What is it? A licensed motorcycle racing game from a prolific developer of those games.
Expect to pay: $50/£40
Release: March 11, 2021
Developer: Milestone S.r.l.
Publisher: Milestone S.r.l.
Multiplayer? Yes, online competitive and co-op.
If I told you it took me several races in Supercross 4 until I stopped getting lapped by the Very Easy AI, would you laugh? I know, I know. I have considered getting gud. If you'll spare me too much mockery, though, I can explain why I think that's actually a big selling point.
None of my experience with other Milestone games was going to help me here, it seemed. Not with MXGP. Not with MotoGP. Not with 1999's Superbike World Championship on my Pentium II. It was pretty frustrating to watch 21 riders effortlessly careen past me, race after race, under the judging eyes of stadium audiences across the US. And Dylan Ferrandis: I'm truly sorry for putting virtual you through that humiliation.
But I enjoyed those pastings, because Supercross 4 was forcing me to learn a new discipline, distinct from mastering the ebb and flow of MXGP's forgiving outdoor layouts. AMA Supercross is a law unto itself, fought out in tight tracks full of challenging undulations, one after another. It's about finding the right flow through the obstacles, or paying for it in handfuls of time if you don't.
The physics underpinning it all aren't perfect, as you'll notice on occasion when you land awkwardly and watch both bike and rider achieve some very odd contortions, but they’re coherent enough for you to respect the challenge the game throws at you. To find the right flow through a track, you need to coordinate the rider’s position as you hit a jump and as you land after it. You need to scrub and whip in the air to control your height and trajectory by leaning the bike and rider in opposite directions, converting upward momentum to forward momentum. And you need to do this on every jump. Otherwise you'll be lapped by the Very Easy AI and people in the review comments will laugh at you.
That is, if you’re playing in Event or Championship mode. The AI in the licensed series—250 East, 250 West, and 450—is significantly more challenginging than in career mode, where the real meat of the experience lies. Suddenly, with my hastily created custom avatar and his cold, dead eyes, I was winning.
Series veterans will note a newly extended route through from futures up to the 450 championship. Don’t expect an NBA 2K-calibre 'started from the bottom' journey, though: As a rookie you're racing the same 250cc bikes in the same locations as the higher ups, then unlocking new championships sequentially.
The focus is on developing your rider, ticking off training events (don't get excited, they're truncated races), and spending points in an upgrade tree until you’ve built the next Jeremy McGrath. Or perhaps the next Jean-Michel Bayle would be more appropriate—just like the Frenchman, Milestone's aiming for success in both road racing and moto disciplines, and sharing a lot of presentational tenets between them. MotoGP players will feel very familiar with everything but the racing itself in Supercross 4, from the rewind function (itself cribbed from Codemasters' F1 series) to the impressive Unreal Engine lighting and vibrant texture work—and the slightly anachronistic UI and race presentation. How often since, oh, 2002, have your ears been treated to butt rock while you race?
With that clear emphasis on grinding to improve your stats, it's odd to find success so much easier to come by in career mode races than championship events, but you can always bump the difficulty up to incentivise that grind a bit more and lend a greater realism to your career—after all, if you’re winning from the start, why would you pay attention to that upgrade tree?
As far as I can tell, winning races is only sort of the point, anyway. Earning in-game currency to unlock new customisation options seems just as imperative, and while Supercross 4 is generous enough at doling this out—"You landed a jump! Here's some cash"—there are, perhaps, billions of unlockables here. Helmets. Race suits. Butt patches(!). Goggles. Boots. And the bike parts—oh, the bike parts! The designers' obsession with the culture of motocross, not just the science of it, really spills over here.
And if the world of professional racing is getting you down; if you’re jaded by all the men in snapbacks who look like they listen to Five Finger Death Punch, duking it out in races with more energy drink logos per square inch than a Kyle’s recycling bin, there's always the compound.
In this freeform area, Supercross 4 goes quasi-open world, inviting you to hunt for collectibles and blaze your own trails, finding sick jumps and daring routes over, under, and often in bone-shattering collision with environmental features. It won’t hold many players' attention for long, but there’s something admirable about Milestone's willingness to throw in a different way to explore its bike handling, without the imperative to be going flat-out at all times. If you remember the similarly freeform areas in Microsoft’s Motocross Madness games with any fondness, the compound is worth at least one tour. It’s even co-op compatible, which is an endearingly lunatic touch.
Elsewhere, the revamped track editor allows for all manner of granular tweaking, whether on existing tracks or new creations. And just as 99 percent of Trackmania creations are nigh-impossible successions of loop-de-loops, surely the point of this is to build something nobody else can ride.
Competitive multiplayer never really works out in Milestone bike sims, and that’s not strictly the developer’s fault any more than the source material: If you mess up on a motorbike, you fall off. You’re not winning the race after that. So it proves in Supercross 4’s online mode, whose netcode seems solid enough but often hosts races of ever-dwindling participants for the aforementioned reasons. Still, for the dedicated few, it’s there.
It's a feature-rich game, then, for something carrying a relatively niche license, and Milestone's passion for Supercross just oozes out of every customisation menu and QWOP-like manoeuvre. Its hardcore fans will judge it more on meaningful progress between releases though, and the pace of that progress is about the same as its MotoGP series: slow and steady.