MTX Mototrax is the new game from Left Field Productions, a company that used to have second party status in the Nintendo umbrella. They made the NBA Courtside with Kobe Bryant games and they also made a really great dirt bike game called Excitebike 64, a game I still enjoy playing even today.

Popping in MTX Mototrax I figured this game would play a lot like Excitebike 64 and in many ways it does. However it also has a Tony Hawk feel to it as well, probably because Neversoft helped with the game and Activision is producing it. They even added on Xbox Live connectivity, so let’s see how this game pans out.

I found the graphics to be quite good in this game. The lighting is really apparent when you go to darker parts of stadiums in Supercross races and things turn pretty dark. The biker and bike animations are also very good. The dirt kicks up realistically and you can even get some on the front and back of your player.

The create-a-biker mode is pretty good, although it takes a bit to load the graphics for each item you select. It really should have been done on the fly and not need a button interaction in order to see it. There are quite a few sponsor memorabilia from companies like Puma for outfits and Oakley for glasses as well as many others.

There were a few times that I saw some clipping, but it was very rare. It usually didn’t happen with my own rider, but I could see some clipping going on with other riders as they went over small bumps or didn’t land correctly. It wasn’t a big deal and didn’t detract from the game though.

Online the graphics look just as good, although you can see a bit of sputtering lag with other players that may not be connected very well. I’ve found you want to turn collisions off online as well because collisions can create even more lag from my experience.

The sound can best be described as okay. The music presented is very good from bands such as Slipknot, Metallica and other mostly heavy rock bands. That’s about where the greatness of this title ends. The biggest problem is that the dirt bikes themselves don’t really have any variation of sounds even when you’re put on a new company’s bike. Instead you have the same bike sounds whether at different CCs or not, which really detracts from an otherwise good game.

The crowds are certainly into the race and during Supercross events there is an announcer talking about where the bikers are and what kind of track it is. Nothing really sticks out in this category other than the music though.

Control is both good and bad. It’s good in the fact that you have general control over the bike and it’s bad because it seems Left Field forgot the awesome control of Excitebike 64 when making this game. You’ll generally have your fingers on these buttons: R trigger to accelerate, A button to compress (let go to get air; this can also be done by moving down on the left analog stick and then up), X button to brake and L trigger for the clutch. You will rarely use the X button unless you are faced with a sharp and quick 180 degree turn. Most of the time you can let go of the R trigger and pull through the turn with no problem.

Granted, if you want to do tricks (which there is a game section for) you will also use the Y and B keys to do different tricks. To be honest the Supercross and Motocross tracks were busy enough for me to not be worrying about pulling tricks and more worried about actually winning or getting a good place in the race.

The control just isn’t as smooth or second nature as Excitebike 64 was to me. The compression works and you can get lots of air, but you don’t have as much control over the angle you jump up as you did in Excitebike 64. Maybe Neversoft’s help is at work here because it does feel like a Tony Hawk game at some points.

The game is split into 3 main categories: Career Mode, Dirt Wurx and Online play. The meat of the game is obviously Career Mode and I have to say it is a pretty good one for the most part. In this mode you can choose to race in Supercross (indoor tracks, usually very tight and lots of jumps) or Motocross (outdoor tracks, lots of hills and valleys) events at the 125cc and 250cc levels (you must beat the 125cc level to open up 250cc). You can also do Freestyle events where tricks become far more important. There is also the Free Ride mode that is set up somewhat like Tony Hawk Underground’s gameplay. You go to different people and get tasks to do. Complete that task and you get money.

Through the Career Mode you have a PDA where people e-mail you. Bike superstars e-mail you, your sponsors e-mail you, etc. You may even get e-mail where a new company wants to sponsor you. You can choose to take them up on their offer or not. There are various sponsors, such as a full team, a bike manufacturer, goggle companies, apparel companies and even helmet companies. If you wear their apparel or keep winning for them they give you money depending on your placing in the races. It’s all pretty cool if you ask me.

Where Career Mode takes a wrong turn is in its sudden jump in difficulty. Things are going okay for you in the early races and then all of a sudden you find yourself at the tail end of a race and wonder what the heck happened. It seems the other riders get a bit better in their skills and you have to do better than they do. Each bike does have its strengths and weaknesses, so be sure you have a bike capable of the series you are going to go through. Things were quite fun early on and then frustration set in as you get deeper into the Career Mode.

Also in this game is Dirt Wurx. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with it, but it is basically Tony Hawk’s Create-a-Park renamed to Dirt Wurx. You can build your own race and then race on it. I’ve never been big into this.

The last piece of the cog is the Live online play. It’s pretty fun, although not nearly as fun as Project Gotham Racing 2 or even Midtown Madness 3. You can do basic races, Freestyle Battle (where you grab the gold helmet on your way to a certain point value) and King of the Hill (think Capture the Gold from Midtown Madness 3). The game runs quite well with 8 players playing, although you may have lag here and there. It’s a fun little distraction though.

The Career Mode will take a while to get through, especially in the Free Ride section where you have to do tasks. You may get frustrated in the Supercross and Motocross segments though as the races and riders get tougher. The current $29.99 price tag on this game doesn’t hurt either. I don’t know if it will go back up to $49.99 anytime soon. I would guess they want to take on MX Unleashed head on.

I personally can’t vouch for how much better or worse this is than MX Unleashed as I have not played that game yet. This game is a pretty fun distraction though and I found myself turning it on time and time again just to play and get some new toys to play with.