In 1999, I bought a really cool Motocross windbreaker. It was red, with a white and black strip running down the left-hand side, and a patch that said, ‘McCready’. I’ve still got it to this day, but due to stomach expansion, it’s much too short to wear anymore. Anyway, that’s about where my experience with Motocross ends (I did go to a speedway meet once, but that doesn’t count).
I do, however, generally love motorbikes in games. They’re always my go-to vehicle of choice in open world campaigns, and whilst I’ve not revisited in a while, I remember thoroughly enjoying Project Gotham Racing 4’s offering. Combine that with the promise of jumps, stunts, and a general ‘rock ’n’ roll’ attitude, and I was quite looking forward to seeing what MX vs ATV Supercross Encore had to offer.
Quite a lengthy title, the game is technically the seventh in the MX vs ATV series that launched with the THQ-published Unleashed in 2005 on PS2 and Xbox. Developer Rainbow Studios have continued to work on the franchise since then, with Supercross being published by Nordic Games following THQ’s liquidation. Now, you might find that quick history lesson a bit much, but it’s important to understand that Rainbow have been working with the property for many iterations. So, this release should be pretty good, no?
No, it’s really not. At all. It’s also quite a surprising release. MX vs ATV Supercross was released on previous-gen, getting average to below-average review scores. Supercross Encore was released on the PS4 in late-2015 promising to be ‘optimised for the latest console generation’, and now it’s the Xbox One’s turn.
The promise of ‘latest generation optimisation’ is completely bewildering. Encore plays like a previous-gen game (an early one at that), but is presented like a relic that would have been chastised for being so poor had it arrived on the Sega Saturn. Whilst it offers a multitude of options in the sub-menus, it doesn’t explain what any of them are. In fact, there’s no explanations for anything at all in the game; you’re just expected to blindly feel your way around; no descriptions, no tutorials. For instance, selecting a ‘Single Race’ allows you to choose between National, Free Ride, Supercross, Waypoint, and something called, Rhythm Racing. What’s Rhythm Racing? I had no idea until I went to the game’s website.
It’s the same issue with the career mode. Again, there’s plenty of choice in the game’s eighteen tournaments, with each one boasting from five-to-seventeen races, but there’s nothing that makes it feel more than just a series of races with a trite leaderboard displaying at the end of each one.
Obviously you could overlook a little bit of sparseness if the racing is thrilling. Do you know what the best thing about racing around a dirt track at full speed and hitting a massive jump is? Well, I’ll tell you what, it certainly isn’t landing on the back of bike in front of you, bouncing off like you’ve just hit a goomba, and then carrying on around the track as if nothing happened. Encore is absolutely full of moments like this that just don’t make any sense from a developer that has such experience under their belt. At one point, thanks to the ridiculously random control mechanics, I misjudged a couple of jumps and just sailed through the middle of some tall, off-track structures like a helmeted apparition. And by the time you see a second and then third opponent race through the middle of your bike and body, it’s all just a bit silly.
Speaking of control mechanics, let’s talk about those in more detail. Obviously how your vehicle controls is vital to any racing game, it’s here where Encore provides quite a unique experience. I’ve never played a game where the controller sensitivity changes from light to heavy during the same race, and it’s maddening. You’ll take your first corner slamming down on the left analogue stick to try and get your seemingly treacle-laden bike safely into the next straight, and then, all of a sudden, you’ll tap the stick to line up a jump, and fly across the other side of the track, crashing into one of the hundreds of barriers, often dragging it into the middle of the track. The good thing about those barriers you’ve just redistributed though, is that they’ll just disappear. Not exactly realistic, is it? When playing through a ‘free roam’ course for a few minutes, I was driving my ATV into what the game warned me was ‘deep water’. My rider sat there for a split second, and then pathetically just fell off the vehicle and into the water. My 5-year-old thought it was hilarious, however, so, that’s something?
As well as barriers disappearing, textures pop in and out constantly during races. Encore’s website advertises, ‘Updated high-res track textures rendered in HD’, and if that’s true, I don’t ever want to see the non-Encore edition of the game, or what their definition of low-res is. In fact, the graphics in general just seem lifted from last-gen. They’re generally fine, but you’d expect a lot more from an Xbox One release. The sound is also disappointing; dull engine roar, stock crowd effects that just seem like they’re on a loop, and then there is the most nondescript, stock double-bass-drummed heavy metal that wants to play over everything. Now, I’ve never been to a motocross event, but I’d imagine it sounds much, much more exciting than how it’s conveyed here.
It’s not all bad. At one point playing, I hit a jump at full speed, flew over a bridge full of spectators, and then successfully pulled off one of the seeming impossible stunts. Caught up in the moment, I shouted, ‘THAT WAS RAD!’. That was my single moment of enjoyment playing the game, as the aforementioned issues quickly hit me once again in quick succession. Those stunts, one of the supposed-big features of the series, are extremely difficult to execute due to bizarre combination of having to hold RB whilst flicking the right stick. It isn’t the most ergonomically pleasing thing you’ll come across. However, when you land one correctly, you’ll be clawing for the replay option in the pause menu to see it again. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.
Ultimately, I just can’t see any reason as to why this Encore edition exists. It’s a struggle to find anything to enjoy within, and the non-existent presentation plus complete abandon of any tutorial (which would be useful) makes it impossible to recommend.