MX 2002 Featuring Ricky Carmichael is THQ's motocross series, in which you take on the role of one of today's most exciting racing and freestyle riders. MX 2002 approaches motocross from two separate perspectives--that of racing and stunt driving--while mingling in a control scheme that is both intuitive and fun to play. With a number of real-world tracks, well-designed fantasy courses, and a couple of exclusive features, this edition of MX 2002 delivers everything that the PS2 version had to offer--and a little bit more.
MX 2002 features a collection of licensed riders and bikes. Riders include Carey Hart, Mike Jones, Ricky Carmichael, and many more, totaling 30 in all. Licensed motorbike manufacturers such as Suzuki and Kawasaki provide their own distinct styles of cycle, although none of the makes and models feel or handle differently from the rest. To customize your racing experience, you will instead have to rely on tweaking your exhaust pipe, brakes, and suspension during the career mode.
There are a fairly large number of key gameplay elements that constantly need to be considered while racing or pulling off tricks in MX 2002, and this multitasking facet of the experience is what probably accounts for why it's so much fun to play. The trick system is easy to learn, but it remains quite challenging, especially where the higher-difficulty tricks are concerned. While holding the R trigger in midair, you can enter face button commands, which pull off the desired tricks. Many of the tricks have particularly long and complex animation routines, which need to be accounted for ahead of time to ensure that you can land safely and maintain optimal speed. When winning races is the objective, minimizing your times around a course and properly maneuvering around corners is obviously key, but making the most out of your jumps is quite possibly even more important. While approaching the top of a ramp, you can preload by holding the R trigger, which gives you a more powerful jump that's great for clearing obstacles or setting up a series of tricks. In midair, you can further maximize performance by keeping the clutch open with the L trigger, which lets you rev the engine and land at an even faster speed than when you took off. Shifting the weight of your rider back and forth with the left analog stick also allows for more precise maneuvering and landing. There are quite a number of subtle tricks and tactics that can be employed to get the most out of each race, and finding each of these is extremely fulfilling.
While MX 2002 is most assuredly a good-looking game, it doesn't stand out as particularly eye-catching when compared with last year's PlayStation 2 version. The frame rate is solid and never bogs down, despite the complexity of the detail on some tracks and the number of riders that can appear onscreen. There are some nifty effects, like the splash of mud kicked up when a rider comes down from a jump, and the quality of the rider animation remains solid throughout. The texture quality--compared with the original PS2 release's--is slightly better in some parts of the game, although when compared with what is currently available on the Xbox today, it doesn't overly impress. The two new Xbox-exclusive freestyle levels are easily as attractive as any of the others and are well suited to the trick-oriented aspect of the game. The Washington level features an open courtyard littered with dirt jumps and ramps, surrounded by government-style buildings, some of which can be explored. Tacoma is an outdoor, truck rally sort of affair, where cheering fans watch from the stands as you leap over obstacles and basically just show off. Overall, the tracks are well designed, and it feels as though a good amount of attention went into their layout, or as though the tracks were simply properly modeled after their respective real-world counterparts.
The single-player career mode in MX 2002 provides the opportunity to rise through the rankings, earning a chance to race through progressively challenging tracks and working up from the slower 125cc bikes to the more powerful 250cc models. There's also a thorough tutorial mode that teaches the finer points of preloading, which proves vital to continued success on the tracks and properly landing jumps and tricks. To become familiar with the nuances of each track, exhibitions and freestyle sessions can also be initiated. More so than in most racing games in which basic handling capabilities are more important, becoming familiar with each track and with the best way to handle each jump or turn is incredibly vital.
When the relatively short single-player story mode is completed, a number of entertaining multiplayer modes are available. The coolest of the modes is the bus jump, in which a successively larger number of school buses are lined up side by side, set up for you to go flying over. Also among the multiplayer modes is a new game similar to Horse, in which you need to beat a single opponent who is racing to complete a specific series of tricks within a strict time limit. The head-to-head feel of the event makes the game especially fast-paced, as well as one of the more attractive diversions the game has to offer, particularly when racing alone has worn thin. MX 2002 doesn't qualify as a good party game, however--the multiplayer modes are two-player only.
On the audio front, MX 2002 sounds quite good, with great revving sounds and good aural feedback when you take the engine to the redline. The soundtrack once again features popular singles from Island records artists Sum 41 (Fat Lip), Saliva (Superstar), and American Hi-Fi, although the selection seems rather bare considering the incredible number of songs that other Xbox games have been able to pack into their collections. The lack of a feature to create your own soundtrack is also quite the oversight and begs the question as to how much better this game could have been had the Xbox port been developed bearing more thought of the system's strengths in mind.
Fans of motocross will be more than pleased with what MX 2002 makes available--the control is tight, the graphics are more than adequate, and the Xbox version's additional features make it as good a choice of motocross racer as any currently available today. It's interesting to think of how good this game could have been if the developer had spent more time with the powerful new system in mind, and it's fairly evident that fans of the capable PS2 version have little to draw them toward purchasing the game for a second time. Despite this, MX 2002 is quite a racing title on its own merits and should be considered by fans of motocross and newcomers to the sport alike.