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Championship Motocross (PSX) Review

Background Info

The motocross genre is heating up with loads of new titles. THQ joins the fray with Championship Motocross, which features the endorsement of rider Ricky Carmichael. This variation features over a dozen tracks with full weather effects. Throw in a pretty good physics model, and you have yourself a winner...or do you?

Presentation/Graphics : 88
The races in Championship Motocross feature a total of 8 racers. By keeping the rider count down, Championship Motocross tries to keep the gameplay at a steady pace. Unfortunately, when all 8 motorcycles are on screen, the game does tend to slow down a little. However, this is isolated to the beginning of a race and is not an issue as you progress.

The graphical presentation is decent. Bikes and riders are modeled well, but some of the tracks are bland. Dirt tracks feature little texturing, although they do have dirt kicking up at times. The track side detail is much better, with everything from caves, to hills, to beachgoers, to trees.

The movement of the motorcycle and rider is smooth. As the bike sways from left to right, there are several frames to smooth the animation. If the bike goes below a certain angle, the rider's leg kicks out to provide some balance. Jumping through the air nets a fluid motion, and landing gives the impression of a realistic return to Earth.

Presentation/Audio : 65
Ouch! Did you see that bee? Maybe not yet, but they are all over this game. The 125cc motorcycles sound like they should be producing honey rather than horsepower. The sounds in this game, including the music, are on the annoying side. There's no commentary, just bees.

What's odd about the sound is that if you catch some big air, the sound goes away. On the way up, the sound deadens, and it picks up again on the way down. But for a few moments, you can't even hear your own bike.

Carving out some dirt is modeled well, but that's about it. The game truly falls short in the audio department.

Interface/Options : 90
Driving in Championship Motocross is simple. The throttle is activated with the X button, and the brakes are applied with the square button. In tight turns, or if you carry too much speed through a turn, you can initiate a powerslide with the R1 button and by moving to the left or right. You steer left or right with the pad, and you can adjust the forwards and backwards motion with the pad as well. At times your front wheel wants to kick up, so a quick push up on the stick pops the nose back down.

While there are no freestyle modes, the game features a variety of special tricks. Tricks are employed with various permutations of the circle and R2 buttons and the control stick. The tricks serve no purpose except to possibly cause a crash.

Menus are simple, and vehicle options are explained in the setup menu before the race. The game manual parallels the game menus, but what else would you expect from a manual?

Gameplay : 65
Championship Motocross features single- and two-player action. In single- player mode, the heart of the game lies with the Championship mode, which entails a series of tracks in three engine categories: 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc. Each category utilizes more tracks, and to advance to the next category, you must come in first. To make it more difficult, there is no saving to the memory card during a championship season. With laps taking on the order of a minute, you are in for around 30 minutes of racing before you can access the memory card. This is both good and bad. The good is that you can't cheat and opt out of a bad race. The bad is that you may be doing great but can't spend more time with the game.

The riders, for the most part, are fictitious. By default, you play as Ricky Carmichael, a two-time AMA champion. You would think with that pedigree that you'd kick some butt out on the course. Nope. Instead, some guy named Andrew Mckenzie always seems to lead the races. It took the longest time for me to get past the 125cc class. No matter how well I raced, I'd always see that darn Andrew Mckenzie atop the leader board. It took a couple of hours, but I finally made it through. Once I did, the game's credits rolled by, and I'll leave it to you to discover who this wonderful rider is.

It was before this point that I thought the AI was cheating. If you don't set your bike up perfectly, no amount of clean racing will place you at the top. The lead rider never seems to make mistakes, which are left for the pack. And if you do happen to pull some quick laps, making up a couple seconds on the leader, the rewards aren't there. Once you make it to the top, the second place rider is right on your tail. While you were always a second or two back, he's always a half second or so behind. It's too difficult to pull away.

The tracks are uninspired. The supercross style tracks are better suited for sprint car racing, as they usually only have about a dozen jumps over the entire lap and few turns. The outdoor motocross events aren't much better. While some of them have narrow straights and decent hills, for the most part the racing is boring. The tracks are wide enough to fit a few semi-trucks, giving no sense of speed and too much passing room.

On the plus side, I really like the physics of the bike. Shifting the bike from left to right feels realistic. The weight shift necessary to rotate the bike comes across, and the shift is not instantaneous. Likewise, forward and backward motion flows naturally. Pulling up on the handlebars at a jump yields a higher and longer jump, as it should.

The negative side of the physics is the jumping. You'll swear it's Evel Knievel riding those bikes and not Ricky Carmichael. During a race, the computer keeps track of your longest and highest jumps. On some jumps, you can travel 30 meters or more, or nearly 100 feet. Sometimes it's impossible not to jump a great distance. Some of the AI riders have no trouble staying low to the ground, but for some reason you get vaulted out of a cannon.

So what you are left with is a mixed bag. Uninspired tracks, an AI that seems to cheat on the early levels, a tendency to fly, but good handling.

Replay Value : 60
You may find yourself playing this game over and over for one reason - to get past the first championship season. I found the 125cc class to be the most difficult, and it took quite a few tries to come in first. The replay value for me was just to get past that first series. I was playing it out of spite rather than out of enjoyment, which is not a good thing.

There are other motorcycle racing games out there with much better AI and track design. While the physics might not be as good in the other packages, they are more fun.

Overall : 70
If you like frustration, uninspired tracks, an AI that cheats at times, and bees, Championship Motocross is for you. But don't blame me if you put your hand in the honey jar and get stung.

By: James Smith 11/29/99

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