the throaty growl on some of the bikes is amazing.
Overall, I have to admit to being fairly surprised and impressed by MUD – I wasn’t expecting to be drawn so deeply into the title, but the sheer amount of content and different modes on offer is excellent. There really is something for everybody, as Milestone seem to have struck a decent balance between accessible arcade racing in the Official Mode and the more involved and complex World Tour. There’s a few dodgy design decisions that still fox me, like the differently ranked riders in Official Mode and the slightly wafty scrub mechanic, but forte most part it ends up being possibly the most fun I’ve ever had with a two-wheeled console game, and is definitely the most varied and enjoyable.
Review: MUD FIM Motocross World Championship Results
What we liked:
Excellent World Tour mode
Some brilliantly designed courses
The first dedicated MX-only title
What we disliked:
Official mode is a bit weak, regarding star-rated riders
Scrubbing can be frustrating at times