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Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana (PSX) Review

Background Info


Many famous sports stars have starred in their very own video games. In fact, a recent trend among developers is to base games around extreme sports stars, such as Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra. Which brings us to Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana -- the latest extreme sports game to hit the PlayStation, and Jeremy McGrath's third starring role in a video game. McGrath has some company this time around, however, as the young, talented Travis Pastrana joins him in this arcade-style motocross game from Acclaim. Developed by Z-Axis, best known for its work on Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, Freestyle Motocross features a variety of wicked tricks coupled with fast-paced racing.

Presentation/Graphics : 72
Freestyle Motocross is perhaps Z-Axis' least impressive game to date, graphically speaking. While it is much more attractive than Acclaim's Jeremy McGrath games, Freestyle Motocross does not contain very much eye candy. The riders and bikes contain low detail and are a bit blocky, and the tracks/backgrounds are bland and consist of drab colors. Even the crashes -- which utilize Z-Axis' proprietary Skeletal Dynamics System -- are stale, as they look too similar to the ones from the developer's previous two games, Thrasher: Skate and Destroy and Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX. Still, the crash animations are much better than the ones in the Jeremy McGrath Supercross games.

Fortunately, Freestyle Motocross does have some positive visual aspects, namely, a smooth frame-rate and decent animation. The frame-rate maintains a good clip during the single-player and two-player split-screen modes, with only a few occasions of major slowdown. Like the crashes, though, the animation is definitely a step down from Mirra BMX, and some of the more outrageous tricks (barrel rolls, backflips, etc.) look silly. However, the nine outdoor environments, which range from an old western town to a menacing volcano, are well varied.

Pleasing graphical aspects like lighting effects, animated objects, and destructible background objects (e.g., barrels, doors, etc.) help add some much-needed flavor to the graphics. Weather and time-of-day differences provide some visual variety as well. Pop-up and draw-in are kept to a minimum, but clipping and collision detection problems are very noticeable. The replays are decent, although they lack the cool visual effects of Mirra BMX's replays.

Overall, Freestyle Motocross' graphics look similar to those of a "budget buddy" PlayStation game that retails for $9.99. Considering the topnotch job Z-Axis did with Mirra BMX, I was expecting this game to have better trick animation and an overall better graphical presentation. As it stands, the graphics are serviceable, but nothing more.

Presentation/Audio : 74
Sound effects are basic, with the same type of motor sounds you have heard in every other dirt bike game. However, some cool environmental audio effects help complement the on-screen action. For example, when racing through a saloon on the Tombstone level, you can hear honky-tonk piano music playing in the background. Unfortunately, there is no race announcer, and no special sound effect plays when you nail an intense trick. In fact, the game lacks sound effects overall, with absolutely no sounds coming from the rider after a fall. Musically, Freestyle Motocross contains an instrumental soundtrack that is primarily rock based. Although the instrumental songs are pretty good and suit the on-screen action well, the game could have benefited from some licensed tracks.

Again, like the graphics, the music and sound effects get the job done -- but that's about it. While the audio fares a bit better than the graphics, the limited sound effects and lack of a licensed soundtrack hurt the game's aural presentation.

Interface/Options : 77
Here is where the game starts to redeem itself. While visually unexciting, the game's menu system is easy to navigate and has short load times. Within the options menu you can select one of three control configurations, adjust sound levels, set the number of laps (3, 5, or 10), and toggle the game's auto jump and AI catch-up features on/off. You can also choose between two third-person camera views for your default view, and pick the type of split screen (vertical or horizontal) during the Multi-player mode. Z-Axis included a 'secret code' menu, too, where you can enter -- surprise, surprise -- secret codes.

Unfortunately, Freestyle Motocross' rider selection screen does not give any info or background about the two stars of the game, nor does it list their stats. The bike selection screen, on the other hand, lists the acceleration, speed, and handling of each of the three initial bikes. You can also change the color of your bike, with a variety of colors from which to choose. Further bike options include the ability to change the tire type (all-around, knob, and cleated) and exhaust level (standard, skinny, and fast). Luckily for those who know little about dirt bikes, the pre-game menu displays the pluses and minuses of each tire type in relation to the track, and it offers a visual for each exhaust level as it relates to the bike's performance. This should definitely help beginners and those who do not want to waste their time running practice laps with different bike setups.

Freestyle Motocross has a very simple control interface, allowing anyone to master the controls within minutes of picking up the controller. The digital pad or left analog stick controls steering, jumping, and forward/backward leaning. If you do not enable the auto jump feature, you must press back on the D-pad, or down on the left analog stick (L3 button), to jump. While in the air, you can press forward or backward to situate your bike for the landing. The X button controls acceleration, while the Square button controls braking. (Unfortunately, you cannot use the right analog stick to control acceleration/braking.) To slide, you can press the L1 or R1 button during turns. Tricks are easy to pull, with both the Triangle and Circle button serving as stunt buttons. Naturally, you must add in D-pad presses or analog stick movements to execute most of the tricks. (Some advanced tricks require you to press both stunt buttons simultaneously.)

One thing missing from Freestyle Motocross' control interface is a look-back button. This is not a huge oversight, but it would have been a welcome addition. Also, there is no camera button, so you must pause the game before you can switch views. Since the L2, R2, and Select buttons are not used in the game, Z-Axis could have used one of them for such purposes.

All in all, Freestyle Motocross may lack some options and features, such as a create-a-rider mode and track editor, but it does have a simple menu system and control interface.

Gameplay : 78
In Freestyle Motocross, you can throw realism and realistic physics out the door, because this game is not about simulating the extreme sport of motocross. What it is about, however, is crazy tricks, huge jumps, and secret shortcuts. The trick list, while small when compared with a game like Mirra BMX or Pro Skater, does include both real and fake tricks. Tricks like supermans and can-cans are staples of freestyle motocross, while tricks like barrel rolls and 360s are completely over the edge. And unlike the real Travis Pastrana, his virtual counterpart can successfully pull a backflip -- something that young Pastrana almost managed at the past Summer X Games.

The control is tight and responsive, and the tricks are easy to execute. When enabled, the auto jump feature makes pulling tricks even easier -- although it does interfere with standard races, in which case you will want to disable it. All the tracks in the game are fantasy based, and they each have tricky areas that you need to take into consideration. Luckily, each track also has a variety of shortcuts that will give you an advantage during the race. Some shortcuts are more difficult to reach than others, however, and may be a hindrance.

Regarding modes of play, Freestyle Motocross has several different single-player games. The single-player modes are as follows: Championship Series, Single Event, Time Trial, and Card Room. In each mode, players can choose either Jeremy "Showtime" McGrath or rookie phenom Travis Pastrana, both of whom are the only selectable riders in the game.

In Championship Series mode, the main mode of the game, you can choose between a basic race and freestyle competition. Regardless of the competition, you must place first overall in a series to advance. The race competition is self explanatory, and it is a bit on the easy side, since only one of the five computerized riders provide any competition. On the other hand, the freestyle competition forces players to do a variety of tricks within a set time limit. You can add extra seconds to the clock by passing checkpoints or collecting clock icons. This type of competition is much more challenging, especially since your tricks lose point value each time you do them. The only way to counterbalance the small trick list (Acclaim says there are 30 tricks; I only counted 23) is to pull every trick in your repertoire. You can also hold your tricks to increase their point value, which comes in handy for the tricks you have already done. As in every mode, you can run a few practice laps before you begin a competition.

Single Event mode lets you choose among three different competitions: race, freestyle, and combo. The differences between this mode and Championship Series mode are you only race once and you can race a combo event, which places an emphasis on racing AND freestyle tricks. You can also select any track from the ones available. Time Trial mode is a basic race against the clock. In this mode, you can choose the type of competition and track.

Card Room is the most interesting mode of the bunch. This mode revolves around 36 unique challenges, divided among four classes: 125cc, 250cc, 250cc Custom, and Open. Challenges range from crashing into certain objects within a level to achieving a high score using freestyle tricks. Once you have completed a challenge, you will earn a card and open new challenges. As you make your way through the Card Challenge, you will unlock stuff hidden within the game.

Besides the variety of single-player modes, Freestyle Motocross lets two players race head-to-head in the Multi-player mode. Here you and a friend can compete in any of the three competitions (race, freestyle, and combo) to see who has better skills. As I mentioned in the graphics section, the split-screen action is smooth. So, if you lose a race, you only have yourself to blame.

Replay Value : 80
The Championship mode and difficult Card Challenge should keep arcade-racing fans entertained for quite some time. Add in the obligatory Time Trial mode and competitive Multi-player mode, and you have plenty to keep you busy. However, putting a damper on things is the limited trick list and lack of a track editor and create-a-rider mode, both of which would have added more replay value. Moreover, the fact that the game only has two selectable riders -- albeit two of the best-known motocross riders around -- may disappoint some. Still, if you enjoy playing this type of racing game, Freestyle Motocross has enough to keep you coming back for more.

Overall : 76
Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana is a satisfying arcade-style racing game that is at least worth a rental. That said, Freestyle Motocross would have failed as a traditional racing game, since the racing itself is rather boring and uninspired. The limited trick list and lack of common features, such as a track editor and create-a-rider mode, also detract from the game. However, if you enjoy the extreme sport of freestyle motocross, you should get a kick out of doing rad stunts while racing around the trick-friendly tracks.

By: Cliff O'Neill 11/9/00

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