Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: February 24, 2001
People unfamiliar with the Motocross scene may not recognize the names Jeremy McGrath or Travis Pastrana, but for those who follow the sport these names are spoken with reverence. McGrath is considered by many to be the best Supercross racer of all time, while Pastrana’s impressive gold medal performance in the 1999-2000 X Games Freestyle event pretty much assured his position as the rising star of the sport. In Acclaim’s Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana, the leader of the old guard squares off against the young firebrand on the Sony PlayStation for some hardcore racing and over-the-top trick riding.
There are four ways to play Freestyle Motocross, including single event, time trials, multiplayer and the primary single player mode known as the championship series. Regardless of the current mode, the competition always revolves around one of the three scoring systems. Racing is a straight-forward sprint to the end of each track, but in Freestyle competition the racers must work within a time limit with crossing the finish line first less of a priority than earning the highest number of style points in the process. For a real twist, Combo mode determines a rider’s final placing by combining their position in the race with their total trick points and comparing it with the competition’s combined statistics. Obviously, faring well in the Combo events requires a careful balancing act between speed and style. No matter the path chosen, players always have the option to tackle the next level as either of the two famous racers, and the other luminary will always be their toughest opponent.
Speed, of course, is determined by the size of a bike’s engine, along with the rider’s ability to handle their machine. Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana forces players to get their feet wet in the low-powered 125cc class before it unlocks any other modes. Geared towards beginners, the small bikes race slower, and run on more forgiving courses than their larger counterparts. The 250cc bikes participate in both the Championship and the incrementally more difficult Custom Championship levels. Following that, the Open Championship introduces several experimental engine configurations, along with racers rated above 400cc. Should the rider wish to stick to familiar territory, however, the Open Championship is unique in that it accepts any bike in the game, all the way down to the underpowered rides found in the 125cc series.
As the championships progress, new courses become available in order to test out the newly unlocked hardware. Each track features a theme, such as the old west town of Tombstone, or the rolling moors of Loch Ness. Other tracks include the rim of a volcano, the glittering lights of Las Vegas and even the arctic. Depending on the track conditions, racers may wish to adjust their bike’s settings to better grip the road or favor acceleration over top speed. Different tires will handle better on gravel or sand, and a convenient chart shows each wheel’s capabilities.
Unlike speed, style is almost entirely a function of the rider’s skills. Motocross courses are littered with jumps that should inspire even the most reserved of racers to catch some major air from time to time. While it’s certainly acceptable to run the jump normally, advanced riders will want to tweak their posture and pop their bike at the crest of the hill for extra height. Once airborne, tricks may be executed by combining a direction with one of two trick buttons. Simple maneuvers like the Can-Can are perfect for small jumps, while near-impossible stunts like the back flip are best reserved for steep, fast hills. Some of the tricks, such as the simple No Hands, can be held for larger point returns, but this increases the risk of failing to land properly. If a trick hasn’t been completed by the time the bike returns to the earth, expect to see your rider sail painfully over his handlebars. Along with those already mentioned, over thirty tricks await the freestyle rider, including the Rodeo, Pommel Spin, Recliner, Heart Attack and the Barrel Roll.