STAFF REVIEW of Monster Energy Supercross 4 (Xbox One)

Saturday, March 20, 2021.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Monster Energy Supercross 4 Box art Sports games tend to get a bad reputation because they generally release on an annual basis and don’t always show obvious improvements. Well, not to those who don’t play them regularly. This is the case with everything from Madden to NHL, and now Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame, which has just received its fourth iteration since its debut in February 2018.

Although I’ve always been a wimp and was never that athletic despite (poorly) playing quite a bit of organized soccer as a kid, I do watch a lot of sports. These days it’s mostly hockey, but I grew up playing video games based on almost every sport under the sun, including motosports and extreme sports. So many hours were enjoyably lost to games like Excitebike 64, MX 2002 Featuring Ricky Carmichael, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, 1080 Snowboarding and the SSX series. That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards these licensed Supercross games despite not following the circuit itself.

Like most Milestone S.r.I. releases, the first three Monster Energy Supercross games were enjoyable, albeit flawed and rough around the edges. Due to the nature of their real world inspiration they were repetitive but almost soothing, and it was easy to get into a kind of flow while playing. They always tried to demand proper weight distribution, good jumping techniques and advanced skill that I didn’t have, but I was able to lower the difficulty and not have to worry too much about being perfect. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t possible with Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 4, for whatever hard to fathom reason.

Upon first booting Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 4 up, I was greeted by increasingly polished menus and an appreciated but admittedly basic character creator. Then, I was dropped into the game’s main menu hub where I chose to check out its revamped career mode. Things were going well until that point. It was then that the wheels fell off, and I struggled to find the fun I’d previously experienced.

Instead of trying to cater to both hardcore and casual fans, or continuing to tow the line between arcade and simulation, Milestone’s latest is a demanding and frustrating affair that is hardly accessible. If you’ve been playing these games for years and have put many hours into refining your skills and perfecting your techniques, you’ll probably be okay. However, I simply haven’t devoted that amount of time to these games, and usually moved on after beating their career modes and playing some custom courses. Granted, I was never amazing at this particular series, despite being quite good at some of the aforementioned titles when I was younger and less tired.

That said, based on other reviews and online discussions I’ve seen, this is a common complaint. It makes me feel better to know that, because it means it’s not just me struggling. The noticeably improved career mode doesn’t go through the motions as much as it used to. You’ll find that there’s a lot more thought included in it this time around, plus an appreciated coat of extra polish. Although you’ll still do similar things, like racing, picking sponsors, trying to reach objectives and training, there’s more to most of those things. Many different training minigames are available, sponsors seem to want a bit more from you and the general structure of one’s racing career has been adjusted.

Instead of simply jumping into the 250 East and West circuits, you’ll first take part in an introductory Futures one, which is made up of a few events. After that you’ll move on to Rookie and eventually Pro circuits, those being the 250 and 450 seasons. It still plays out similarly to everything that came before it, but features a better coat of paint. The problem here is that things are hard from the get go, no matter which difficulty you choose. Whereas previous iterations featured a noticeable divide between their very easy and super difficult AI settings, Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 4 does not. Why? I don’t know. It makes very little sense to me.

What results is a very unforgiving, inaccessible and generally punishing game, which demands near perfection from the start. Sure, there’s a limited tutorial, but even it’s basic. You’re just expected to know how to perfectly distribute your rider’s weight on each type of jump, pull off great drifts around corners and be able to ride like a superstar from day one.

It doesn’t help that the racing and course physics are both punishing and occasionally random in and of themselves. It’s hard to produce the type of finesse and perfection that the game wants when your bike is bouncing all over the place, or when it’s so easy to randomly crash on landings you previously stuck. That isn’t the worst thing about this though. That would be the new rewind system, which limits you to just a few rewinds per race, as opposed to allowing you to rewind whenever need be.

Those who defend this practice will say that the idea is to keep playing and improve your skills over time. That’s one way of looking at it, but not something that should apply to a racing game such as this. Plus, when there’s almost no sense of accomplishment it can get easy to get both bored and frustrated, not to mention disillusioned.

There are skills and upgrades to purchase in the campaign’s menu, but it takes time to earn enough points to unlock them, and even then the difference isn’t always noticeable. The AI riders always seem to have an extra gear and don’t seem to be slowed down by bumps, humps and jumps like the player is. Even on very easy, it’s like they’re playing on very hard.

At the end of the day, we all play video games because they’re fun and offer a sense of accomplishment. That isn’t the case here.

Of course, career isn’t the only mode to be found in Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 4. It just happens to be the main draw for people like me, who are single player oriented. As per usual, this year’s release also offers online play on dedicated servers, an updated track creation mode and the ability to share created courses with the community. One can also choose to partake in single events, start their own tournament or play time trials.

The Compound also returns, offering a good place to practice and play with friends if you’re so inclined. You won’t have to worry much about frustrating artificial intelligence there, and can also go after collectibles. I don’t see the appeal in spending hours in the Compound, though, when I could be playing the career mode.

Being that this is the series’ first foray on next-generation hardware, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. After all, the Monster Energy Supercross games have never been the most beautiful racing or sports titles out there. They’ve always looked solid enough, but felt a step behind their bigger budget peers, which was fine and understandable. That’s kind of the case here, although the lighting system, character models and terrain textures have definitely benefited from next-gen improvements.

The audio? Well, it’s pretty much the same as before. Loud engine sounds, loud and energetic announcers and mediocre at best music that you’ll probably want to turn off after a while in favour of playing your own.

I’ve now reviewed all four of these games, and have never given one a negative score. I never expected this one to buck that trend, either, but here we are. Although Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 4 looks better and has seen noticeable improvements in its menus, career mode and some of its racing mechanics, it’s simply not fun due to punishing physics and cheap A.I. A lot of this could be addressed with a patch, but I have no idea as to whether Milestone sees the shocking difficulty curve as a problem.

Skip this one. For now, at least.

**This review is based on the Xbox Series S version of the game, which was provided by its publisher**

Overall: 4.4 / 10
Gameplay: 4.4 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.1 / 10


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