“Metal heavy, soft at the core.”
Ahh, this feels like a late Christmas gift. Last year, Milestone’s Monster Energy Supercross 2 was a pleasant surprise to play, as it got me into an entirely new genre of motor-sports effortlessly. It had a lot going for it: fantastic controls and feedback, excellent track design, and a bombastic atmosphere that remains unmatched, even by other Milestone efforts. Imagine my delight when Monster Energy Supercross 3 turned up.
Yes, this is the third installment of the Monster Energy Supercross series and another one of many racing games to grace Milestone’s quite consistent library. In the past year since the second installment of Supercross graced us, I’ve had a chance to play their underrated Gravel, a modest off-road racing game, and Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo, an admirable effort to say the least. Other than today’s title and Ride 4, they don’t have much in terms of upcoming titles, which springs me as concerned, but in due time.
With no plot, as always with these types of games, it’s just the usual riding through championships with your created character, and I’ll be goddamned, Milestone actually expanded the character creator in magnificent fashion. Female body presets, a multitude of different facial setups reminiscent of a Bethesda character creator, and a whole load of vibrant choices in hairstyles and colors. It’s all great, it just… looks the way it does.
In all fairness, I’m not going to harshly criticize the nature of these, quite frankly, horrific-looking character models, because this is a first attempt for Milestone. With Monster Energy Supercross arguably being their most customizable product to date. It’s a rough start, and it’s only commendable to see them try.
If you’ve played the previous titles, then you already know the gist, but with a few of the bits omitted or improved. For one, the scheduling present in Supercross 2 is now absent, instead, having a small menu where you can customize your bike and person, along with a simple “next event” button for every race. Occasionally, you’ll be offered a Team Day where you race against other bikers with the same sponsor, but there’s nothing that reaches the same brand-building you were doing in the previous iteration.
It’s hard to say whether or not this is a good thing, considering that the week scheduling in Supercross 2 wasn’t a particularly fire-igniting mechanic. It is content being taken away, but at the same time, the options it gave weren’t really submerged in freedom like they implied. At the end of the day, however, it’s less about you as a figure in the world of dirt-biking and more about simple racing (a yin/yang type of deal).
Speaking of the racing, it’s still the same magnificent blend of skillful riding and tight track design that made the last game so electrifying, almost to a fault. As usual, you use both thumbsticks in order to turn properly, and the 250cc bikes can either be a make-or-break deal depending on the manufacturer you decide to stick with. In line with my real-life family, and for fear of being disowned, I went with Suzuki and was enamored with how beautifully the bike handled and performed, but I also had to use KTM bikes, which-
Okay, in my time with motocross games, I have never seen a single KTM handle well. Every iteration of dirt-biking in video game format has this awful manufacturer provide nothing but a limp-wristed, fart-smelling — and sounding — engine. Show me a good KTM in a video game, and I’ll show you where pigs learn to fly because I have a better chance in that battle of the brains.
Back to the original topic, and once again, the 450cc bikes are perfect. I’m serious, this series continues to be a hallmark in skill-based driving and overcoming the many trials and tribulations present in such a temperamental machine is a wonderful feeling. It’s a shame, then, that I have to state that this is a feeling that is hampered by a few factors.
Monster Energy Supercross 3‘s track design is bad. It’s unclear what happened, but a lot of the tracks don’t really diverge from the norm, nor do they offer actual challenges beyond what constitutes a perfect flow lap. Given that dirt bikes are only on the ground for 15% of their active lifetime, trying to determine paths on the fly with such a convoluted HUD and an inaccurate speedometer is frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when the AI can pull it off perfectly, though.
It’s weird to see AI that is both unstoppable in their track presence and utterly dumbfounded by most of the tracks tight hairpins. It feels like a 50/50 split between the AI and how they act, with one half constantly on your tail while you try and line up a perfect ramp-off. Meanwhile, the other half continue to continually accidentally reset on a turn because the visual track boundaries have been pushed out the way.
Still, it’s nice to see an actual challenge come from the AI, which usually comes off as negligible in most racing games. Not here, though, as the difficulty levels in Supercross 3 are reminiscent of the original Blood; Very Easy plays like Lightly Broiled, and anything on Medium onwards feels like One-Hit Extra Crispy. It’s terrifying. Typical games journalist comment aside, despite most of the AI playing it like amoebas for most races, the rest of them do still offer a challenge that gets you into the game, with Holeshots being harder than ever to hit, thank Christ.
This still doesn’t excuse the track design in most cases, though, and it breaks my heart to see a lot of the tracks be either uninspired in their design, or simply annoying in how you’re supposed to approach them. The entirety of the SX Compound was dreadful for this, as all of the track variants fail to be anything beyond tight jumps that can never get the right speed. It’s a double offense when it comes to the Challenge Mode, but in due time.
Not only do some of these tracks offer nothing gameplay-wise, they also look quite humdrum. It’s disappointing to see and hard to explain, but the same utterly overblown nature that became an underrated pleasure in Supercross 2 hasn’t transferred that well here. Everything’s a blur now, with the aforementioned motion blur being turned up to a disgusting 11, which makes everything look murky, undefined, and lifeless. It’s a sad sight to see, in more ways than one.
When it comes to the main entree of the game, the Championship Mode flip-flops between breakneck, terrifying action, and lethargic track days that offer no excitement or acceptable challenge. It is a breath of fresh air, however, to have all of the other modes on display, like Time Attack, a standard inclusion that still succeeds at the core, and Challenge Mode, which is almost good.
You have five different categories to choose challenges from, and they’re varied brilliantly, from finding the perfect flow in a small section of a race to timing the prestigious Holeshot perfectly, to optimizing your whips and scrubs, cutting air-time, and adding flair. It should be the best addition in this game, but once again, the asterisk comes flying out of its hole.
For one, a lot of these challenges miss their desired goal by a hair. For example, the Holeshot Hunt isn’t dependent on whether or not you hit the holeshot at all; it’s just a glorified Sectioned Race. For two, the restrictions placed on all the challenges are the same — no Rewinding, no falling, and if you cut the track, you instantly fail. The rewinding and falling I understand completely, as these are tests as well as challenges, but really? Cutting corners is an instant fail, even if I get the points necessary? Come on, this wouldn’t even be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that all of these challenges take place on the SX Compound, where every track plays like the final moments of a Snake game.
For three, you can’t use your preferred bike and you’re stuck with one Cooper Webb on a KTM 250. Nope. Nuh-uh. Absolutely not. I hate this bike. It is a pathetically poor choice of bike to use for these. This is why Challenge Mode fails, because unless you’re a fan of these awful, awful machines, you’re at a disadvantage that doesn’t teach you because KTMs play differently from every other bike in the game. I’m not kidding, this mode is a sin for having this design choice at all.
Beyond that, the track editor makes a return, mostly unedited from its previous iterations. As mentioned in the Supercross 2 review, there’s a lot of “Easy Money/XP” maps that stagnate the lists, but there are a few unique gems cropping up that you have to vigorously look for. Thankfully, the tools given are basic and rooted in simplicity, meaning that anyone could easily recreate something like Happy Ramblers or Buds Creek without any hassle.
I’m at a difficult crossroads with Supercross 3. For one, it’s quite clear that the streamlining efforts made in terms of being more approachable are more successful than they are failures. At the same time, some of these additions or improvements meet the bare minimum without any foresight on what would constitute a balanced experience. The Championship tracks continue to objectively favor 450cc dirt bikes, the Challenge Mode has no freedom at all, and the track editor continues to be exploited for easy XP and money.
It’s a tricky one to consider. There’s still an undeniable fun factor emanating from these games, and the real meat of the game, that being the core driving, is perfect in its execution. The Challenge Mode is a mixed bag of great testing opportunities and downright unfair perspectives, and the Championship seems rather milquetoast when compared not just to previous Milestone efforts, but when compared to any racing game, period. There’s no sense of progression; you just do races, and you get points. Maybe this shouldn’t have been a product that comes out an exact year after the previous title, just a thought.
In the end, what could’ve been a monumental improvement over the solid blueprint Supercross 2 left behind, Monster Energy Supercross 3 misses a few bits in the to-do list. The tracks don’t accommodate the fantastic riding controls enough, Challenge Mode has glaring oversights over its actually meaty tests, the track editor is still only used as an XP farming machine, and KTMs suck. It’s still the same Monster Energy Supercross you should know and love, and the potential is there, but you end up lamenting what could’ve been.
Still, ride or die, homie.
This review of Monster Energy Supercross 3 was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.
What should've been one of the best racing games of the generation instead chooses to play it safe, with quality of life improvements equaling the number of errors made.
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