MXGP 2's most enjoyable moments happen when your rider has the whole track to himself, and the only thing he's competing with is the digital stopwatch climbing higher in the corner of the screen. Time Attack is the only mode I've been able to appreciate in Milestone's third attempt at simulating the sport of motocross. Because once I started sharing the courses with 21 computer-controlled bikers, MXGP 2's unrealistic collisions and rudimentary AI ruined my fun.
CPU drivers in MXGP 2 mostly just follow predetermined paths, being careful to avoid contact with fellow AI racers, and generally ignoring the user's presence on the track. In career mode, the same three or four names always seem to find their way to the front of the pack, making it feel like each race is following an identical script, with your rider having little chance of disrupting the computer's plans. Playing on "Realistic" difficulty (the hardest option) only increases the AI's skill at sticking to the top racing lines as it doesn't improve the CPU's lack of reaction to human riders. On tight tracks with thick traffic, AI bikers also have lots of trouble staying upright, frequently getting bent over sideways and bopping back and forth between each other like a bunch of blow-up clown dolls.
Milestone clearly wants consumers to view MXGP 2 as a serious motocross simulation, otherwise, the company would not have spent so much of its budget licensing real drivers, sponsors and courses. But when the game's Kawasaki bikes are bouncing off wooden signs, chain link fences and fiberglass helmets like they were tightly coiled trampolines, it's hard to take MXGP 2 seriously. The collision physics are so laughably dated that they feel like they belong in the first Road Rash game on PlayStation 1, not the second MXGP game on PlayStation 4. At least in Road Rash, your rider needed to realistically run over and retrieve his bike after a wipeout before he could climb back on top and step into first gear; in MXGP 2, every wreck will instantly transport your rider back onto the course, with no noticeable damage to the bike or its driver. The absurdity of this feature in a simulation racer is compounded by the fact that, on many of the game's jumps and turns, crashing will actually teleport you ahead of nearby racers who were driving normally.
These immersion-destroying teleport restarts will also trigger if you ride too far outside a track's boundaries (marked by yellow sticks), but there's not enough consistency in the game's logic for penalizing corner-cutters. Three consecutive turns on the same course can each have wildly different degrees of what the game deems to be permissible corner cutting, to the point that you'll have to memorize on a turn-by-turn basis which yellow sticks can be driven through and which ones must be obeyed if you're trying to earn a top time on the leaderboards.
Being a corner-cutting, wreck-causing jack#*% won't cost you any sponsorships, in-game currency or points in the season standings because MXGP 2's simplistic career mode only cares about two things:
1. Did you outplace that day's randomly selected rival driver?
2. Did you place high enough in that day's standings to please your sponsor?
Aside from that, there are zero consequences to your actions during the 18-event, 36-race season, making career mode's gameplay loop extremely dull and repetitive. You aren't even allowed to alleviate a small portion of that tedium by setting the schedule to single-race events -- like you can in the exhibition championship modes -- so you're stuck running two three-lap races, at the minimum, during every stop along the international tour. This trek would be much more exciting if you had to worry about the financial costs of damaging your bike and the physical costs of damaging your body, like gamers had to more than 20 years ago in Electronic Arts' Road Rash and Skitchin' franchises.
I also wish sponsors and competitors would treat your biker differently, depending on whether he's built a reputation as a clean/dirty racer. And since MXGP 2 already has CBS Sports Network posters plastered throughout its tracks, how about getting some CBSSN announcers to record some race commentary -- a feature that Excitebike 64 was able to pull off 16 years ago on a console equipped with 4 MB of RAM. But alas, all Milestone could muster for its third motocross game in four years is another soulless, lifeless career mode that contains no personality and offers no unique features.
Milestone continues to restrict MXGP's multiplayer options to online modes, since splitscreen races still aren't supported. The only way to play with other people is by hosting/joining a private/public session, and North Americans won't have much success joining public rooms since all of the randoms I encountered were Europeans with one red bar of connection compatibility, at best. MXGP 2 does provide a good number of match filters when you're trying to find a game, but one obvious oversight is the system's inability to sort by region or by ping. If you don't live in Europe, and you don't have any friends ready to join your private session, then the multiplayer portion of MXGP 2 will be about as much fun as skinny dipping in a mud puddle.
MXGP 2's graphics and sound also fail to meet the expectations of a $50 PlayStation 4 title. The techno/hard rock soundtrack is so generic that it sounds like it was downloaded from YouTube's royalty-free song library. The poorly recorded engine noises and air-horn-obsessed crowds were so annoying that I had to mute both of them just to maintain my sanity while working on this review. The frame rate fails to reach 60 FPS, which wouldn't be an issue if this was a turn-based RPG, but it becomes a major turn-off in a twitchy action game that demands split-second controller reactions.
The loading times between menus and before races aren't intolerably long, but they're long enough to become a regular nuisance. Texture pop-in is an ongoing distraction during races, and the camera doesn't center itself smoothly during sharp turns. PC players can at least increase their performance by disabling all the fancy lighting and special effects, but console owners are stuck with MXGP 2's subpar graphics, which are noticeably worse on the Xbox One than they are on the PlayStation 4.
I've spent the majority of this review pointing out Milestone's mistakes, and have consciously confined most of the game's positive traits to the plus/minus bullet points that appear at this top of the page, so to be absolutely clear about MXGP 2:
It's not a bad motocross game, it's not a good motocross game, it just majorly bums me out that this, and the equally underwhelming MX vs. ATV Supercross Encore, are the sport's only true representation on the current generation of consoles. PC gamers do at least have a solid alternative in the first-person indie project MX Simulator.
But considering motocross' niche appeal, the recent struggles of Nintendo (Excitebike), Vivendi's increased stake in Ubisoft (Trials), the bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation of THQ's assets (MX vs. ATV), and the closure of Evolution Studios (MotorStorm) followed by their partial transfer to Codemasters, it's tough to picture anything coming out anytime soon that could challenge MXGP 2 and bring some respectability to what's currently a rinky-dink console MX circuit.
Score: 6.0 (Above Average)