Over the years, the motocross genre has really boiled itself down to a couple of key gameplay mechanics. The first one is the ability to compress or preload your suspension, thus giving you the extra lift you need to clear obstacles. The second one is a trick system of some kind that allows you to race on freestyle courses so that you can bust out tricks while flying through the air like some sort of psychopath. MTX Mototrax is Activision's take on the genre, and as you might expect, it's got a little bit of a Tony Hawk flair to it. However, the trick system isn't as clean as it could be, and the action of the racing has a slightly stripped-down feel to it. Mototrax is still a solid entry into the world of motocross, but there are other games on the market that do it better.
The game lets you ride freely on any tracks or courses that you've unlocked, but the real single-player draw is, of course, the career mode. Here you'll move through all of the different game types as you earn money, gain sponsorships, and jump from one motocross team to another. The career is tied together by an in-game PDA that receives e-mail from other pro riders, your team leader, sponsors, and so on. They'll offer you opportunities to race in various locations and to compete in different race series.
There are two types of races in Mototrax--supercross and motocross. Supercross races take place in large stadium settings, while motocross races are larger outdoor affairs. Both are, as you might expect, pretty similar, though the slightly more confining supercross tracks tend to have tighter turns and layouts that are generally more winding in nature. The motocross tracks have good, long straightaways for building speed. You can pull off tricks during these races, which is fine if you want to be flashy in the hopes of attracting sponsorship deals from one of the game's many licensed companies, but the main objective is to win.
The freestyle and free ride courses are a little more open-ended, and it's here where your tricking techniques get a real workout. Freestyle events take place on carefully sculpted and designed tracks in front of large crowds. Each freestyle setting has the same basic progression of events. You'll first have to ride around the course and jump through hoops before time expires. This opens up another event, where you're given a list of tricks to complete before another timer expires. Beyond this, you open up scripted trick lists, a judged freestyle competition, and so on.
The free ride courses are where the game gets compared to the recent entries in the Tony Hawk series. Here, you're dropped into a large level that is populated by a few other riders and some pedestrians. Riding up to these pedestrians and then hitting a button will start a goal, just as in Tony Hawk's Underground. Each level has some similar goals, such as jumping and pulling a wheelie for a specified distance. You'll also find score challenges, collection goals, and other, more unique challenges. One goal asks you to chase down a pickpocket who is quickly escaping on his bike. You'll have to run into the thug's bike three times to stop him. The goals are, for the most part, well designed and provide a good change of pace from the rest of the game's more rigid structure.
In addition to the career mode, the game also has some multiplayer options. Offline, two players can race in a single race or in a series of motocross or supercross races. Online, the game also has a king of the hill mode that's similar to the one found in the Tony Hawk games. There's also a freestyle competition for score. The game works pretty well online, and it also does some stat-tracking for such things as fastest lap times.
The riding and steering control in Mototrax has a loose feel to it that occasionally feels a little sloppy. Compressing your suspension is as easy as hitting a button, and you don't have to really time when you press the button so much as you have to time when you release it. Other games tend to give you a smaller window for preloading, so this feels almost too easy at times. You can also preload by leaning on the bike with the analog stick, but because the button is so much easier, there isn't any benefit to using the alternate method.
The trick system in MTX Mototrax is, on the whole, pretty good. You start the game with only a handful of basic tricks, but over the course of your career, you'll unlock plenty of new moves. There are more than 100 tricks to acquire in all. The moves are done by tapping a series of directions and buttons. Generally, the trick system works pretty well, though some moves aren't as clear as they could be. For example, tricks like the backflip must be started before you actually leave the ground. Otherwise you'll just do a heel-clicker. The game doesn't really dictate which tricks must be done this way in a clear manner, so you might have to experiment a little bit with tricks (as you unlock them) to figure out where and when they can be executed. Overall, the game plays pretty well. Control-wise, the two versions of the game have fairly different button configurations. While the PlayStation 2 uses the X button for gas, the Xbox version uses the right trigger. But while the game may put the gas on the analog trigger, your throttle isn't actually analog, so tapping the trigger is the same as pulling it all the way in. This can be a little troublesome at first, but you'll quickly get used to it. As a result, both games have equal levels of control.
Graphically, the game looks good on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. Of course, when the two go head-to-head, the Xbox version definitely presents the better-looking game. It sports cleaner textures and, generally speaking, a more detailed look. However, the PlayStation 2 version doesn't look bad when you compare it to other recent PlayStation 2 games. You will, though, notice some occasionally strange-looking rider animations. On top of this, the game has some clipping issues, so from time to time you'll see riders' body parts clipping through various items.
The game's soundtrack is filled with songs from bands like Dope, AFI, Disturbed, Slipknot, Pennywise, Static X, and Thrice. In addition to having standard vocal tracks, the game also features instrumental versions of many of the songs, which allows you to choose one or the other. The rest of the game's sound consists of motorcycle engine noises that are pretty well done. The game also features speech from several pro riders, who actually give you some of your goals in the career mode. Most of this speech is pretty flat, so even though you'll hear a guy say that he's totally stoked after you complete a goal, he really doesn't sound very stoked at all. Instead he just sounds like he's reading a script.
All told, MTX Mototrax is a good game that should please fans of the motocross racing genre, but there are better choices on the market. MTX Mototrax may be the only game in town if you're dead-set on online play, but THQ's recent release, MX Unleashed, is still a better game across the board.