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MotoCross Madness 2 (PC) Review

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Motocross Madness 2 (MCM2) is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Motocross Madness (MCM) from Microsoft's Rainbow Studios. I was lucky enough to preview a beta version of MCM2 a few weeks ago, and I've been awaiting the final release with baited breath. After a week of solid play I'm glad to say that Rainbow Studios have delivered an excellent arcade style racing game that improves upon the original in almost every way possible, and even exceeded the lofty expectations I had for the product.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
One of the biggest knocks against the original MCM was that the exterior courses and landscapes were far too bland and had hardly any vegetation, buildings or other features. Rainbow studios addressed this problem and the differences between MCM and MCM2 are like night and day. Each of the exterior stages have a multitude of trees, weeds, bushes and other vegetation, as well as various man-made structures, all depending upon the location. For example, the Arizona desert stages contain highways, cacti, trailer parks and weeds. The jungle stages, such as Zihuatanejo, contain dense tropical foliage, rolling hills and an airbase complete with hangars and aircraft that take off and land. The snow terrain stages contain frozen lakes, roads, trees, even ski lodges and dynamic ski lifts. Even the stunt quarry stages are packed with detail, from huge open pit mines to dense trailer parks. These outdoor stages look incredibly realistic, and have to been seen to be believed. Depending upon your system, they also fly along at an incredible pace with very little pop-up. Even the skies look realistic from cloudy mornings to beautiful sunsets. The Nationals stages have also been spruced up with trackside cameras, bales of hay, ad boards, fences and trailers. The indoor Supercross stages also look good with many of the features of the Nationals. The graphical improvements don't stop there either; rider graphics and animations have been greatly improved over the original. Riders can choose from various types of clothing, from professional style racing suits to jeans and flannel shirts! Rider animations look very realistic and the collision animations, though not as good as Superbike 2000's, are superb nevertheless. Riders go flying into the air with arms flailing and slam into trees, buildings and other vehicles with venomous force. The bikes themselves look very impressive, and feature customizable decals. All the other little graphical details you'd expect from a top notch racing game are also present such as tires kicking up dirt and the subsequent dust trails.

Unfortunately, things turn a little sour when the question of system requirements arises. On my P3 450, 128 MB RAM, with a Diamond Viper V770, the highest resolution I could run the game with an acceptable frame-rate was 640x480: anything higher and the game would cough and stutter to un-playability.

All in all, MCM2's graphics are excellent. While the bike and rider models aren't as good as Superbike 2000, the game features some of the most breathtaking exterior landscapes seen in a racing game, it's just a shame that you'll need a top end system to really enjoy the game at higher resolutions.

Presentation/Audio : 60
Unfortunately, MCM2's audio is a little disappointing and its obvious that this was an aspect of the game the developers spent the least time on. Each class of bike has its own distinct sounds, but there isn't a huge aural difference between a 125cc bike and a 400cc bike. There are also selected ambient sounds depending upon the stage, such as the sounds accompanying tractors, trains and other vehicles. The ambient sounds contribute to the atmosphere of the various stages, but only marginally, as most of the time you only hear the monotonous hum of your bike. The Supercross stages include crowd sounds but these basically consist of a background crowd noise, jeering for when you crash your bike, and cheers for when you pull off a stunt. However, the jeers can get quite annoying after a while and the congratulatory cheers have a delay of a few seconds, so by the time you hear the crowd roar you'll already be on your next jump! The only two sound effects that are impressive are those of the rider's yell as he flies off his bike and the accompanying crash of metal, both of which are very realistic and in tandem with the crash animations really convey a sense of pain that'll have you cringing at your monitor! Unfortunately, MCM2 features no in-game music, nor any for the menus. As a result all you really get to hear are the hums of the bikes and that's it. While this is not a huge problem (you can always fire up your stereo and listen to your favorite tunes), I would have expected Rainbow to include at least a few music tracks to liven up the arcade style racing.

Interface/Options : 95
MCM2 features a plethora of options. The game features a whopping seven main modes of play! Returning from the original are Baja, Stunt Quarry, Nationals and Supercross, and the three new modes are Enduro, Pro Circuit and Tag.

Baja is checkpoint racing over open terrain where you can decide upon the exact path you wish to choose from one check point to the other. Enduro racing is very similar to Baja, except the environments are more active and feature numerous structures, such as trailer parks, houses and farms. The Enduro environments also feature the dynamic movement of traffic. Stunt Quarry competitions take place in smaller exterior environments where the goal is to perform a variety of stunts with points being awarded for the most spectacular. Nationals and Supercross races are more traditional circuit style races, with the main difference being that Supercross takes place indoors and is a lot more challenging. Pro Circuit mode is a career mode similar to that in Gran Turismo and Need For Speed: High Stakes. You begin your career with $50,000 and a generic modeled bike. You then receive cash for winning races and after a few wins you have the option of upgrading to a more powerful bike and new racing suits. The game features several manufacturers of bikes and gear such as Yamaha, Honda, Answer and Fox. However, not all your cash goes towards upgrades; you have to also pay entry fees, bike repair costs and medical fees! After a full season of Baja and Enduro racing, depending upon your position in the standings, you can attract sponsors and move up to Nationals. Do well enough in a season in the Nationals and you can make your way to the top: Supercross. Tag mode is an online game of tag with object being to stay 'it' the longest. It's also important to note just how many tracks MCM2 has: 15 Enduro races in 5 different locations, 15 Baja races in 5 different locations, 10 Stunt Quarry stages, 15 Nationals, and 16 different Supercross circuits!

MCM2 features 3 selectable levels of difficulty as well as options for turning on and off Vegetation Collision and recording the race for viewing later. The menus are all straightforward and easy to follow. Various detail settings are present, as are settings for controllers, and 3-D sound cards. There is also a 3-D track editor that will be available for free download. This will no doubt contribute to the variety and longevity of the game, as users create their own courses.

As mentioned before, the game is supported by Microsoft's Gaming Zone, featuring leagues, ladders, teams and tournaments. An online scoring system allows players to earn points which contribute to their overall ranking. The top 100 online riders each receive specially numbered bike plates corresponding to their ranking which are then visible during races!

Gameplay : 96
Addictive and fun are the two adjectives that best describe MCM2. To be quite honest, I haven't had this much fun since Tony Hawk Pro Skater on the PlayStation. Everything about the game oozes fun and playability.

As mentioned before, one of the new racing modes is Enduro racing, which is basically checkpoint racing through dynamic, traffic-inhabited landscapes. Without a doubt these are the wildest, most exhilarating races ever. Rainbow Studios didn't just include the excellent exterior environments for aesthetic appeal alone--the forests, rolling hills and other landforms all contribute to the hectic action of the levels. Nothing compares to the thrill of weaving through traffic, jumping a broken bridge, cutting through a dense section of rainforest, and finally making a huge 150-yard jump over an airfield to make it to the next checkpoint! The traffic patterns aren't as realistic as Midtown Madness, but along with the terrain features, they serve their purpose of making you feel as if you're racing through a living, breathing environment.

Computer A.I. has been greatly improved over the original, and the computer-controlled riders are ruthless and aggressive. Even at the easiest difficulty setting the CPU opposition are a formidable opponents and at the higher difficulty settings they're almost too good. However, they're not completely infallible and you'll chuckle with glee when you see an opposing rider fail to land a big jump or go hurtling through the air after you've nudged him into the path of an oncoming bus!

Level design is also an area where Rainbow Studios have really earned their keep. All the exterior levels are excellently designed, not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a functional one too. Every Baja and Enduro race has been designed with an almost infinite number of ways to get from one checkpoint to another; which route you chose depends upon how daring you feel. You can take the longer, but safer, route of following pathways and roads to get to your destination, or you can choose a more direct and risky route that usually involves numerous death-defying stunts such as huge jumps or weaving through dense vegetation. At first you'll find yourself taking the longer routes, but as you become more accustomed to landing the bigger jumps and navigating obstacles you'll see that the bigger the risk involved, the bigger the potential payoff. This not only makes the races more varied and fun, it really helps with the learning curve, allowing the player to tailor the route to fit his/her skill level. The dynamic traffic also means that many times you'll have to improvise and find newer routes. Several times you'll find your intended route cut off by a bus, train, or even aircraft and improvisation becomes necessary. The Nationals stages are also superbly designed with spectacular jumps, twists and turns. The Supercross stages are very well done and really test your racing skill as you'll have to follow the racing line and have good control of the throttle to avoid accidents. Even the Stunt Quarry stages are well laid out with lots of opportunities to get big air and really pile on the stunts and multipliers.

The physics engine is improved over the original, and you really have to match your throttle control to the particular racing surface and the class of bike you have. Sometimes the control can be a little too unforgiving; my first race on snowy terrain was spent skidding out of control, and racing a 600cc bike over snow and ice can be an exercise in futility. The collision physics are spectacular but totally exaggerated; you hit a train and you go flying for more than 150 yards! However, this isn't really a bad thing as most of the racing in Motocross Madness is unrealistic (some of the jumps are so high you're in the air for almost 10 seconds!) and the exaggerated collisions just add to the character and fun of the game.

Game control is tight and you can chose to use the keyboard, joystick or racing wheel. The game even supports dual analog control pads such as the Guillemot Dual Analog Controller. The controls are completely customizable, and you can also use a combination of keyboard and joystick. By default, the joystick directions are used for steering the bike and for making the rider lean back and forward. Two joystick buttons are used for the gas and brake respectively, while another two are used for implementing stunts. There are a total of 16 stunts that are easily pulled off by pressing one of the corresponding buttons in conjunction with a joystick direction. Most of the stunts are completely outrageous, from the daring “Double Can-Can,” where the rider throws both his legs out to one side, to the suicidal “Cliff Hanger,” where you get up and actually STAND on the handlebars! In fact, if you press the Shift key while in mid-air the view switches to a “Thrill Cam” panoramic view so you can see the frightening extent of your lunacy! Performing multiple tricks in mid-air leads to score multipliers, and while performing the tricks is quite simple, landing them is a different story all together! Expect to spend several hours trying to land some of these crazy moves, but when you do finally get control of landing under your belt you'll be in gaming heaven.

Online racing is a blast with Microsoft's Gaming Zone making it incredibly easy to find or host an online race. As always, the problem of lag is a great concern with online games, but for the most part I found races to be smooth and mostly lag free. The only problems arise when those with slower systems choose to host an 8 player race, but most of the time you can determine from the Zone's interface which racers have the lowest ping compared to yourself and chose your race accordingly.

Rainbow Studios have also spent a lot of time including little extras or Easter Eggs into the game such as pink lawn flamingoes, gas masks on the port-o-potties, and my favorite: a flying saucer that occasionally visits the Stunt Quarry stage in Roswell, New Mexico. These little touches add to the character of the game, and really show the passion that Rainbow Studios have put into the game.

All in all, MCM2 is one of the most addictive games I have ever played. It's not really a racing simulation, it's just pure arcade racing fun. There is an option to adjust gear ratios, but most racers will chose to keep the default settings anyway. Like Tony Hawk Pro Skater, MCM2 is a game that appeals to everyone; you don't have to be a racing fan to enjoy the game, and it's so playable that almost anyone that picks it up and has a play will be addicted within seconds. The moment you land that huge jump over a ski lodge you'll be grinning like a Cheshire cat and begging for more.

Replay Value: 96
With six modes of play and over 70 (yes, SEVENTY!) different course, MCM2 will keep most gamers busy for ages. Add to that the many user-created courses that will no doubt be available for download off the net shortly and you've got a game that could last until the release of the next incarnation of the Motocross Madness series! However, the replay value doesn't end there--even if you've mastered the single player game there's always the challenge of online competition. With ladders, leagues and other online features the game is an incredible value for money.

Overall : 95
It's hard to put into words just how much fun this game really is. With so many thrills, spills, races and features it's an arcade racing fan's dream come true. However, its appeal is widespread, and even if you don't like racing games I'd still venture to say you'd be hard-pressed to put down MCM2 after a few minutes of play. Furthermore, under its arcade-like exterior lies a very deep, complex, and ultimately satisfying game that will challenge even the most seasoned gaming veterans. With the exception of the audio and system requirements every aspect of the game is top notch, and if you're a fan of the original you won't be disappointed at all. Those looking for a true Motocross simulation should look elsewhere, but those looking for one of the racing games of the year will find exactly what they want right here.

By: Lavan Chandran 6/13/00

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