Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 3 is (obviously) the third annual installment in a game series that originally started back in 2018. Having not played its two predecessors, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I rode quite a few dirtbikes in real life growing up and I’ve played my fair share of racing simulators, so I expected to be able to breeze through this game easily enough.
I was horribly mistaken.
When I originally started playing, I was presented with several options for difficulty and gameplay. Prior to the start of my first race, I had selected “realistic” for the rider and bike physics and the highest difficulty for the AI opponents. What followed was a a performance so poor on my part that I was only allowed to finish 4 laps of the required 6 before the race was ended for me. Suffice it to say that I was swiftly and severely punished for my two-wheeled hubris.
My spirit was crushed. And before you think this was just another example of a video game journalist being bad at games, I’ve 100% cleared the original Gran Turismo, including the endurance races – some of which took well over an hour to complete. Nevertheless determined to climb back in the saddle, I swallowed my pride and adjusted the difficulty way down and was granted with a pretty fun experience as a result. Before we get into the specifics though, a brief summary may be in order.
When you first start out you are presented a fairly rudimentary character creator that’s rather lean on customization options. It admittedly seems unfair to criticize for this too much, however, as your avatar is bound to spend 99% of their digital life wearing a helmet and goggles anyway. You’ll then be presented with a choice of beginning the career mode or a free roaming mode which allows you to cruise around a sort of training compound to hone your skills in a series of little challenges or just otherwise engage in dirtbike-based shenanigans.
The career mode is where Supercross really seems to shine – you’re given options for the region of the U.S. you’ll be racing in, in addition to your class of bike (based on engine size) and even your sponsorships, all of which are based on the 2020 supercross season. Your opponents are all based on their counterparts in the real-life racing series so if you follow professional dirtbike racing you will notice some familiar faces.
Once you’ve selected your career options it’s off to the races, so to speak. After being humbled as previously mentioned I lowered many of the difficulty settings and during the next couple of races I began to make sense of the various game mechanics at play, and gradually turned up the difficulty from there. On the easiest settings this is still very much a racing simulator, not an arcade racer, and barreling towards a tight turn at full throttle will almost certainly end in disaster.
Crashing wasn’t nearly as frustrating in Supercross as it usually is in a racing sim, as I was frequently giggling while watching my rider cartwheel into oblivion after botching a jump knowing that with the press of a button I could rewind time and have another go at a particular obstacle. You’ll be rewarded for completing laps well and not using the mechanic, though sometimes it’s use means the difference between a podium finish and perpetually languishing at the bottom of the leaderboards.
While I enjoyed the racing physics, the visual detail on the riders and bikes, and the lengths Supercross goes to in imparting a sense of authenticity regarding the professional riders and sponsors, there are still some definite drawbacks to this title. In the visual department, the level of detail was really uneven – bikes and riders look great, while the track itself only looks great sometimes. Some of the textures on barriers and the track proper were great, and other textures looked like something out of an early Quake engine game. Granted, if you race well and don’t crash all the time like I did you may not even notice it, but after seeing it enough times I felt it warranted mention. Despite the graphical discrepancies regarding some of the textures (or perhaps because of it) the game ran very smoothly, with the Nintendo Switch version I played for this review having stable performance both docked and un-docked.
On the subject of sound design, the bikes were again well polished and sounded nice and throaty if you romped on the throttle. In some of the larger races the crowd would gasp if you wiped out bad enough, which I felt was a nice touch. Unfortunately the licensed soundtrack was a complete miss for me, with the only offering being a scant few hip-hop and rock tracks. Though I enjoy both genres these songs were of relatively poor quality overall and being so few in number, they start to loop after only a short time playing. Eventually I just opted to turn them off entirely.
The only other negative I found aside from the initial difficulty was the overall lack of customization. I didn’t mind so much that I wasn’t really able to customize my rider’s face and hair, as the game does provide you with ample cosmetic items in the form of helmets, boots, goggles, and other various accessories with which to play virtual dress up. It also includes a pretty full featured track editor, with several decent community tracks available for download during my review period. The lack of customization that bothered me the most was of the bikes themselves.
Sure, there were plenty of liveries to slap on the sides of your dirt machine and before each race you’re allowed to teak your suspension, very basic settings for tweaking the transmission, and a couple of other options, but my inner gearhead was disappointed. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by other racing games that allow me to spend more time in the garage tweaking gear ratios and power bands and tire pressure and swapping out engines, but unfortunately Supercross did not afford me such luxuries. There are still plenty of makes and models to choose from though, so it’s not the end of the world as long as you don’t intend to customize them much.