With an already crowded field of motocross and dirt-racing games cluttering up this generation of console games, how does a dirt-bike racer set itself apart from the competition? In the case of MX World Tour for the PS2 and Xbox, the answer seems to be employing the extreme-sports personality Jamie Little to appear on the cover and provide minimal voice-over work. And that's about it. MX World Tour is a clunky bargain-bin racer that simply doesn't do enough to keep you engaged, no matter your level of motocross enthusiasm.
Racing games live and die by their controls, and MX World Tour has controls that, if not outright killing the fun, at least put it in intensive care. Steering especially can be a chore, as the bikes alternate between far too twitchy when approaching jumps, to unresponsive when making your way around tight sequences of corners. You can swing the end of your bike around on the tighter corners by tapping the brake button when turning, but more often than not you'll end up oversteering or, worse, spinning the bike completely around. It's a frustrating system, especially considering that you need to take jumps in as straight a line as possible to maintain maximum momentum when you land. We liked the Xbox control setup more than the PS2 setup, if only because using the right trigger for gas feels more natural than the X button on the PS2 controller.
The types of gravity-defying leaps that have become standard in many motocross games are in full effect in MX World Tour. Compressing your jumps by pressing a button and then letting go at the lip of a jump will give you an extra boost, but the actual effect feels hammy and unsatisfying. Even if you make a bad landing, for example, and your rider struggles to stay perched on the bike seat, you can usually make a compressed jump even without much speed built up. While you can swing your bike left and right in midair to make corrections, the twitchy controls mean you'll often find yourself overcorrecting and landing at an extremely odd angle. Therefore, your best bet is to hit a jump in as straight a line as possible and forget midair corrections.
While it's unfair to say that it's impossible to crash in MX World Tour, it is very, very difficult. Only the most violent of landings (such as planting your bike on the uphill portion of a jump) will cause you to take a spill, and unless you plow directly into an opponent, you typically won't lose control, no matter how much jostling you do with the computer-controlled opponents. It could be argued that this was a design choice intended to keep you in the race no matter how sloppy your driving, but it just doesn't feel right, especially when you consider that you can land directly on the safety pads that line the supercross tracks with no ill effects. The biggest exception to this rule is when running head-on into the safety pads, which will toss you violently from the bike even at relatively modest speeds. In all, the collision mechanics in MX World Tour feel slapped together and not at all cohesive, even for an arcade racer.
The sparse set of modes includes standard races, where you can choose to run either an exhibition race or exhibition series or start an entirely new career. In exhibition mode you can set the track location, number of laps, difficulty level, and the number of opponents on the track (up to a maximum of 12), and the game also includes a customization tool that lets you edit your created rider and bike, though the amount of flexibility in this tool is limited to a few preset items and upgrades you earn in the game's career mode. There's also a quick start race mode, which, as the name suggests, pops you into a race immediately with minimal setup.
Most players will spend the majority of their time in MX's career mode, which has you battling it out against 11 other opponents on MX courses (in stadiums), SX courses (outdoors), and SuperMoto courses (a combination of asphalt and dirt tracks). The career mode will take you to various exotic locales such as Istanbul, Acapulco, Tokyo, and Rome. The outdoor SX courses are more fun and a bit more ambitious in design; some portions of the track may run underground, and one particularly enjoyable SX course has you racing outside the Great Wall of China. In career mode, your goal is to win races and rack up series championship points. Each series has a minimum number of points you must earn to proceed to the next series. There are no qualifying or multiheat races, and four-lap races are the norm. Winning a series will not only qualify you for the next series in your career, but will also let you upgrade your bike with components such as brakes, exhaust systems, or engines or let you change your rider's number (the lower the number, the higher the profile of the competitor).
As stated earlier, the challenge found in MX is dealing with the touchy controls in the game, not necessarily the opponent AI. Sure, you'll need to run a clean race and hit most of your jumps to stay ahead of the pack, and the tightly bunched first corners can be sort of thrilling, but once you've managed to get ahead, it's not that difficult to stay ahead. You can't change the difficulty level of the game's career mode races, though curiously, you can ramp up the difficulty in exhibition races. The game has split-screen multiplayer capability on both the Xbox and PS2 and is Xbox Live aware, though you can't run races online.
The best-looking thing about MX World Tour is Jamie Little, though in all honesty, that isn't much of a compliment. The rider models look grainy and stiff to begin with, and when you toss in their stilted animations when turning corners or when pulling off tricks from the game's limited stunt palette, you've got the makings for a less-than-inspiring graphical package. The crash animations are crudely executed, there's noticeable slowdown when bikes pile up in a corner, and clipping problems abound in the game.
Jamie Little does more than appear during load screens and on the cover of the game, however. She's also a playable rider in the game and lends her voice to the track intros and race commentary. While her commentary sounds fine, there's so little of it that it barely warrants mention. Typically you'll hear from Little only when you win the holeshot (when you're first to cross the holeshot line at the beginning of a race), when you take a spill, or when you cross the finish line. If you're dicing with an opponent, she'll chime in occasionally but rarely more than once or twice a race. On the plus side, if the engine sounds aren't exactly diverse, they do have an appropriately throaty roar to them. MX World Tour's soundtrack features a handful of metal tracks presumably included to get you pumped up to hit the dirt. We found the incessant screeching of most of the songs pretty grating after a while, however, and quickly found our way to the options menu to turn down the soundtrack. If you like the hardcore screamer set, however, perhaps MX's tunes will do it for you.
MX World Tour is a game that makes no bones about being a budget title. If you love motocross games, the good news is you've got plenty of better options than this one to spend your money on. If you've played all the rest, have an extra 20 burning a hole in your pocket, and are looking for something new, MX World Tour is out there, just don't expect to get a lot for your Andrew Jackson.