Legendary Italian studio Milestone, focused on delivering all kinds of racing experiences on two and four wheels alike, are back with the fourth installment of their licensed Supercross videogames. After years of quite average racers, the studio delighted us with some of their best games in a long time with RIDE 4, Gravel and MotoGP 20 among others, making us all rather hopeful for this franchise’s first steps into the new generation of consoles’ life cycle. Let’s take a look at what they delivered!
Par for the course for racing games is getting the hang of the gameplay mechanics through the career mode, as it usually puts the players in increasingly competitive vehicles in events that become more and more complex. After a recommended short tutorial level, that is indeed where the players can begin their journey. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: those who played Monster Energy Supercross 3 already know what to expect, and the various more unique elements of it like the upgraded physics, the track editor and the open world compound make a return, albeit with additions that we’ll talk about later. It is a rather iterative sequel, but we’ll dive into the details for those unfamiliar with the franchise naturally.
After choosing from a selection of bikes and teams with initially minor performance differences, it’s time to hit the road – well, the dirt. The events in the game naturally mimic the Supercross formula as much as possible, and as such, two dozen dirt bikes start the event side by side in a specific starting location, which then deviates into the lap-based circuit of dirt and sand that riders will have to keep completing for a set amount of minutes, with the end of the timer signaling the start of the final 2 laps. Points are subsequently awarded based on the order at the finish line, with the sum of all events’ scores declaring a winner for the series.
Unlike most racing events however, most of the performance isn’t reliant on precise cornering and perfect accelerations out of turns, but finding the right flow throughout straights full of bumps and jumps of varying size and type, from the so-called whoops that can be blazed through at high speed, all the way up to the double jumps, where calculating the landing spot is key to keep the rhythm necessary to stay competitive. There’s various other rules in play, but managing the rhythm and the bouncy suspensions of the dirtbikes is the key to victory here.
My career, my (limited) choices
Inbetween career events, players can participate in special sponsor races and, perhaps most importantly, train their skills in a series of challenges, evaluating people’s level in an increasingly difficult series of tasks, of which the player can do a total of three attempts before moving on to the next classified race. This forces the players to be effective, as a failed run still counts as an attempt, but the rewards more than make up for it, with every trial awarding up to three stars that can be spent on boosting individual statistics for the player, from stability to speed and so on.
It is therefore not only about trying to find contracts for better teams and better bikes, as the player moves up to higher and higher category of rides, these events come in handy to get the ebb and flow of the game, improving the technique but also the stats associated with the races. Indeed, I had to sweat hard to get a top 5 finish at first, but once I managed to apply 10-15 upgrades from the various training sessions, I was regularly fighting for the top spots and, therefore, being one of the main candidates for the titles.
There doesn’t seem to be much else going on for this campaign mode, frankly. Don’t expect the cinematic experiences of NBA 2K or FIFA’s short-lived The Journey mode, but even another recent bike racer by Milestone like MotoGP 20 seems to offer far more depth and variety in terms of customizing your team and experience. At least, bikes, suits and helmets can still be customized by unlocking and buying (only with in-game money, fortunately) new objects, stickers and so on. Customization plays a big role elsewhere, however.
This is how I want to play
Fortunately, Monster Energy Supercross 4 offers a satisfying variety of difficulty options, riding assistances and physics tweaks, allowing players of just about any skill level to customize their experience to their liking and capabilities. From the realistic settings, which have the riders micromanage the rotation of the bike, the position of the driver and even the brakes, all the way down to simplified models where it’s possible to “send it” every corner without worrying too much of destabilizing the bike. There’s even a limited number of rewinds players can use to correct mistakes in an event. Dosing the speed to follow the flow of bumps is imperative, however, as pedal to the metal all lap doesn’t get you beyond last place even on the lowest difficulty. Trust me, I checked!
Naturally, events can also be played in custom races, with the addition of online multiplayer up to 16 players featuring customizeable rules, providing cutthroat global competition, albeit the playerbase does not appear to be particularly big around launch days. Perhaps it could find a second wind by getting added to the Game Pass catalogue, a fate that various Milestone racers shared in recent times. Local races against AI do have their competitive aspect too, since leaderboards exist for tracks. And there’s another important game mode celebrating creativity and customization: a handy track editor.
Don’t expect the limitless possibilities of the TrackMania franchise, or even the individual item placement and verticality of the recent DIRT 5: Milestone’s intention is to provide players the tools to create relatively grounded and plausible tracks, using a decent variety of sand and dirt bumps, jumps and corners of all shapes and sizes. What it intentionally lacks in scope, it more than makes up for it with a responsive UI, comfortable navigation, with undo buttons and other little quality-of-life features, and sharing our creations with the community is really easy with the in-game tools.
Not sure I believe that…
One major flaw I’ve found in this game is related to consistency, or its lack thereof. Much has to do with the fact that the game suggests what is the most ideal path to go through a series of bumps, but somehow even doing the same sort of precise jumps out of that proposed sync turns out to be surprisingly slow, as if the game intentionally punished the player for searching for alternatives or adapting. And yet, AI seems to not have this problem at all, as they easily fly through double jumps with the right pace even with minimal momentum, baffling me as I accelerate past them on the ground and they subsequently fly by me in a rather unrealistic fashion.
Similarly, excursions off the beaten path turned out to be a lottery. Trying to be smart and driving just beside the bumps results in the game slowing down your bike to a near crawl, making it a futile exercise. I did find paths however where this rule didn’t apply, offering decent cutting possibilities that not even the AI were aware about. The CPU-controller riders do get their vengeance though, as they usually seem to be immune to this speed loss when leaving the track, thus prepare for AI riders to overtake you mid-bump by cutting just because another computer opponent pushed them off the track.
Getting too far from the driveable area resets the bike into the middle of the track with, once again, results varying from frustrating to hilarious. While it tends to place the player more or less in a correct spot, I’ve had several instances of me and the AI alike being respawned in positions well ahead or surprisingly behind my expectations. In one instance, I even somehow managed to cut a whole lap, by respawning to the end of the track instead of the beginning, gaining me about 45 seconds and 20 places in the process, gifting me the easiest of wins on a treacherous dirt path. I can definitely see some of these occurrences getting exploited by competitive players across the globe unless the developers fix them as soon as possible.
Visually speaking, Milestone’s newest title will not necessarily impress many people: with a series of iterative upgrades over last-gen’s Monster Energy Supercross 3, the game is pleasant enough to the eyes, but it certainly isn’t in the same league as racing behemoths such as Forza Horizon 4. Fortunately, this is balanced out by a sharp look thanks to the 4K resolution on Series X and the rather solid 60 frames per second, shared on Series S alike, the other platform I tested the game on. Soundtrack’s a mix of hard rock and mainstream metal that manages to transmit the correct attitude for an extreme motorsport game such as this, though I can’t say I recall any standout tracks worth mentioning.
Colours are vivid, much thanks to a good use of HDR, though this is rarely too noticeable as most events happen in stadiums at night over visually similar tracks made of dirt and sand. It becomes much more obvious in the Compound, which is a fully explorable open world hub full of collectibles alongside time-based and stunt challenges. After the 3rd chapter’s world that features a mud-based construction site, Milestone brings us for a camping trip on the side of a mountain this time, as we freely explore forests, all the way down to the beach, passing by some castles and wooden constructions in the process. A fun little diversion that rewards with some exclusive gear, but there isn’t too much depth in this mode.
In short, Monster Energy Supercross 4 is Milestone’s 4th attempt to bring the world of licensed Supercross onto our consoles, and this iterative upgrade does not fix what isn’t broken, mostly just switching out content and applying minor improvements here and there – a rather frequent sight in days where all development is heavily impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions. It does feature a bit more eye-candy if you’re on Series X or S, but nothing too fancy. It may not be the most spectacular or polished racer ever, but there really aren’t many games like this on the market, with the Italian studio once again delivering a solid enough title for bike fans to keep them busy until the next instalment.