REVIEW – The Milestone Monster Energy Supercross franchise has been riding with mixed results since 2018, but this year’s episode could be a turning point. We tested the latest episode on PlayStation 5. The question is, does that make part five worth buying?
In the early 2000s, THQ dominated the motocross gaming scene with titles like MX 2002 featuring Ricky Carmichael and MX vs ATV Unleashed. While most of the games never became true classics, the genre has retained a loyal following over the years. As of 2018, the titan of motocross racing, Milestone, holds the keys to MX’s rival Monster Energy Supercross.
Among their MXGP and MotoGP releases, is the Monster Energy Supercross franchise worthy of a place in Milestone’s pantheon? Or just another money grab at full price? At first glance, it might seem like the latter, but thankfully Monster Energy Supercross 5 proves that there’s more than enough fuel left in the tank for a few thrilling rides.
Straight into the deep end
Compared to more traditional racing games such as Need For Speed or Forza, the Monster Energy Supercross franchise has managed to find its place alongside the aforementioned MX/ATV titles. The sense of realism and steep learning curve makes it feel like Milestone’s latest instalment is hitting the slop a little too hard. The game’s initial tutorials are worryingly short on material and are also quite ‘impatient’ in how they throw players straight into the deep end. Sometimes confronting difficult mechanics is a sure-fire way to adapt quickly, but Supercross 5’s tutorials lack detail and a guiding hand for newcomers.
From the opening moments, you can feel ready to leave the game in the mud, having raced through precisely the same tutorial track from last year, and it’s hard to see where the innovation is. Then something magical happens as you dig deeper into Supercross 5. As you start to ignore the constant pounding but rather dull and monotonous rock tracks and master the art of the jumps and turns and really get to grips with the controls, the game becomes quite a pleasant experience to ride at full throttle.
Discover the profit inside you
Once you’ve mastered the basics, Milestone offers a wealth of opportunities when it comes to unlocking your inner professional. The single-player modes include the usual primary races you may already be familiar with, but the career mode is where you’re likely to spend a lot of your time.
It’s not exactly new to the genre of car and motorcycle racing or sports games in general, but Milestone’s ‘streamlined’ approach is welcome here as you forge your way to glory. The career mode allows you to lobby for sponsorship deals, race on indoor and outdoor tracks, and develop your customisable racer. Unfortunately, customisation is pretty basic, with only a few presets to choose from when creating your own racer. The Skill Tree aspect of Supercross 5 is decently prepared with a range of upgrades, even if it’s relatively easy to get the best of them early on. While you’re racing against some of the toughest riders in the world, you can also focus on your rider’s fitness during training sessions or use your post-race credits to heal injuries faster.
Rider Shape is fundamentally about the well-being of your rider and can affect the rider’s physical performance rather than the riding itself. The workouts act as a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater-style companion to your races, allowing you to race in the Compound from SuperCross 5’s Free Roaming mode. In just two minutes, you’ll have the chance to collect each letter of the word “SHAPE”, score points for tricks and perform special moves in the air. With a Free Roam mode that you can explore alone or with friends, there’s real potential here to find more locations and hidden nooks to explore. The forest/nature park-style map available at launch is quite usable, but nothing more. Hopefully, Milestone will take us to some more vibrant places in the future.
More sophisticated management
Despite the fact that Supercross 4 was released just over a year ago, it’s commendable how polished Milestone’s 2022 effort looks by comparison. The handling is much better and more nuanced, which eliminates the frustrating and unbalanced feel of Supercross 4. But what about the actual simulation of racing itself?
Even with the poorly designed tutorials, Supercross 5’s trial-and-error gameplay can, with enough persistence, make for a real sense of achievement. Whether you’ve bought a handful of Skill Tree upgrades or raced with a basic set-up, the game’s two analogue stick steering turning systems allow you to ride with much more precision than in the previous game. If you push both levers all the way in the direction you want, for example, you’ll probably soon be eating loam with your mouth full as you land in the mud after falling off the bike.
Mastering the art of the perfect clutch release is a feat in itself as you try to take first place in the Holeshot. The rumbling of the Dualshock 5 adds a palpable tension to every turn or landing. Milestone has also made sure to give you the feeling of mud dirt bubbling up between the tires, which you can fight back with force via the R2 ratchet (the throttle) adaptive triggers. The lights on the controller’s touchpad change colour depending on the position of your speedometer – another neat touch.
The game’s sound design is also very professional, whether it’s the roar of the engines, the crash of debris hitting tyres or your body, or the roar of excitement from the crowd in the stadiums. It’s a shame the soundtrack isn’t very punchy, though.
Rewind if you messed up
Supercross gameplay is full of decisions that work together to push your limits. Are you playing it safe and taking corners at lower speeds? Or do you try to drift past your rival at the risk of dropping out of the race?
Whether you succeed or fail, Milestone will ensure that your persistence is not wasted with the recurring Rewind mechanic. Press R1 to rewind the events and choose where you want to resume the race from.
At the beginning of each race, you get three Rewinds, which you have to “fill up” with motor tricks such as Whips, Scrubs, Drifts. The key to a successful landing is not obvious here either, as every track is different. You need to keep a constant eye on pushing both analogue stick handles the right amount for a proper weight shift to maximise the jump’s height potential and the chance of a smooth landing.
Perhaps this shows that Supercross 5 is not very “friendly” for those who just want to jump into the game for a fun race or two; you have to learn and master the basics.
The best part so far
Monster Energy Supercross 5 is the best part of the franchise so far, after a few years of the series’ quality being mired in the mud. While it takes a lot of patience and skill to master the basics, the game makes up for it with plenty of exciting racing. It’s hard to say whether future instalments will provide enough innovation for new instalments in the franchise, but there’s no doubt that this year was worth the gamble – especially on PlayStation 5.
(Test code provided by Magnew)
+ Great simulation and great support for DualShock 5 features
+ Difficult, yet more manageable, more rewarding management
+ Great graphics and sounds
– Lousy, impatient tutorial
– Not much innovation
– Sloppy rock music
Release date: March 14, 2022