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MTX: Mototrax Review
By Cliff O'Neill -- Staff Writer
Published 3/25/2004

Platform: Microsoft Xbox

Background Info

Screens (4)

MTX: Mototrax was originally announced in April 2002--under the name Travis Pastrana's Pro MotoX--and was scheduled to be part of Activision's now-defunct O2 line, which consisted entirely of action-sports titles. The game finally released this year (just weeks after THQ's MX Unleashed), complete with a new name and extra polish, not to mention Xbox Live support. Fortunately, MTX has been in capable hands, as its developer, Left Field Productions, was responsible for the well-received Excitebike 64. Plus, Neversoft (famed Tony Hawk developer) and Shaba Games (of Grind Session and Wakeboarding Unleashed fame) provided development aid.

Even though several motocross games have raced onto the Xbox, all of them have been multiplatform releases. As a result, previous motocross titles have failed to exploit the system's capabilities. While MTX may not have been designed exclusively for the Xbox, it does feature online play, something the other motocross games lack. Does that alone qualify it as an instant hit? No, but MTX has decent gameplay and a fairly worthwhile Career mode backing its online component.

Presentation/Graphics : 75
By Xbox standards, MTX is an average-looking game, with cross-platform development keeping it from looking its very best. However, crisp textures and a butter-smooth frame rate (running at a steady 60 frames per second) make MTX one of the more visually appealing motocross games available--even if it lacks the true HDTV support found in the Xbox version of MX Unleashed.

MTX's riders and bikes are modestly detailed, and apart from lackluster crashes and a few awkward trick animations, motions are fluid. Meanwhile, an optional first-person view, although potentially vomit inducing (due to its ultra shakiness), literally puts you in the driver's seat. The game's flashy stunt camera and slick replays provide additional spark.

Unfortunately, the environments are a bit hit or miss. Most of the courses in MTX (both real and fictitious) do a good job dishing out thrills, punctuated by exciting layouts, killer jumps, and vicious twists and turns. Graphically, though, inconsistency exists between the environments; some look quite nice, while others lack life and that special Xbox touch. Bland backgrounds, simple geometry, and too few graphical bells and whistles are the main culprits here.

The special effects also range in quality. Particle effects are generally sound, but other effects, such as rain and fireworks, are noticeably lacking. Still, an assortment of small details help sell MTX's visual presentation, like momentary motion blur that appears after crashes, dirt that collects on tires and outfits, and a hovering helicopter that creates dust clouds on an outdoor course. Along with the aforementioned smooth frame rate and crisp textures, these types of details enable MTX's graphics to compete.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Aside from being packaged in enveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, MTX's audio presentation is pretty typical. It contains everything you would expect to hear in a game of this nature, from the soft growls of dirt bikes to the enthusiastic cheers of spectators. Varied ambient noises give each venue a distinct flavor, while energetic commentary from Cameron Steele supplies events with a high level of authenticity. The voice-overs--many of which were contributed by the professional riders themselves--aren't the greatest, but they're no worse than those in other action-sports games.

Likewise, the music selection is relatively innocuous and befits the game. As with Midway's Freestyle MetalX, MTX features a soundtrack comprised wholly of hard-hitting tunes, only it delivers a larger and more diverse playlist. New and old music from the likes of Slipknot, Pennywise, Disturbed, Metallica, and The Misfits fuel the action, with an eclectic mix of instrumentals included as well. All told, the soundtrack has more than 30 tracks and is completely customizable. If you crave a little rap, ska, or electronica--or are just unsatisfied with the default song selection--the game lets you upload your own music so you can ride to your preferred beats.

Interface/Options : 70
MTX's front end is highlighted by easy navigation and streaming game footage that plays in the background. Conversely, the Career mode's PDA-style interface is quite dull but remains intuitive. On the upside, it tracks all sorts of statistics, for those who enjoy keeping tabs on their progress and development. Moreover, load times are quick throughout the game, and the loading screens provide useful gameplay tips.

Those tips come in handy, too, because not everything is explained in the manual, and what is covered tends to be insufficiently detailed. While the manual is rather thick, less than half of its 50-odd pages deal directly with playing the game. The other half is devoted to Xbox Live functionality, rider bios, game credits, and advertisements.

General options are limited as well. You cannot customize the controls or choose an alternate configuration, which may prove to be problematic for certain types of players. Also, although saved data is automatically loaded, there is no auto-save feature, so you must make sure to save your progress and preferences. Audio and display options are in greater supply, but conspicuously absent is the ability to mix and match songs from multiple custom soundtracks.

Even the game's track and rider editors come up short. Granted, it's nice to have access to such features--especially when they're as painless to use as they are here--but MTX's editors do not match the quality of those in some other action-sports titles. MTX's bare-bones character editor is particularly disappointing because it serves as the pathway to the Career mode (the pros are not playable there, forcing you to create a generic, second-rate rider). Other action-sports games--Tony Hawk's Underground, for example--give you considerably more control over your character's appearance and gear. The track editor fares better, if only because it lets you build an adequate course within minutes. However, it lacks flexibility, limiting you to creating racetracks only (no freestyle courses).

Motocross aficionados may find solace in MTX's lineup of pros and array of licensed gear (from Kawasaki, Yamaha, No Fear, Puma, Oakley, and others). Although the most fanatical motocross enthusiasts are sure to bemoan the omissions, the pro lineup consists of 13 well-known riders, including stars like Travis Pastrana, Carey Hart, Nate Adams, Tommy Clowers, and Kenny Bartram. Riders are not rated in performance, but the bikes are. That said, you cannot customize the performance of the bikes (though you can earn upgrades in the Career mode) nor modify their appearance.

Gameplay : 75
MTX's controls, while uncomplicated, are not as intuitive as they could be. Problems arise from there being only one control scheme, which has the gas and clutch mapped to the triggers and preloading mapped to the A button. Ordinarily, this would be fine, but since acceleration is not analog based in MTX, having the right trigger control the gas is actually counterintuitive. In addition, those accustomed to playing traditional racing games may find it a bit unnatural to brake with the X button while using the R-trigger to accelerate. The developer could have easily avoided inflicting potential grief by giving players more than one control scheme from which to choose.

Besides being initially cumbersome, the controls suffer from occasional sluggishness. There are instances when maneuvering your rider does not feel as tight as it should, regardless of whether you are using the analog stick or digital pad. The game's loose physics are partly responsible for this, as your rider tends to slide and bounce unrealistically around the track, thus lessening precision. Inconsistencies in collisions only worsen matters.

On the other hand, the slightly exaggerated physics, along with the lack of bike tuning/maintenance, make MTX accessible to a wider audience. That doesn't mean the gameplay has been completely dumbed down. In fact, the trick system is extensive, and there is plenty you will need to master to ride like a pro. Races are of the supercross and motocross varieties, each peppered with obstacles, jumps, and corners to overcome.

Success in races requires learning to use the clutch properly, mastering preloading (i.e., compressing the suspension before jumps), and knowing how to approach different sections of a particular track. For instance, pulling back on the left analog stick lets you ride through whoops effectively. Conquering rhythm sections cleanly is also crucial to maintain a good pace. On the flipside, if you want a good start, you have to time your exit from the gate just right to achieve the coveted holeshot.

None of this would matter, naturally, if the AI were a pushover. Thankfully, the computer-controlled racers in MTX offer some heated competition--just not necessarily right of the bat. If you're looking for competitive single-player action, you won't find it in the boring Exhibition mode, in which you participate in individual events against seemingly lethargic opponents. Nor will the Ghost mode, where you record a fast lap and try to top it, do much to satisfy any competitive desires you may have.

Instead, the Career mode is where the true excitement of MTX rests offline. Mixing elements from normal motocross games (racing and freestyle) with goal-based freeride levels (think THUG with dirt bikes), the Career mode offers great variety. Best of all, it involves you in the decision-making by letting you decide how to progress and affording you some leeway over the order of events.

As you advance, you can choose the sponsors and teams to represent, the bikes to ride, and whether to accept bike upgrades or brand-new rides. Electronic correspondence from sponsors and team managers is sent to your rider's PDA, from which you retrieve e-mails, view stats, enter events, and select your gear and bike. The PDA-style interface is an interesting touch, but aside from displaying e-mails, it functions much like any other menu system.

Of course, there's more to the Career mode than reading repetitive e-mail and perusing the virtual PDA. Your ultimate goal is to become an all-around motocross star. You do so by winning various race series and freestyle competitions and by completing tasks and learning new tricks in freeride areas, all while bolstering your sponsorship. Early races, freestyle events, and freeride objectives are simple enough, but those later on will test even the most hardened gamers' abilities.

Regrettably, the Career mode ends relatively quickly and does not let you shape your rider's skills (apart from earning new tricks) or get your hands dirty with bike customization. Without such elements, there is little reason to return for another go, unless you enjoy reliving the abbreviated career of an up-and-coming motocross rider. Even so, things are a little too familiar the second time through. This is where the game's online component steps in.

If not for the inclusion of online play, MTX would almost be a letdown, since the single-player portion can't quite stand on its own. But online play is available, and it gives you the opportunity to pit your moto skills against those of the Xbox Live community via Race, Freestyle Battle, and King of the Hill modes. Beyond that, you can monitor the best overall lap times and check out who has racked up the most mileage.

Replay Value : 80
While MTX's Career mode is engaging and unlocks some cool videos and extras, only fervent motocross fans will likely play through it more than a couple of times. The other solitary elements, unfortunately, do little to extend the game's single-player value any further. Nevertheless, the track editor and custom rider feature at least let you flex your creativity a bit, though they would have benefited from additional options and features.

Luckily, MTX does have something to sate most gamers in the long run: online play with up to seven other players. After all, today's action-sports games are all about the multiplayer experience. A fair amount of online modes, options, and stat tracking--coupled with some good old-fashioned competitiveness and trash talking--keep MTX entertaining. Those without Live, however, will have to make due with the less compelling, but equally competitive, split-screen (two players) and system-link (up to eight players) options.

Overall : 76
Online play is definitely the main selling point of MTX: Mototrax and what sets it apart from other motocross titles. Other than that, though, the game does not deliver anything terribly new or innovative, just competent gameplay and an enjoyable, if somewhat short-lived, Career mode. If you want your money's worth, you'll need Xbox Live and some interest in motocross. Otherwise, MTX could potentially be unfulfilling.

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