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MTX: Mototrax

Coming from the developers who dared to remake Excitebike and the publishers of the grand-daddy of extreme sports, Tony Hawk Pro Skater comes MTX: Mototrax. Rather than simply make a Motocross game, Leftfield has decided to incorporate four distinct methods of play in MTX, Supercross, Motocross, Freestyle and a Free play mode, each of which I will explain more about later.

A few nice tweaks to the game make this slightly different than other dirt bike games available, the first major difference is the inclusion of a working clutch. Not just used to switch gears, use of the clutch in the game can actually benefit your races. Engaging the clutch slips the bike out of gear, and if you keep the throttle maxed your RPMs will rise. Once you disengage the clutch and the gear catches you will get a nice short burst of speed and control. This comes as a great method of pulling out of corners when in the Supercross races, and sometimes breaking out of a corner ahead of a pack can give you that slight edge and pump you into first place.

The other nice inclusion is the ability to pre-charge your suspension to help give you an aerial edge when jumping. If you charge the suspension and release it at the correct time when leaving a ramp, you will get even more air enabling you to pull off even more of the 100+ tricks at your disposal. Using the suspension can also help your speed in the races, as you can launch over multiple jumps saving you precious time.

As mentioned, three separate modes of career play wait for you. But sadly, the method of unlocking the levels forces you to play the game in the way they want. To advance in the career mode, you must complete a given level to the requirements set for you. This method forces you to get first place in a Supercross series in order to unlock the Motocross races, and a first place finish here is required to unlock the Freestyle levels. Fortunately, the first level presented to you is a free play map which will let you get the feel for how the bike handles and how tricks are performed.

There are a ton of tricks to be unlocked in MTX, and the way the tricks are given to you is actually refreshing. You wonít be forced to buy tricks, or swap out one combination for another; you earn the tricks in the freestyle levels and in the free play modes. Scattered throughout the free play maps are certain unmarked jumps, which when you launch from display a new combination of buttons to press to perform a new trick. Correctly execute the trick and itís yours. Also during the freestyle levels, new tricks will be presented to you and youíll be forced to use them correctly to advance out of that particular level.

Playing through the Supercross and Motocross levels really isnít all that different, aside from the locations of the levels. Supercross is the arena type bike racing we see with lots of mud flying and huge air and stadiums filled with people, while Motocross has longer outdoor tracks with a lot of room to maneuver. When I say they are not all that different, itís because the way you play each type is essentially the same, whereas the freestyle mode is radically different from the racing mode.

The career progression in MTX is all interfaced through a PDA, where youíll receive email from potential sponsors and from your current team leader. The concept of teams here is basically a way for you to progress from chump on the street to the next big X-Games champion. As you excel in races and other competitions, new teams will approach you and ask you to join them; doing so progresses the game and opens up more sponsor opportunities. When you are sponsored by a company and you wear their clothing or equipment for a race, you will receive a cash stipend, which will let you buy cooler equipment and clothing. Initially, sponsorships hardly cover the cost of buying the clothing in the first place, but as your races become bigger exposing the sponsor to more and more people, the cash value rises.

Xbox Live support is active for MTX, with a couple options available. Freestyle competitions, King of the Hill and races. As with some other lesser known titles, it seems to be somewhat hit and miss as to whether youíll find people online to play with. It seemed every time I hopped online to play there were only a small handful of active races going, and even then the number of players was extremely small. The online play experience, once happening, is actually quite fun. For people starting their MTX career, you can see some of the bigger and faster bikes that will become available to you, as well as you will be able to see some of the fancier tricks performed by other players. Of the online modes, I found King of the Hill and Freestyle to be the most enjoyable because of the freedom and challenges set forth.

Another feature of MTX is the track editor, which lets you create and then race on your own custom Supercross course. You are free to place as many jumps, bumps and turns as you wish, as long as the track is a complete loop. You can make some interesting tracks this way, but the size of the map limits things somewhat.

Graphically, MTX is a very pretty game. Characters and their bikes are rendered in high resolution, and even then the frame rate maintains a constant 60fps. Some slight slowdown is apparent when a large area is drawn at once, such as on the Motocross tracks when you launch a huge jump and are propelled high into the air and the landscape needs to be seen.

Camera angle options are here for you, from the standard behind the bike to an impressive first person mode. In first person mode, the handlebars of your bike are visible, so you wonít get that feeling that you are just floating above the track, you will actually see the bars react to turns and bumps in the road. Performing tricks in this mode is a little tougher, but the thrill of doing a back flip in this mode is worth the effort. When in the standard viewpoint, if you perform a particularly cool or tough trick, the camera pans out to a more cinematic viewpoint and give you a view of your actions and slides back into place as you land. The transition is seamless and this adds a certain cool factor to doing huge tricks.

Following even closer to the palette that was placed by the Tony Hawk series, Activision has licensed a slew of todayís metal bands. Among some of the bands that are included on the soundtrack are Slipknot, The Misfits, Pennywise and even Metallica has licensed one of their older songs, Motorbreath, for use here in MTX.

While the soundtrack will appeal to a large audience, I found the music quite distracting and ended up throwing my own custom soundtrack into the mix. I am sure however that the marketing group knew the target audience they wanted to hit with a game like this and wrangled up the best music they could, sadly it just didnít work for me.

I for one did not expect that an extreme sports game would have much in the way of voice work, but MTX has boatloads of it. As mentioned, each freestyle level you enter has numerous characters that give you tasks or challenge you but the great thing here is that each character has a unique voice and this really helps bring you into the game.

The major downside of the audio department is the sound effects. Listening to a motorbike revving and shifting gears as it lurches around corners are launches over jumps gets old very quickly. The sound effects donít serve any purpose in the game aside from ambience, so I found myself muting the noise and just enjoying the custom soundtrack feature.

While not a bad game by any means, there is just something missing from this title to make it really shine. Perhaps itís the fact that with extreme sports, we expect things to stretch beyond what we could do in real life, and here we donít get that. As in earlier Tony Hawk games, you could skate around on a cruise ship and grind down a slide, while in MTX you are tightly held to a certain track that has somewhat of a base in reality.

As mentioned, online the game is actually quite fun, but the lack of players really puts a damper on the situation. There is nothing like getting ready to play a game online only to find 9 guys playing, it really limits your choices.

If you are in the mood for some Motocross action, and like the extreme side of sports, then MX Unleashed might be better worth your money, but if you want some ďrealismĒ in your sports titles, then MTX might be worth it for you.