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Motocross Madness

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by Microsoft
mm9.gif (3083 bytes)I’ve always been sort of a fan of the Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness series; especially in its second incarnation, it had great graphics, rousing gameplay, decent multiplayer, and a nice sense of fun about it. But it was about trucks, you know? And no matter how much you jack one of those suckers up, no matter how many logos and doodads you slap on its side, no matter how much muscle you cram under the hood, it’s still a truck. It may be a distant relative, but it’s still a relative of the F150 out in the driveway, and it shares some of the same limitations. Like, for instance, you can’t jump a sand dune in it, throw your body out the window while holding on to the wheel, click your heels, and then jump back in. Which you can do, by the way, with the bikes in Microsoft’s new Motocross Madness, a game that just about redefines fun.

In Motocross Madness, you get to pilot some truly nasty dirt bikes through various types of tracks. And each track has its own distinctive style. If you choose to race the Bajas, you’ll find yourself striking out across various trackless wildernesses, trying to find your way from checkpoint to checkpoint. The Supercross tracks, on the other hand, are indoor venues that feature tight turns and many, smaller jumps, while the National tracks are outdoor loops with steep banks and big jumps. And then there are the stunt quarries, less tracks than monstrous arenas of hills optimally placed for stunt jumping. You can perform 16 different stunts, and let me tell you, there’s nothing like coming off a steep hill, catching air for about ten seconds, and watching your rider stand up on his handlebars. Sometimes you even get lucky enough to land in one piece. Of course, if you get bored with the tracks included in the game, a track editor is included. And believe me, right now legions of fans are designing and posting new tracks on their websites. There’s plenty of variety here.

mm2.jpg (3811 bytes)The wide variety of tracks is nice, as are the season options, which allow you to race through an increasingly difficult series of tracks in career mode, but all this variety goes for naught if the gameplay isn’t there. And brother, is it there. I’ve got to admit that the last time I ever did anything close to motocross was riding my Yamaha 125 around farmer’s fields a couple of decades ago, so I’m no expert on the game’s realism, but it sure feels realistic. There’s a lot of white-knuckle braking and passing and weaving and jumping. It’s been a while since I’ve played a racing game this addictive; even though the game is easy to learn, it’s difficult to master, and I found myself playing races over and over and over. Yep, this is definitely one of those "just one more race, honey" games.

The interface and controls are easily configurable and intuitive, and the bikes are very responsive. For maximum enjoyment, I strongly recommend playing with a gamepad or with a joystick. If you have a force feedback joystick, so much the better; the feedback effects are excellent.

mm1.jpg (4376 bytes)The game’s graphics also shine. You’ll need a good 3D card and a P2 to get the maximum look out of the game, but even on my 200 MMX with a Voodoo 2 card I got high quality graphics and fast frame rates. Less than a 200 and a good 3D card, though, and I’m afraid you’ll have to tweak the graphics options some.  The sound, on the other hand, is a bit uneven—engine noises are faithfully reproduced and can even get deafening at times (a good thing) and the music track is pretty decent though somewhat generic hard-driving rock, but other sound effects—especially crashes—are a bit on the weak side.

One of the game’s biggest strengths is its multiplayer component. While racing single-player is challenging (it’ll take you a while to get the hang of riding, and you’ll lose a lot initially) multiplayer is a riot. It’s also pretty stable; much more stable than Monster Truck Madness. I spent a night on the Zone racing Nationals courses and jumping in the stunt quarry, and had very little problem with lag or crashes.

mm3.jpg (4913 bytes)Problems? Well, the manual’s pretty skimpy. As I said, it takes a while to get the hang of riding offroad and negotiating jumps, and you won’t get much help from the manual, which also doesn’t demonstrate how to perform the various stunts (though there’s a nice page on the Motocross Madness website about this). Most problematically, you have the option of configuring your bike with different engines and shocks, but you aren’t given any rationale as to why one configuration would be more effective than any other in any given situation. You can glean this information from the online help, but c’mon, a decent manual would have been a lot nicer. And, of course, the game’s listed system requirements are about as accurate as a Louisiana politician. You’re gonna need a burly machine to run this baby the way it should be run.

But this is nitpicking. Motocross Madness is a terrific game, one that looks great, plays well in both single and multiplayer modes, and has exceptional replay value. It’ll also remind you why Brando drove a bike in The Wild One, and not a truck.

--Rick Fehrenbacher