Since MTX Mototrax shares its name with a two-year-old, fairly unremarkable motocross game, you might expect it to aspire to mediocrity, at best, on the PlayStation Portable. You'd be mistaken though, because MTX Mototrax for the PSP is actually a good, solid game with plenty to offer motocross enthusiasts, as well as racing fans in general. If you're expecting it to take the sport beyond two wheels, a lot of dirt, and just as much big air, you won't find it here. What you will find is a challenging and surprisingly enjoyable game, especially for the $30 asking price.
The primary single-player experience is to be found in the MTX career mode, which takes you through a series of challenges covering just about everything you've come to expect from a motocross game. You create a custom rider and then start out as a rookie and work your way from one event to the other, unlocking new challenges, tracks, bikes, and gear along the way. There are plenty of events to choose from, including free-ride and freestyle trick events, as well as the more traditional race events.
The free-ride courses play like levels from a Tony Hawk game. You can ride around at your leisure, but to progress, you have to complete various objectives, such as beating another rider in an impromptu race, racking up points by performing certain tricks, and so on. The freestyle events take place in small arena venues that are set up to let you catch as much air as possible, which in turn lets you perform tricks and earn points. As in the free ride, you have to complete certain objectives, such as scoring enough points to place in the top three among all of the riders or performing a list of tricks in a proper order. The free-ride and freestyle events are a nice break from the straightforward races, and the courses are all well designed and allow for plenty of variety. The free-ride courses in particular are quite large, and they are a lot of fun to explore since they're filled with all kinds of huge jumps and obstacles, which also make for exciting riding.
The races in MTX Mototrax are divided into three divisions: supercross, motocross, and MTX races. Supercross and motocross are four-race series where riders are awarded points based on how they finish in each race of the series. The only difference between the two divisions is the courses. The supercross courses are smaller and require tight cornering and perfect timing off the jumps. The motocross tracks, on the other hand, are much longer and wider and have larger jumps that don't require much more than raw speed. Since there are at most four riders in any given series, you'll usually end up with some fairly tight competition. In fact, the artificial intelligence can be downright ruthless sometimes, requiring you to ride a near-perfect race just to keep up with the pack. It can be frustrating when no matter how well you ride, your opponents are always just ahead, but that challenge ensures that you won't be able to breeze through the game unchecked. Oddly enough, the AI seems to go completely soft when you start racing in the MTX races. The MTX circuit is just another circuit to race but with more tracks than supercross or motocross. The MTX tracks are short, and the challenge from the AI is almost nonexistent. It can be somewhat jarring when you go from getting first in every race on the MTX circuit to struggling for fourth on the supercross circuit.
The handling in MTX Mototrax isn't exactly spot on, but it's close enough. Controlling the bike with the analog stick works well, and it makes preloading your suspension feel as natural and easy as ever. The bikes will occasionally take an odd bounce off a jump, and they tend to slide a bit unrealistically in the corners, but for the most part you get a good sense of the weight and momentum of your bike and rider as they fly through the air and zip around corners. The sense of speed isn't very dramatic, but in this game the focus is more on timing and track position. It's just as exciting and satisfying to clear a triple and land perfectly as it is to open up the throttle in a straightaway.
There's a wide selection of different bikes to choose from in the game from real-world manufacturers such as Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. The bikes range in size from 125cc two-strokes to 450cc four-strokes. The difference between the ways the bikes handle isn't very dramatic, but it's certainly noticeable. Each bike sounds unique, as well, with a very noticeable difference in the pitch of the two-stroke and the four-stroke bikes.
After you've practiced preloading and sliding around corners, you can challenge your friends to a four-player race via an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection. There are a handful of different modes to choose from, including freestyle trick competitions and straight-up races. You can bring your custom rider from career mode into multiplayer to show up your friends, as well. Also included in the package is a track editor, which lets you create your own custom track and race on it with your friends. The editor is flexible and easy to use, and you can easily create a track in about five minutes.
The presentation in MTX Mototrax isn't eye popping, but it gets the job done and most importantly the frame rate remains steady throughout. The tracks are all nicely detailed, with great variety in terrain type and topography. The riders all animate well and appear to move independently of the bikes as they naturally should. The engine sounds are nice and loud, and they sound realistic. There's an announcer who sounds like a third-string X-Games cohost, but his lines are thankfully kept to a minimum. The licensed soundtrack is actually quite good, as long as you like your rock a bit on the heavy side. There are more than 30 songs from bands such as Metallica, Faith No More, and Slipknot. The music does a good job of backing up the action on the track, and it sounds great on the PSP.
MTX Mototrax is a remarkably good racing game, and the deal is sweetened by the fact that it's selling for $30. It isn't terribly different from ATV Offroad Fury, but what it does offer is a fun and exciting racing experience that goes beyond standard street races. There's a lot of challenge to be found in the game, as well, and with several different modes, a ton of tracks, plus a track editor, it's sure to stay in your PSP for quite some time. If you have a taste for motocross or are just looking for another racing game, you can't go wrong with this one.