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Supercross 2001 (PSX) Review

Background

Screens(25)
I guess one of the advantages of sponsoring a real life sporting championship series, as EA have with their EA Sports Supercross Series, is that it easily lends itself to making a licensed videogame. With Supercross 2001, EA Sports have tried to succeed where many have failed, in making the aging PlayStation's first truly great Supercross game. Loaded with official stadiums, courses and riders, Supercross 2001 should have done the trick. Unfortunately, a stuttering frame rate, in tandem with poor control and physics stalls this one at the starting line.

Presentation/Graphics : 60
What is it with PlayStation Motocross games and their graphics? Programmers can create some incredibly good looking four-wheel racing games like Ridge Racer IV and Gran Turismo, but remove two wheels and replace asphalt with a dirt track and all hell breaks loose. Now while it seems that I'm about to embark on another one of my tirades, I'll admit that Supercross 2001 is a fairly decent looking game; unfortunately, it has one major shortcoming that spoils everything the horrid framerate.

To call Supercross 2001's framerate vomit-inducing would be a little unfair, but it definitely puts one foot beyond the borderline of acceptability and if you play the game for more than 40 minutes straight you definitely start to feel a little queasy. The main problem is that graphical engine can't handle more than three riders on-screen at one time, and once the three-rider threshold is exceeded you may want to reach for the Dramamine as a precaution. It doesn't help matters that the vast majority of the Supercross races are packed with opposing riders, and unless you manage to pull away from the crowd you'll experience jerky visuals the entire race. When you're alone on a course, as you would be in the time trial or freestyle modes, the difference in framerate is astounding with silky smooth visuals that you'll yearn for once you get back to regular racing.

It's a shame that the framerate's so poor because the game looks fairly good otherwise. The bike and rider models are very well done, as are the rider animations which include more than 30 different trick animations. The rider collision animations could use a little work as there are only a few and they're all a bit over the top, and sometimes after a tiny mishap you can go flying off your bike as if you've hit a wall at 100km/h rather than just falling to the floor. The courses and stadiums are all modeled upon real-life venues from EA Sports' Supercross Series, and while they aren't astounding there's enough detail to make each venue different not just in terms of the track layout. The fictional freestyle venues, however, with the exception of an abandoned house, are all pretty drab and could have used more imagination and graphical punch.

Supercross 2001's overall resolution isn't as crisp as Ridge Racer 4 or Jarret and Labonte Stock Car Racing, but it's not bad and there are a wide variety of course and trackside textures that give the courses a realistic look. There are also some very nice particulate effects from the dirt and sand being kicked up by tires, and impressive lens flare and lighting. However, despite the game's fairly polished look, everything goes out the window when more than three bikes are on-screen and it's a shame Supercross 2001's only major graphical shortcoming negates much of the other good work done by the programmers.

Presentation/Audio : 85
While the framerate is Supercross 2001's graphical Achilles heel, the aural aspect of the game has no major shortcomings and is one of the best aspects of the game. The music isn't really my cup of tea with tracks from Kottonmouth Kings, Confrontation Camp, Sucker and Kittie. I found the sound effects to be more impressive and they include the realistic drone of the engines, the sound of mud getting kicked up by tires, and sounds of collisions between bikes. The only disappointing sound effects are those of the crowd that cheer for about three seconds once you do a trick but then cut off into silence far too abruptly.

Where the audio really excels is the in-race commentary. I haven't played too many racing games that featured commentary during the race, and those that did, the effects were somewhat disappointing. Supercross 2001's commentary, however, adds a lot to the sense of immersiveness, making you really feel as if you're watching Motocross on TV. In the commentary booth are Art Eckman and David Bailey, who have been armed with a wide variety of comments that are all pertinent to the race at hand, and there's very little lag between the action and the resulting commentary. The play-by-play team also do a good job of covering the action at the back of the pack as well as at the front, so you don't feel forgotten if you're lying in last place, and you don't feel as if the world revolves around you when you're in first.

Interface/Options : 75
The main modes in Supercross 2001 are Single Race, New Series, Freestyle Practice, Freestyle Competition, and Time Trial. Supercross 2001 obviously features all 16 tracks and stadiums from EA Sports' real life Supercross Series, as well as four freestyle arenas/environments, and each of these tracks can be chosen in the Singe Race, Freestyle Practice and Time Trial modes. In fact, the aforementioned three options have an extra two tracks in the form of a variation on the Anaheim track, and Washougal (which must be unlocked).

The series mode is your regular run-of-the-mill Championship Series where you accumulate points for victories and try to finish at the top of the standings come the end of the season. Initially, there are four different championship series and after you successfully complete the first four you unlock another series. After winning that you unlock a sixth series, and so on for a total of nine different series. The first few series consist of only Supercross races; however, later ones incorporate freestyle events as well. This is a relief as many of the Supercross-only series can get a little tedious. Winning individual championship series also unlocks extra tracks as well as extra riders to be used in the Single Race and Time Trial modes.

Supercross 2001 features a roster of 25 stars from Supercross, Motocross, Freestyle, Arenacross and includes two Women's Motocross Champions as well. Unfortunately, three of the sports premier riders, Jeremy McGrath, Travis Pastrana, and Ricky Carmichael are featured in their own games and don't make an appearance in Supercross 2001. Fortunately, EA Sports also included a Create-a-Rider option so if you want, Jeremy McGrath can be a part of Supercross 2001 so he doesn't have to suffer in his own horrible nightmare of a game.

Gameplay : 65
Most videogame purists stringently believe that graphics come a distant second to gameplay, and rightly so: how else can a graphical dinosaur of a game like Ice Hockey on the NES still be entertaining in the age of the DC and PS2? However, a game's framerate is probably the only area where a game's graphics can severely affect the gameplay experience, and unfortunately Supercross 2001 is the victim of its stuttering, sputtering, graphical engine.

From the start, it's clear that EA Sports took an arcade approach towards Supercross 2001. The control is very loose, as are the incredibly lax physics. Just like Jeremy McGrath Supercross 2000, EA Sports have incorporated an invisible force field around the track, and because of that you can really race around the track with reckless abandon. If you take a jump at a wrong angle you don't have to worry about ending up in the crowd because as you near the edge of the track the invisible force-field guides you back in. Even collisions with other riders are odd because you don't fall down, but merely bounce backward. EA Sports also incorporated a powerslide button which lets you make incredibly tight turns both on the ground and while in mid-air! There's also a 'Power Clutch' button which is really a turbo boost button, you simply hold down R1 and a little meter charges up, and when you release R1 the corresponding level of boost is applied. The more you let the meter charge up the better. Now while I'm more of a simulation purist, I don't mind the arcade approach if it's done right like Motocross Madness 2; unfortunately, Supercross 2001 spins out before it even gets to the first turn.

The fact of the matter is that it's very hard to concentrate on racing, powersliding around corners, and the (ahem) 'power clutch' when everything is so jerky. Not only does this detract from the gaming experience, it also means that you can only play the game in spurts because you can start to feel sick if you stare at the screen for two long. The fact that the poor framerate occurs in a Motocross game, doesn't help matters much as Motocross, by its very nature is a sport where there are a lot of jumps and dips in the tracks. The poor opposition AI also hinders the gameplay experience as many CPU riders are more interested in bumping into you rather than trying get the lead, while those that do bother to race rarely try to cut you off as you pass them.

The only major game modes where the poor framerate doesn't play a factor are the time trial and freestyle modes. Unfortunately, as you can expect, the time trial mode gets boring very quickly, and the freestyle mode isn't fun at all. EA Sports incorporated 35 different tricks, yet make no mistake, this game comes nowhere close to Tony Hawk, Dave Mirra or even Motocross Madness 2. The tricks are pretty boring, and there seems to be a large lag between tricks making it very hard to pull off combinations. In the Series mode these Freestyle sessions break up the monotony of the Supercross racing; however, I think the main reason I liked them interspersed between races was that the smoother framerate provided a welcome respite from the herky-jerky racing action.

It's a shame that EA Sports didn't really work more on the framerate, as that's Supercross 2001's major shortcoming. The game is by no means perfect with loose control, very lax physics, and poor opposition AI some of the problems. I also question EA Sports' decision to go with an arcade style game especially when they have an official license to a real-life sport, yet Supercross 2001 doesn't really get a chance to show its stuff as an arcade game because of the horrid framerate.

Replay Value: 50
The vital question is whether or not you can stomach the stuttering framerate. For those of you who can read all of Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' while riding in a Jeep on a broken, shaky, Kenyan road without getting a headache, there lies a decent arcade racer in Supercross 2001. It's not perfect--the physics are slack in all the wrong places (i.e. the invisible barriers), the control is poor even using the analogs, and the AI is weak. Yet, the game does have a multitude of tracks and races to partake in; whether you'll want to finish them all is another question.

Overall : 60
I really wanted to like this game; it seemed to have everything: a great license, an awesome selection of tracks and riders. Supercross 2001 should have been the first truly great PlayStation Supercross game. Unfortunately, the framerate will render the game unplayable for many, and even if the framerate doesn't bother you the lax physics and control will cut much of the enjoyment short. A game with so much potential, Supercross 2001 is ultimately disappointing, and hopefully EA Sports can fix the framerate and some of the other problems for the next incarnation.

By: Lavan Chandran 1/17/01



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