Scrub me down and enjoy my skid marks!
MUD – FIM Motocross World Championship (now known as “MUD” due to the slightly over the top title and so my hands don’t cramp while writing this) is a perhaps lesser known title from the guys over at Milestone and pQube, responsible for the rapidly improving official World Rally Championship (WRC) series. You may not have heard of MUD as it managed to sneak its way onto the Vita store in October, with barely a splash at all. It’s a shame really, as this is actually exactly what the Vita needed in the run up to Christmas, a dirty, exciting off road racing game that has since been succeeded by WRC 3, its better known and more popular brother. While it’s not going to go a long way towards converting people who don’t like this style of game, it actually offers a much more comprehensive and complete challenge than WRC 3, and will provide anyone who is a trophy whore a decent, lengthy challenge.
The game offers up a huge number of options, including all the officially licensed riders and bikes from the MX1, MX2 and MXoN categories, which breaks down as a massive 84 riders across 32 teams in total. It includes 12 massive tracks from around the world, and a wide variety of events, which we’ll get to later.
The first thing you will notice when you load up the game is the music. Right from the outset, it’s something you are either going to love, or something you will find yourself quickly looking to turn it off before your ears start bleeding. The soundtrack is based on very heavy rock, so if you’ve heard of 36 Crazyfists, Yellowcard, All That Remains and Killswitch Engage you are in luck; this will be the perfect soundtrack to get your adrenaline going. If you prefer dance music or Britney Spears, you will be left very disappointed. When MUD was released on PS3, the majority of reviewers used this as a negative, but personally I find this sort of music right up my street, though it certainly is an acquired taste. The actual sounds of the motorbikes unfortunately comes off as a little weedy, as generally they more like a bee humming than a powerful motocross bike.
The first time you enter a race, expect to fall off. A lot. The handling takes a lot of getting used to, as the tracks are fairly brutal in their design and it certainly takes some getting used to, however stick with it as within about half an hour you’ll be zipping around like a pro. The handling is definitely much more sim orientated, but the game tries to strike balance and straddle with arcade-like qualities as well, and so you have a limited number of Monster Energy drinks per race which serve as a speed boost, which certainly has a lot more in common with Motorstorm than the official Motocoss Championship. This does however make the game more exciting and tactical, as the boost feature when implemented correctly can mean the difference between success and failure. Due to the nature of the courses, using boost at the wrong time also often results in completely messing things up, and you might find yourself fishtailing into the mud if you’re not careful. Another feature that allows you to boost is the ability to scrub. This is a technique used by motocross riders that when applied correctly decreases wind resistance when in the air, and can help shave seconds off the race time. In MUD you are required to press the X button just before take off of a big jump. Keeping the button held down, if done with the correct timing the rider will shift his weight to ensure the bike and rider are horizontal while in the air. If you press the button too early, you skid and loose speed. Too late – and you’re looking at a bone shattering fall as your rider won’t have enough time to right himself before landing. If the perfect timing is achieved “perfect” appears on the screen are you get a massive speed boost. The timing to scrub can be quite difficult but the game prompts you by default, which goes a great way in helping the player get used to the timing.
Graphically the game is sound, but rarely will you have a “wow” moment that other more vibrant games have shown us the Vita is capable of. The draw distance is huge, and the framerate is rock solid, but many of the textures are fairly bland. You have to hand it to the developers; there isn’t really a great deal that can be done to make mud an exciting thing to look at, but a lot of the detail that was present in the PS3 version of the game isn’t evident here. For me it’s not personally a problem, as I’d rather have a smooth playing experience than play a game that looks good but has screen tear and crippling slowdown. The riders and bikes are animated fairly well and move fluidly, though while performing stunts there is a slightly jilted shift when moving from one to the next (more on that shortly). The PS3 version of the game also included 16 racers at once and track deformation, where the bikes would shift the mud around as they drive through it. The Vita version doesn’t have this feature and only contains 8 riders per race, but to be honest it’s not something I particularly miss as the rack deformation on the PS3 was mainly cosmetic anyway, and the reduction to 8 riders actually makes things more manageable. On the PS3 version it was fairly common to not be able to even move with 15 other bikes all cramped together jostling for position on track at the start of the race.
What MUD does have over WRC 3 however, is the full inclusion of everything else its console counterpart has to offer. Whereas WRC 3 missed out on the main career entirely due to time constraints, MUD has more than enough modes and events to keep you going for a long time to come. From the main menu you are given three options: Official mode, MUD World Tour and Mutiplayer. Official mode allows you to jump into a quick race, or participate in the full MX1, MX2 or MXoN championship. Basically this involves picking a rider from the official roster and participating in the full championship from start to finish.
The real meat of the game however lies in the MUD World Tour, where you choose from one of four fictional “heroes” (only one is unlocked at the start), and work your way through a series of events, gaining money and upgrading your character as you progress. I found this to be a lot of fun, but there is a small amount of grinding involved if you want to unlock everything. As you win money you find that it quickly disappears again as you have to buy new events, riders, tricks and upgrades. Each hero has skill points to be upgraded and you can buy new equipment that works with all of the heroes in the world tour. Each hero also has a speciality for one of the events, and when you complete these specific events with the right hero you are granted an extra cash bonus. The events themselves include standard races, elimination races in which a countdown timer features and every time it reaches zero the person in last place is eliminated, checkpoint races in which gates are placed throughout the course and you have a limited amount of time to pass through as many as possible, the winner being the rider who managed the most gates in the time (though it’s just you and the clock), head to heads where it’s you versus one other rider and trick battles, where you are presented with a stadium full of ramps and you have to beat the opposition by scoring more points through performing tricks.
The standard races, checkpoint races and head to head races are great fun, but the elimination events are way too short, usually only lasting around a minute. I’d much rather have seen the clock last a lot longer, as although these events are fairly frantic they end all too quickly. The trick battles have generally been seen by critics as the weakest part of the game, because they involve performing stunts by using predetermined button presses, which can become a memory test, but you can buy more “trick cards” to enable you to perform more elaborate stunts. I personally found these initially quite enjoyable but they can becoming boring as they serve more as a brain exercise than a challenge. It’s also worth noting that although the game starts off fairly easily, the difficulty soon ramps up. This is a game that rewards those who learn the techniques rather than just pressing the accelerator and hoping for the best. MUD is far from a walk in the park and quickly becomes devilishly challenging.
Unfortunately at the time of writing I have been unable to find a single multiplayer race, as you can search for specific types of games or jump into a quick race where the game will match you with whatever is available. I have checked for days on end at different times and the lobby is always empty. which is a shame as a few of the trophies you can unlock rely exclusively on online matches. If you want to platinum this game, it’s possible you will need to find a friend who owns a copy to help you out. I have read reports online that state that online matches run smoothly, but have been unable as yet to find one.
Ultimately, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here. This is a huge game that will easily take you 30+ hours to complete, and if it’s your sort of thing you’re into you’re going to be kept busy for a long, long time. If racing or off road games aren’t your cup of tea, this isn’t going to change your mind. This is a game that has been created for fans of the sport and racing games, while trying to cater to a more casual crowd with the introduction of some arcade elements. I have a lot of fun with MUD, and I’m perfectly happy with what received for the asking price (£29.99). You could do a lot worse this Christmas, but I fear with all of the other big budget releases this is a game that may get forgotten, which is a shame, as it’s a game that with a little time and dedication reaps exciting and satisfying results.