From my first ride of MXGP 2021 I knew it was something special. I've played a lot of motorcycle games over the years, but this really will take some beating. A genre beset by the same old handling/physics problems down the years, motorcycle games peaked in popularity in the early days of the gen 6 consoles (PS2 and Xbox) and have steadily become less and less popular.
I think the main problem is that rather than feeling like you're "man & machine", controlling a light, responsive and powerful racing machine, so many motorbike games feel like you're steering the mass of the entire planet, desperately trying to get the bike to stay on the track—while in the meantime car racing games seem to have gotten better and better, more and more responsive and believable. Well, here's a huge step in the right direction for virtual 2-wheeled motorsport.
The game controls superbly; steering, gas and brakes where you expect them to be and a separate rear brake and manual gearbox option if you want it. Shifting the rider's weight really makes a difference and is simply done by default with the steering on the left stick. Pulling back as you crest a jump will make you jump further and land safer, while pushing forward will make your rider crouch for better straight-line traction and speed. The weather is dynamic and the mud deforms in real-time and really feels slippery when wet.
MXGP 2021 has a full set of features; Time Attack (hot lapping), Grand Prix (single race), Championship (a custom series–pick your favourite tracks from the 17 venues),Track Editor (very extensive and detailed) and Career Mode, which is where I immediately headed.
Once you've done a few races you'll soon get an idea of what difficulty setting you want to play on. You can do a long weekend (full qualifying, qualifying race, races 1 & 2) or go for a shorter session with one-shot qualifying & a single race. You can also obviously choose the length of races and tune you bike between sessions. Unfortunately you can't adjust everything between sessions–it's about time developers realised that no one wants to start a championship, find it way too hard or easy and have to restart from the beginning to get a suitable setting.
However, this is where the Rewind mode really comes into its own, as any mistake up to about 30 seconds in the past can be wiped out and corrected. We can all thank Codemasters for that innovation in racing games, and it's seldom been more useful than in this game, as the combination of rough terrain and competitive AI riders means every corner is a potential disaster or place where you can make up valuable time/grab that lead!
The game has a superb replay mode in which you can watch entire races from any in-game view, rewind, fast forward and slo-mo your best passes and most spectacular crashes–and there will be crashes, even by the competitive and imperfect AI riders, which makes a nice change in a genre full of sheep-like AI that just follows a set path, never skids or makes mistakes, MXGP 2021's opposition is a truly refreshing, and makes the racing feel alive and unpredictable.
Despite searching on numerous occasions Multiplayer mode was completely deserted, which was a huge disappointment, but to be honest I think MXGP 2021 is more about learning tracks, using the rewind mode wisely and playing on the highest difficulty that you enjoy, because there's some great racing to be had.
Motocross might not be everyone's racing "cup of tea" but I'd encourage anyone to have a go at MXGP 21, even if we're well into '22 now. It's a cracking simulation of an all-action sport, but thanks to some clever programmers it should be accessible yet competitive to all levels of player.