Championship Motocross

The sound of your tires ripping through the mud and the buzz of your Kawasaki's 250cc engine drive you forward spiritually as much as the power of the bike itself moves you physically. You powerslide through a tight leftward bank and catch sight of your competitors racing each other for second place behind your all-too-certain first. There's one last jump and then the finish line. With a double rev, you gun it up the hill; a moment later, you're airborne, with only the air, the sunlight, a few birds at your back. Now, all you have to do is lean forward and land it without wiping out....

Funcom's Championship Motocross 2001 featuring Ricky Carmichael is an adrenaline-packed ride through the motocross circuit. Compete against your friends (and enemies) in Single Race and Championship modes, or against the AI in Single Race, Championship, Freestyle, and Career modes. The game features motorbikes at the 125cc and 250cc levels from five different manufacturers, including Kawasaki and KTM, and such racing and freestyling greats as Ricky Carmichael (of course), Carey Hart, Ezra Lusk, and Nathan Ramsey. Noticeably absent are any female riders and, due to his endorsement deal with Acclaim Sports, Jeremy McGrath. You'll race on 20 different tracks, including all 12 Outdoor Nationals, 4 amateur tracks, and 4 supercross tracks. And speaking of tracks, the game includes a good dose of hard alternative thrash for your listening pleasure—from such groups as Guttermouth, Pimpadelic, Good Riddance, Primer 55, and others—though you'll probably want to turn the music way down after sampling it a bit.

Of particular note are the Freestyle and Career modes. In Freestyle mode, after you select a rider and a track, you get two minutes to rack up as many points as you can. There are 12 base tricks (Heel Clicker, Lazy Boy, Hart Attack, etc.), which you can combine for up to 50 total combinations. The tracks offer a good variety, from single ramps to hilly hard pack arenas, and the tricks are easy enough to pull off and look distinctive onscreen. Dangling from your bike by one hand while flying through the air is a thrill, landing is easy, and, after a some practice, you should manage to keep your speed up without crashing. For some quick fun, go with the Freestyle mode, but note that this mode's main shortcoming is that it doesn't allow for competition between multiple riders; it's strictly single-player.

Career mode gives you the option of creating and naming your own player and then taking that player from amateur status all the way up to 250cc champ. What's especially cool about Career mode is that after qualifying at each status level, you get to pick from one of five major sponsors, who offer varying levels of signing bonuses and first-place-finish awards. With the money from your sponsors and the races, you can purchase upgrades for your motorcycle and fit them in your garage. Because the tracks vary in layout and ground material, you can choose from a few different types of tires (sand, mud, hard pack), exhaust pipes, brakes, engines, suspensions, sprockets, and even boost-up race gas. Almost all of these parts give you a Herculean boost, however, so if you keep upgrading until you can't afford to upgrade any more, you'll probably find that winning becomes a little too easy.

Unfortunately, Funcom didn't include the ability to do any Gran Turismo-style tweaking, so all you do, basically is buy the parts at the shop and attach them to your bike in the garage. Also, the prize money is kinda funny. You get a relatively small amount for finishing in first place, and a few extra bucks starting off with a holeshot (a break-away start from the rest of the pack) or for setting a track record, but second-place finishes and beyond earn nothing. For this reason, the Career mode, though a cool idea, comes off feeling a bit underdeveloped—somewhat of an afterthought.

Generally speaking, fans of motocross realism should probably look elsewhere. There's a good variety of tracks and riders to choose from, but the gameplay element—the actual racing—offers a mixed bag of entertainment and frustration. The sounds of the game (music notwithstanding) prove how important sound can be: the crowd's cheering grows distant as you move beyond the start/finish line; the engine sounds roar when there's a bunch of you in a pack and hum when you're off on your own; and the sound of your tires kicking up mud brings the splotchy, blocky mud-flying graphics to life. So what's the setback? Two things, actually: bike control and graphical quality. As mentioned before, the graphics are splotchy in places. Also, the fans are sparsely scattered and they just sort of stand there. The indoor tracks certainly look better than the outdoor ones, and thanks to the posting of sponsor banners, such as those from Thor and Acerbis, which line all of the tracks, you do feel like you're actually motocrossing, but the detail levels are really low. It's hard to make out any distinguishing qualities on any of the bikes or riders and it's really, really hard to read the text (especially when you're trying to figure out which sponsor to go with based on how much money they're offering).

The controls are a bit too loose...they're not too hard to get a grip of and master, but they just don't feel very tight. Cornering and powersliding feels the same on all the bikes in each engine class (though, thankfully, the two engine classes feel distinct from each other in terms of kick). Also, it's almost too easy to avoid crashing: Mysterious invisible borders keep you from flying outside of the track.

So, again, realism fans should look elsewhere. Championship Motocross 2001 featuring Ricky Carmichael is an arcade game in the extreme sense; the things that could have made it a sim fan's dream—the Career mode, the sponsors and prize money, the Create Rider feature—are all underdeveloped. For that reason, the exhilaration tends to wear a bit thin, and you'll end up wishing there was more to this game. Let's hope that next year's edition has more to offer.

Install: N/A

Gameplay: 6.5
Macrocosmically, you'd want to give this title kudos for its assorted offerings, but when you look at the details, you'll start to rethink those kudos. Good track variety and a good "heads-up display" (lap time, track layout, position, MPH all take up minimal space) do little to make up for an inefficient menu interface (after you've raced in Career mode, there's no backing out to the main menu screen without resetting) or loose controls. Interesting novelties, such as outfitting your bike or racing back and forth on the Freestyle tracks, trying to score as many points as possible within the allotted two minutes, start to feel like perfunctory additions to the game despite the fact that their purpose is to keep you in awe. The gameplay's biggest drawback: The rewards aren't great enough—not for advancing through Career mode nor even for winning it all in Championship mode.

Graphics: 7
Championship Motocross 2001's graphics aren't all bad. With the exception of the outdoor fan base, the environments are generally lush and track layouts are just this side of fantastic. Unfortunately, you'll need a TV bigger than 19" if you want to read the game's text clearly. Also, bikes and riders could have had more detail, but at least the animation is exceptionally fluid.

Sound: 7.5
The game's sound effects generally rock. That is, except for the raucous "rock" music, which is too loud and obnoxious. You'll hear the crowds and the other motorcycles better if you turn the music off.

Difficulty: 5.5
Better that a game is way too easy than way too hard, but still... The fact that you can't compete against another human player in Freestyle and Career modes sucks, and even when you can go against another person, the split screen affects your visibility unnaturally. In Career mode, most of the upgrades make winning, well, way too easy, and then, when you run out of money for upgrades, things all of a sudden become way too hard, with two or three of your competitors zooming out way ahead of you, giving you no real chance to win. One plus, however, is that pulling off the tricks in Freestyle mode offers a well-balanced control ratio for easy to medium to hard tricks.

Concept: 6.5
There are certainly fewer motocross games out there than there are fighting games, but not by much. At any rate, the Championship Motocross series still plays second fiddle to the latest edition of EA's Supercross in terms of originality.

Multiplayer: 4.5
Split screen two-player racing is a little hard to adjust too, especially if your TV's not that big, but you only have to worry about that in Two-player Single Race and Championship modes, because for some crazy reason, there's multiplayer support in the Freestyle (!) and Career modes.

Overall: 6.5
A strong case for "more is better," Championship Motocross 2001 featuring Ricky Carmichael stops just short of offering a fulfilling experience. As PC-game developers often have to decide between offering a strong single-player experience or a strong Internet-play experience, PlayStation developers (at least PS1 developers) need to decide whether they want to offer a killer arcade experience or a killer sim experience. Sprinkling in elements from both types only leaves gamers with a diluted product that isn't excellent in any regard...which, though it has its moments, is how Championship Motocross 2001 ends up feeling.

Above Average

Gw
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