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Championship Motocross 2001 (PSX) Review


What is it with PlayStation Motocross games and their long titles? There's 'Jeremy McGrath Supercross 2001' from Acclaim, 'Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana' by Z-Axis, and now from Funcom we get [deep breath] 'Championship Motocross 2001 featuring Ricky Carmichael'! Perhaps, the developers are having a little competition to see who can come up with the most long-winded title? If so, Funcom's newest racer surely takes the cake. Fortunately for Funcom, they also outdid all the other developers by producing an enjoyable, though short-lived, arcade-style racer that beats out Acclaim's McGrath vs. Pastrana as the best motocross game on the PlayStation.

Presentation/Graphics : 83
Considering the last two motocross games I played had some serious framerate problems, this was the very first thing I looked for in Championship Motocross 2001. Anything like the herky-jerky visuals in Jeremy McGrath Motocross 2000 and EA Sports Supercross and I'd have to head down to my pharmacist to pick up some Dramamine. Thankfully, Funcom saved me the trip by giving CM2K1 a silky-smooth framerate and even though the framerate slightly drops in split-screen two player mode, it still remains fairly constant throughout.

After the solid frame rate, the best thing about CM2K1's visuals are the brilliant course graphics. The outdoor courses are littered with tons of trackside details such as grandstands, trailers, ad boards, bales of hay, tents and [I]the[/I] best trees I have ever seen in a PlayStation game. The indoor stadiums are just as good, with excellent lighting, crowds, and jumbotrons that show the action live as it happens with no drop in the framerate! The final Supercross course in the Career Mode, Las Vegas, also features an outdoor section of the track that has the Las Vegas skyline in the background. The textures are also very realistic, and the lighting effects such as lens flare are done very well, as are particulate effects such as the bikes kicking up sand and mud.

However, with this level of detail there is quite a bit of pop-up and fogging in the distance and there's also some clipping which can be quite annoying at times. Another weak link in CM2K1's visuals are the poor rider models, which require a few more polygons to look realistic, and the collision animations could use some work too. However, if these shortcomings are a necessary prerequisite for the solid frame rate it's an acceptable and intelligent trade-off by Funcom.

The menu screens are unique the menus are based on different locations around the same racing venue. So when you want to select a rider you're taken to the rider's tent, when you want to select parts you're whisked to the garage etc. It all looks very nice, the only problem is that there are varying loading times between these different screens and if you forget something and want to backtrack a few screens it can take a while.

CM2K1 isn't the best looking racing game on the PlayStation, but the overall visuals are above average and it's easily the best looking motocross game on the system.

Presentation/Audio : 55
CM2K1 features music from Bomb 32, One Minute Silence, Pimadelic, and other bands I have never heard of. The music isn't my cup of tea, and after 5 minutes I had heard enough and turned it off. Unfortunately, the game's other sounds aren't anything to write home about. The engine sounds are poor, and I can't hear the difference between a 125cc bike and a 250cc one. Similarly, the crowd, collision and ambient sounds are virtually non-existent. This is definitely one area of development that Funcom needs to spend more time on in the future.

Interface/Options : 79
Championship Motocross 2001 features five modes of play: Single Race (one- or two-player), Championship (one- or two-player), Career Mode, Practice and Freestyle. The Championship mode has two divisions; 125cc and 250cc. The 16-venue 250cc division is unlocked by winning the 8-venue 125cc one, and it's the usual fare with 15 championship points for first place, 12 for second, 10 for third and so on. Practice mode basically allows you to race around the track of your choice alone, while the Freestyle mode features 4 different freestyle arenas in which you can fall asleep trying to win the lame freestyle competitions.

The main course of the game, as you've probably guessed by now, is the career mode. Here you start off by creating a rider that enters the four race amateur circuit. Once you manage to win the amateur circuit you get entrance to the 125cc circuit and receive offers from different racing sponsors. The sponsors differ from each other in the type of bike they give you, the amount of cash you get for winning a race, and the signing bonus. There are 8 courses in the 125cc circuit which are a mixture of outdoor Nationals and indoor Supercross venues. You only get cash for winning a race, and also small Holeshot (that's when you get around the first turn in the lead) and lap record bonuses. You can then spend your cash on seven different aspects of your bike: the tires, exhaust, brakes, sprockets, suspension, gas, and engine all of which have a very discernable difference upon the handling of your bike. Once you win the 125cc circuit you're promoted to the final 250cc circuit which features 16 venues.

Now while this sounds great, with 20 different venues, lots of races, and numerous ways to upgrade your bike, there's one fatal flaw that cuts short the longevity and it's to do with the various upgrades to your bike. Both in the manual and the in-game Bike Shop menus (where you purchase parts) each part you buy, be it an engine, tires or brakes has various statistics associated with it, the most important of which is the longevity of the part. For example, if you pay for a Full Rebuild of your engine you can increase your engine's torque and top speed. However, as the menu screen and the manual states, this Full Rebuild lasts for only three races and if you use it after that you'll blow your engine. This is an excellent system as you only get cash for winning races, and since the circuits have lots of races this really increases the difficulty and the replay value because if you don't win races you may not have enough cash to just to maintain the upgrades you have. The problem is, upgrade part longevity isn't implemented in the game! It's outlined in the menu and the manual, but for some reason if you purchase a Full Rebuild of your engine after the 1st race of the season, it will still be working fine come the 16th and final race! The same goes for every other upgrade part, and this problem is exacerbated by the fact that signing bonuses are disproportionately large for example, you only get $500 for winning a race, but if you sign with Kawasaki you get $7000 right off the bat, and the upgrade parts are incredibly cheap. As such, you just upgrade every part of your bike before the first race of the season, and your upgrades will last all the way through while you bulldoze the competition! I am still amazed that Funcom didn't implement this properly, and even more amazed that this error went undetected by QA.

Another niggling problem associated with the Career mode is that when you buy upgrade parts, the newly purchased parts aren't automatically fitted instead you have to go to the garage menu and select them before each race. It's a small problem, but over a 16-race season it can get annoying.

In terms of courses, CM2K1 serves up 12 Outdoor Nationals, 4 Supercross tracks, and 4 amateur tracks. The tracks are based on real-life venues, so they're all superbly designed, and the game's impressive graphics really bring them to life. The game also features options for choosing either vertical or horizontal split screen for two-player mode, options for the length of the races, and a create-a-rider option.

Gameplay : 84
First things first, Championship Motocross 2001 is not a simulation. I really don't know why developers are scared to even attempt a simulation of the sport of Motocross; with the glut of automobile racing simulations, it's not like the PlayStation can't handle a true racing simulation. Regardless, Funcom's creation goes the way of Jeremy McGrath and EA Sports Supercross by adding simple controls, watered down physics, and those annoying invisible barriers surrounding the tracks. However, CM2K1 succeeds in one area that the aforementioned two failed; it's actually fun!

The controls, while still pretty loose compared to most car racing games, are tighter than other Supercross games, and the tricks (of which there are 12 different types) are all easy to pull off. In keeping with the arcade approach, Funcom included a powerslide button (R1) which makes successful powersliding easy, and if you double tap the accelerator you get a short speed burst. Usually, I'd complain about these two features, but the racing is fast and furious, and these controls suit an arcade-style racer.

In terms of AI, CM2K1 is definitely unique. It seems that in Career and Championship mode, each opponent in the field takes turns at challenging for the victory over the course the season. For example, in the first race of the season Ricky Carmichael may be the best CPU rider in the pack and will finish in the top two, then in the second race of the season Kevin Windham will be the best CPU rider, while Carmichael will end up finishing 6th or 7th! In the third race of the season, John Dowd will challenge you for the top spot while Windham will finish near the back of the pack, and Carmichael rise to the middle. This strange pattern continues throughout the season and as a result, you can easily win a championship without even winning a race! Just as long as you consistently finish second or third the championship will be yours since none of the other riders can put together a consistent challenge over the course of the season. Of course, because of the aforementioned problem regarding the infinite longevity of the upgrade parts you end up winning more than half of the races anyway.

There are also other AI oddities--for example, it seems that when the 'chosen' AI rider manages to get a lead near the end of a race he pulls away from the pack at a completely ridiculous rate. For example, at Budds Creek I was leading for most of the race, and then with half a lap to go Ricky Carmichael passed me, and with just half a lap remaining he was able to pull away and win the race by 9 seconds!

At this point, it seems that the negatives associated with CM2K1 outweigh the positives. However, despite the AI failings the game is still a blast to play. While it's inevitable that you'll be challenging for a top three position, the races are still pretty close and there's a great thrill in keeping the CPU 'chosen one' at bay because you know if he passes you, the next time you'll see him will be on top of the winners podium! The courses are also brilliantly designed and you can really get some big air tearing around the track like a madman. The physics aren't completely unrealistic, and you can't go flying into a barrier at top speed and still expect to be sitting on your bike as you would in EA Sports Supercross or Jeremy McGrath Supercross 2000. The same goes for collisions with other riders, and if you're reckless even on the first lap of a race it can cost you a top three place. Overall, CM2K1's gameplay can best be described as a motocross version of Ridge Racer 4 it's simple, it's fast, it's fun and it's very easy to get into. Yet at the same time it's not very deep nor is it incredibly challenging, and as such the fun ends far too quickly.

Replay Value: 60
While this game is a blast to play, the entire game can easily be finished in a weekend. The Career mode can be finished in your first attempt, and the same goes for the Championship mode. The two-player mode adds some longevity, but there are better two-player racing games, and the Freestyle mode is practically useless. Frankly, I'm still shocked that the gaffe involving part upgrades in the Career mode was able to pass QA. It really is a shame because if that feature had been implemented as planned, even with the AI problems, the game would have been much more of a challenge and the longevity would have been greatly increased.

Overall : 76
If you must have a PlayStation Motocross title this is definitely the one to get; however, if you're not the greatest Motocross fan in the world, then Championship Motocross 2001 is the perfect rental. Acclaim's Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana has a better freestyle mode, but the racing in CM2K1 is a lot more exciting and if I wanted to do spectacular tricks and stunts I'd just play Dave Mirra or Tony Hawk 2. All in all, CM2K1 has all the options you'd expect in an AAA title, and a career mode that, in theory, should have been brilliant. However, due to a bug that made its way into the final product, the longevity of the game is significantly reduced.

By: Lavan Chandran 3/26/01

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