Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
It appears that Nordic Games is finally flexing its muscles when it comes to the titles it acquired from THQ. Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition is set to wow current-gen console owners with its arrival this week, enticing a new generation to discover a classic. But before we get to that, it also re-released last year's MX vs. ATV Supercross with a special Encore edition, hoping to get gamers re-hooked on that franchise as well.
Over the years, Rainbow Studios has done exceptionally well with its MX vs. ATV line-up of games, complete with a control style everyone can get into and a variety of events – stadium and open-world – that made each one fun to play. But somewhere during its development cycle, the series kind of lost its way, and Supercross ended up being just another wannabe racer, instead of the distinctive machine that it initially started out to be.
And, unfortunately, Encore doesn't really do anything above and beyond to recapture that glory. It just feels like the same old ride we experienced last year.
You've Lost That Loving Feeling
Part of the problem that makes Encore such a mess is the controls. Back in the day, racing a motorcycle or ATV just felt natural, coming off jumps long enough to perform super tricks and score major points. This new game almost takes away that feeling entirely, replacing the "natural" feel with something far more jerky.
Case in point – when you enter your first supercross race, you'll notice that the bike handling just feels off. You'll struggle just to stay on the track, or, for that matter, even trying to keep your bike level enough when you come off a jump. You can make an adjustment to the Preset 2 style of control, which makes things slightly easier, but it still feels broken in comparison to previous games.
What's more, the awesome pre-load system that made MX vs. ATV so unique in the past feels cluttered as well. By pushing down and then up on the control stick during jumps, you actually gain some extra air, which should (emphasis on the should) give you sufficient enough air to do tricks. But there are two problems with this. First, you get too much air, causing opponents to lap you from underneath and forcing you to try and catch up. Secondly, the trick system is completely busted – the only ones I was able to successfully complete were flips, and even then, there's too much of a risk of landing on your head.
Between the slippery controls and the broken trick system, Encore seems to have lost pretty much all the appeal the series was known for. That's a shame, because the approach between stadium cross and open-world levels is still intact, offering plenty of variety against other players. Without the gameplay to back it up, this terrain just isn't worth driving through.
Oh, and the career mode? It never really makes you feel like you're in an actual career. You just basically run through a series of races that are connected to one another, with no compelling factors to make you feel like you're moving forward. There are new bikes that open up, for sure, but none of them seem to escape the sluggishness that your original ride had. It's like working hard on your goals and seeing little reward come from it. And who wants that?
And It's Not a Pretty Sight, Either
Another problem with Encore is that it's not really touched up to resemble a current-gen racing game. In fact, during my sessions, I would be hard pressed to think I was playing it on PlayStation 3, just as I did last year.
While some of the locales do offer a bit of variety – namely the open-world courses that take place outdoors – they just look muddy in the long run. Nothing's touched up like real-world environments should be, and there are even glitches that pop up from time to time, showing a lack of polish to the overall package. It runs at a decent enough framerate, but there's nothing here to show that Encore went the extra mile. It just looks average.
Plus, the riders just look a little too stiff for their own good. For instance, when you do a jump and try to perform a flip, they have nothing in their body language. They just sit there stiff as a board as they attempt to execute their tricks. If real riders tried that with their bikes, they'd be in the hospital no time flat. There's nothing there, save for sharp turns, to really define their movements.
On top of that, the sound is lacking as well. The music is garden variety rock that makes no attempt to establish itself, as previous games did; and the motorbike sound effects are okay, but over time, they all pretty much sound the same. Again, nothing to stand out from the previous Supercross. It's more like a Repeat than an Encore, and an uninspired one at that.