Behind MXGP 19’s slick, sterile front end lies a pack of bikes that gradually churn its inviting tracks into a gummy, rutted mess. It is a title that is aiming for a niche audience while trying to cater to newcomers. It never fully commits to the simulation or arcade sides of the gameplay spectrum, but is competent enough to validate its spot on your system and looks pretty good while it sprays mud in your face.
250cc’s of fun
The folks at Milestone, developers of MXGP 19, have been at this for many years now, offering two-wheeled racing games that aim to please as many enthusiasts as possible. I had a good time with 2018’s RIDE 3, so I figured that leaving the pavement with the Milestone team would be worth trying. MXGP 19 aims to recreate the world of competitive off-road motorcycle racing for consoles and PC, offering a wide variety of real-life bikes, riders, and events.
The main attraction for MXGP 19 is in its career mode. This mode offers a full season’s worth of events through most of the FIM Motocross World Championship, save for a few tracks. You create a rider and choose a ride from the initial selection of bikes available. You sign with a sponsor and get out on the track immediately. As you work your way through the events, you earn points towards the season championship depending on how well you finish.
Making podiums at events will earn you cash that can be spent to alter or upgrade your bike. Each ride has a big array of customizable components, from chain assemblies to handlebar covers. Some parts, like exhaust upgrades, can alter your bike’s performance. The parts carry licensed branding from real-life companies, which helps build immersion. By the time you near the end of the season, your bike and rider will likely look much different than when you started out. As you progress, you also have the option to join race teams. Joining a team lifts the burden of having to outfit yourself, but is optional if you feel the need to lone-wolf it.
Ultimately, the season mode is rather lifeless. You simply chase points and there is little drama to the proceedings unless you invent it yourself in your head. We’ve seen countless racing games with the same setup come and go for years, so it would have been nice to see something new or different to help the mode from feeling so bland. Time Attack and Custom Race modes are available if you want to attack the leaderboard or set up events to your liking.
One mode that does add some flavor to the experience is Playground. It drops you into a semi-open environment where you can noodle around on your bike to your heart’s content. There are also random events scattered throughout Playground that let you race against the clock grabbing coins or similar minigames. Activating each one drops you into a load screen, but the load times aren’t bad on PC, but it does negate some of the open-world immersion.
Finally, a track creator is available for those who want to design their own circuits. While each track is limited to around three minutes per lap, the builder tool offers a decent amount of options so users can dig out the path they want. These creations can be uploaded to the game’s central servers to share with other players. Downloading user tracks is easy and is a nice way to add some replayability to the game.
In and out of the ruts
How the bikes handle and the way the underlying physics engine works between the tires and the dirt surface makes or breaks a game like MXGP 19. At the default settings and difficulty levels, the game has a slight bias towards the arcade side of the spectrum. How you steer and the precision of your throttle is not super important and you can generally tackle most events at full throttle with little worry about how you enter and exit corners and ruts.
Once you disable some of the driving assists and enable the advanced handling mode, the riding experience requires much more thought and precision. If you have the thumbstick all the way to one side during a turn and go heavy on the throttle, you can often find yourself laying your bike down in the mud. You can end up in fights with the rear end of your bike, waiting for things to get under control before returning to full throttle. The edges of the tracks can pose a slight danger if you get careless.
On the first lap of any event, the track is always nice and smooth, but after just a single lap, most of it will be a quagmire of muddy ruts. Maintaining fast lap times deep into an event will become an exercise in navigating these ruts. There were times where I felt my bike being yanked into them and others where they only seemed cosmetic. I would have preferred for the ruts to have more of an effect of handling and staying upright, but it is possible that the technology is not quite there yet. Ultimately, this was my first time playing a Milestone off-road game, so impression may differ from someone who has been deep in the series for years. I generally liked the handling, but I felt like MXGP 19 needs more options to push the game further into simulation territory for those seeking that experience.
Lookin’ good on two wheels
MXGP 19 makes use of Unreal Engine 4 and is a fine-looking game as a whole. I played the PC version via Steam on fairly beefy hardware and was able to enjoy the events with maximum settings at 4K. Coming from last year’s RIDE 3, which I played on PS4 Pro, MXGP 19 felt like an upgrade, with sharp textures and some nice terrain deformation. The game looks very high-contrast, oversaturated on the whole, though, with each event seeming like it took place on an overcast afternoon in England.
Riding in first-person with the helmet cam is pretty cool, as you will end up with mud splatters on your face. As far as the PC port goes, the game has a nice array of toggles and options, including flawless HDR support. High-refresh rate support worked well for me and there was a real noticeable benefit to moving beyond 60Hz. The audio portion of the game was suitable. The bikes sound strong and the positional audio seemed to work well. I did enjoy the electronic music in the menus.
Crossing this finish line
I can definitely recommend MXGP 19 to newcomers who are intrigued by the sport or are looking for a different kind of racing fix. It’s not the best racing I’ve done this year, but I found myself enjoying the time I spent working through the season mode (even if its structure was boring) and all the noodling around in Playground mode was entertaining. I’d really like to see the dirt and mud physics taken farther and for better interaction on rider collisions. MXGP 19 is a solid PC port that doesn’t feel like an afterthought. With more time in the garage, I could see this series making a leap into something great in the future. 7/10 four-strokes
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. MXGP 19 was made available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 26, for $49.99.
- Good graphics with proper HDR support on PC
- Playground mode offers hours of fun
- Solid driving model
- Real-world drivers, bikes, tracks
- Track creator
- Doesn't commit strongly to arcade or simulation driving
- Mud ruts don't affect the handling enough
- Bland season mode
- The oversaturated filter makes tracks look similar