- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The supercross race didn’t go the way you wanted. You misjudged a couple of jumps on the third lap in Los Angeles, costing you precious time and dropping you into seventh place in a field of eight. After you take off your Puma helmet, you check your PDA. An e-mail awaits. It’s not good news.

“Your sponsor is not pleased,” the e-mail tells you. And neither are you, especially at the not-so-veiled threats about your job coming from the owner of your motorcycle racing team. Your only consolation? MTX Mototrax is only a video game.

Motocross games have come a long way since Excitebike, the original dirt racing game, fun in that you-don’t-know-any-better kind of way. Racing those little dudes around custom tracks was a simple pleasure.

Nothing about games is so simple these days. MTX, in some ways a predecessor of the old Nintendo game considering developer Left Field Productions worked on Excitebike 64, takes motorcycle racing to a different level. In MTX’s career mode, you customize everything from hair to boots on a rookie racer and begin him on a path through supercross, motocross, freestyle and off-road events to the ultimate challenge, the X Games.

The career mode starts you in one of the free ride levels, the compound of Travis Pastrana, one of 13 pro riders in the game. There, in one of the more inventive instructional levels, Pastrana teaches you how to play the game through some challenges around his house and grounds. This way the controls are fairly easy to pick up, even some of the more complex ones. For instance, MTX allows you to compress the suspension of your bike to get more air on jumps, and Pastrana tells you how to do it by pulling back on the left analog stick and then throwing it forward as you take off. The extra air, of course, allows you to do more tricks (which aren’t easy, by the way).

The four free ride levels, which are the game’s most enjoyable, allow you roam and practice, unlocking tricks you can use on the four freestyle levels later. You also can earn money to buy items.

To earn some more money for better equipment, you also can try the supercross (stadiums) or motocross (outdoors) series. You start with a 125cc series, but you can unlock 250cc races, too.

By doing well, you also can attract attention from sponsors or even other teams, who will throw wads of cash at you to race for them.

The focus on money and sponsors can be a bit much; the e-mails sent to your PDA when you fail demonstrate the rather sick way corporate sponsorship has infiltrated games these days. The age of the average gamer continues to rise, and most of the big gaming companies are aware of that. Whereas the complexity and the beauty of a game like MTX Mototrax — the graphics, especially in the free ride areas, are beautiful — some of the innocence of a game like Excitebike is lost, too.

Overall: 3.0

Graphics: 4.0

Sound: 3.0

Playability: 3.0

Realism: 2.0

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