One step forward, two steps back
- Developer: Milestone srl
- Publisher: Milestone srl
- Release date: 11th March 2021
- Genre: Racing, Motorbikes
- Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, PS4/5, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Milestone produces some incredible games, but an equal amount of games that severely miss the mark. MotoGP17 – very good. MotoGP18 – forgettable. MotoGP19 – excellent. MotoGP20 – missed the mark.
Onto the Monster Energy Supercross series, the second game was ok, but it needed a lot of improvement, however, I really enjoyed Monster Energy Supercross 3. Yes, the learning curve was brutal, but between an unlimited amount of rewinds and a comprehensive training mode, I was motivated enough to persevere through the hard times until I genuinely began to master the gameplay.
Now we come to Supercross 4… I’m guessing you can see where this is headed.
Like the previous instalment, I can’t fault the presentation. The menus are clear and concise, and everything is laid out in a sensible fashion. Male and female riders are available to choose from, and there’s a healthy selection of customisation for your rider and bike from a wide range of manufacturers. In total, there are over 110 manufacturers of clothing and parts to purchase cosmetic items and performance upgrades from. There are only a few options available to start with, but you’ll soon earn enough credits to unlock more.
The game begins with a tutorial race, which explains the rudiments of racing but doesn’t give you any useful instruction on how the weight transfer of your rider affects your ability to make jumps or actual tips beyond the basic controls. Milestone really needs to do some work on making this tutorial more useful for players. I’ve played several of their games and spent a lot of time with Monster Energy Supercross 3, yet after less than 9 months hiatus I felt lost when I started the game. The flow eluded me – I couldn’t make easy doubles, let alone triples, and even basic turns were causing me problems.
Having finished the tutorial race, I made a start on career mode. They have revised career mode a bit this time around, and while the structure of race progression is essentially the same, they have added training and challenge events that you can do between races. You start in the “Futures” class and have a short 3 race championship to complete. How well you do affects the likelihood of you getting a seat with the manufacturer of your choosing in the rookies league.
Another new feature of the career is the addition of a skill tree. Points can be earned by completing training challenges, ticking off items in your journal (cumulative awards for things like perfect starts, air time, overtaking, holeshots and more), and successfully finishing special events. These points are crucial, as your rider starts with basic stats which severely hamper your riding ability. The skill tree covers upgrades to cornering speed, landing jumps, scrub speed and fluidity, braking performance and more, and as you progress through the skill tree it makes a marked difference to the handling.
Anyway, onto my initial experience of career – After a really rough start, and failing to make any headway in the opening Futures race, I switched to Very Easy AI and finally, after about 20 restarts (not an exaggeration), managed to win the first career race. All told, in my first four hours, I managed to win one race, come fourth in the second, before finally losing patience and settling for last place in the third introductory race.
In the previous game, there was a challenge mode that had loads of simple mini-events that did wonders for helping you learn the flow over jumps, how to scrub properly and keep the height of jumps down without affecting speed, and much more. Even if they still didn’t properly instruct you how to actually perform these manoeuvres, it was still a helpful way to practice. In Monster Energy Supercross 4, these challenges (now called training) can only be attempted in between race events in career mode.
While that may not sound so bad, you are limited to just three attempts, then you have to wait until you have finished another race to try again. When even the tiniest mistake or an unexpected corner that sees you going out of bounds fails you and subtracts one of your attempts, it severely limits the usefulness of these challenges. What makes it even more challenging is that the skill points you earn during training are essential for levelling up your abilities. It’s a catch 22 situation: You don’t get skill points unless you beat the challenges, but you need the skill points to be able to beat the challenges.
Re-re-rewind – now with added restart
Now, I’m a persistent gamer. I don’t like to accept defeat. Previously, I used to rewind a turn or jump repeatedly until I finally mastered it, and eventually I’d nail it. Twenty races later, I would still be making mistakes but far less frequently, and I at least felt like I was making progress. For some unfathomable reason, Monster Energy Supercross 4 has restricted you to just 3 rewinds. When you are still learning the game, which is punishing enough already, you have to either accept coming last by a significant margin or constantly restarting races because of minor mistakes. You can refill the rewind meter by performing whips during a race, but when you’re struggling to make jumps as it is, the last thing you are going to be doing is trying to land tricks!
The rewind feature was the saving grace of Supercross 3. Without it, it becomes far more unforgiving and genuinely unpleasant to play. To add insult to injury, figuratively and literally, if you have bad crashes in a race you become injured and have to either hand over your hard-earned credits or suffer a performance deficit in the following races. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down!
With regards to the bike control, something that deeply frustrated me was that to initiate a drift, you brake, turn and then accelerate. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, when you brake sharply and get on the gas early to make a tight turn, the game interprets that as you trying to drift, causing you to lose turning angle and acceleration and sliding you into barriers or off the course.
On the rare occasions where I did somehow manage to wrangle my bike around a corner at the right speed and fortuitously managed to wiggle the right analogue stick (that controls rider weight) in a manner the game deemed satisfactory, I found myself enjoying the game briefly, and I can imagine anyone who mastered the previous game will get a lot of enjoyment from Monster Energy Supercross 4. For anyone who is hoping for a pick-up and play bit of fun, though, this really isn’t the game. I found it intensely stressful, and were it not for having to write the review, would have played it much less than I did.
Life’s too short
As I said, I’m very persistent, and I tried every possible combination of assists in vain trying to get to grips with the handling. Well over fifteen hours into it, I still couldn’t win what should have been the easiest races. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it nailed down, and I’m ashamed to say I gave up. Done. Life’s too short.
I took a day off, then went back to the drawing board, restarting my career (which costs you any skill points and credits you have earned so far – be forewarned). This time around, things started to click. I added qualifying to each event (probably should have done that first time round), and found I was comfortably qualifying in first by up to 4 seconds. I was successful at a few training courses and managed to improve my base stats, which paid off in races, and even though it was still far harder than the very easy moniker implied, I was winning some races and at least finishing in the top four or five in the rest. The AI qualifying times had no relevance to their race times, though, as in the race they were running equal to or faster than my P1 qualifying times.
I’m finding it hard going. Without my rewind buffer, I’m finding small mistakes end up being costly. Several races I was leading right to the final lap, before an accidental drift would sap my speed and drop me short at the start of a section, leaving me unable to build up momentum and clear the jumps with any kind of flow. There’s nothing more depressing than seeing your rivals you’ve been leading for 10 minutes casually breeze past you en masse.
Frustrations aside, I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. At the very least, I’m making progress and sitting atop the 250 East leaderboard despite only having won a handful of events. Given the time I’ve spent with the game, I should have been into the pro leagues and riding 450’s by now, but it will come with time (I hope). I have spent some time with the 450s in free races and time trials, and find it’s much easier to find the flow on tracks thanks to the increased power of the bikes. It just makes the slog through on the 250s feel more arduous knowing how much fun you could be having.
Lots to see and do
I’m sure there are people out there who will gel with this game instantly, and for those players, there’s a decent amount of content. Career mode is a little uninvolving, basically revolving around finishing enough races in each bike category to progress, but there’s plenty more besides that. The usual complement of single event and time trial options are available. You can also compete in single championships that mirror the official calendar or set up your own custom championships. Time trials have the ever-welcome ghosts to compete against, but each time you beat one and want to check and see how you placed on the leaderboard, you have to finish the time trial, which takes you back to the main menu. It’s a long-winded way of doing the trials that will likely put people off attempting them on a regular basis.
The compound is back, but it’s an entirely new area, based on the Maine Islands. It’s an expansive and picturesque free-roam arena with a full day/night cycle. It gives you a large open area to explore full of sweeping hills, rocky outcrops and comes complete with its own time trials and checkpoint races. It feels empty, though, with little in the way of exciting features to discover and no sign of life. You can ride here solo, or join three friends in four-player free roam. Hidden around the landscape are twenty collectables to find that unlock customisation items, which should keep you occupied for a little while, but overall it’s more of a missed opportunity than a must-play feature of the game.
Multiplayer was unpopulated at the time of the review, but there is a decent selection of options for setting up a custom event or series of your choice, as well as a race director mode which should be useful for those who like to organise events with groups. Server duties have been handed off to Amazon Web Services, so stability and latency should be good depending on your locale.
Round and round, up and down
There is a good selection of tracks to choose from, with 17 official tracks, 5 set within the compound, and a potentially unlimited number of tracks that have been created in the comprehensive track editor. The official tracks, in particular, look excellent. Graphically, Monster Energy Supercross 4 is visually appealing, and it runs at a smooth 4k 60 fps in HDR on the Series X, but if anything it just looks like the last-gen version, only with a higher frame rate. Still, it’s nicely detailed: The track ruts deepen the more you ride around, mud flicks up, splattering your bike and rider as the race goes on, while fireworks explode around the circuit, and the huge stadiums packed full of spectators breath life into the arena.
Photo mode used to be one of my favourite parts of Supercross 3, but as you can see on our images, it adds a pair of blue horizontal stripes across every photo that can’t be removed.
The track editor has seen significant improvements and has numerous new modules and customisation parts, including modules from the new tracks, and sand. I personally don’t have the patience (or ability, to be fair) to test and refine a track of any great quality, but as we saw in Supercross 3, some of the community make some simply incredible looking tracks. It shouldn’t be long until we see some epic constructions being made.
With regards to the audio, there are appears to be an issue with the audio in our review code, as there is no music during or after the races, or in the menus. I fully expect it to be fixed come launch today, but I can’t comment on the music yet. (Edit: If you have Dolby Atmos turned on the music doesn’t work, for some reason. Switching to stereo got the music back, but turns out all I was missing was a mixture of generic rock and EDM, which I soon muted.)
A complaint I had with the previous game was your opponents’ bikes were barely audible, and it’s a similar story again. Your own bike is loud and raspy, but even in amongst a pack of riders the dominant sound of the gameplay is the revving of your own engine. There is no commentary as such, but if you’re in the right place on the track you do hear reactive announcements over the stadium tannoy.
The thing that hurts the most about Monster Energy Supercross 4 is that once you get past the initial frustration, there’s a lovingly crafted game underneath. It looks beautiful, they’ve got loads of licensed and meticulously crafted circuits and official riders, there’s an excellent track editor, and there is a sparse but comprehensive multiplayer mode that should appease die-hard fans. The problem is they have made the already difficult learning curve far less fun than it should be.
By removing the unlimited rewinds and locking the training mode away as a between-races limited attempt feature, Milestone has removed the key tools that made it possible to learn and eventually master the challenging gameplay. If you are already an expert at the Monster Energy Supercross games or have the patience of a saint, there’s a potentially great game hidden away here. Unfortunately, those who aren’t prepared to suffer through the many hours needed to learn the game will likely give up long before they become proficient enough to enjoy it.