Dirt bike games go all the way back to Excitebike in the mid-80s. They always seem to have a niche audience so when developer Rainbow Studios and publisher THQ teamed up and released MX Unleashed in 2004 for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, extreme sports fans were thrilled. MX Unleashed features a great soundtrack, tons of content, and a surprising level of technique. Would MX Unleashed be rad or would dirt bike enthusiasts tell it to kick rocks?
MX Unleashed doesn’t have a plot but it does offer a career mode for you to progress through.
On the surface, MX Unleashed is a racing game but it’s anything from simple. The game tries to warn you that you won’t just be holding down the gas and turning around corners but you’ll have to learn plenty of techniques to win. When you start the game, it will offer you a chance to learn all the techniques of the trade through a few training videos. Since I’m impatient, I passed at the chance but probably should have watched them.
There are a few modes that MX Unleashed offers including a lengthy career mode. You’ll start off racing 125 CC bikes and progress to 250 CC bikes that are faster. You’ll begin (I think) ranked as the 150th ranked dirt bike racer in the world and have to work your way up the ranking by winning leagues to qualify for harder circuits. Each league has 5-8 races and you’ll earn points based on the position you finish for each race.
There are three different leagues during career mode. The first is the “national” races which are more cross-country and outdoor tracks that have huge hills and valleys. These were my favorite to race on as they offered the best visuals. There are tons of courses to race on, I’m just guessing but there are probably around 20 outdoor tracks all featuring different challenges or unique themes like Mardi Gras or Camels. Some courses featured rain or snow but I don’t think it changed how the bikes handled.
The second league was the “supercross” league which is probably what you are used to watching on TV. These courses are shorter and all indoors with plenty of bumpy hills in front of a large audience. These were a little harder and this is where technique came in. I did fairly well on these after practicing a bit but I still preferred the outdoor tracks. The final league was the “freestyle” league which were all about tricks, stunts, and scoring points. I didn’t care too much for these but I appreciate having this mode in the career.
As mentioned, technique is a big part of racing. You won’t win just by gassing the bike up. Turns will require you to hit the clutch to turn sharply but that’s not it. There are many segments on the course that are straight but filled with tiny bumps. You’ll have to move your rider back to absorb the small bumps making the bike cruise better. If you struggle on a course the game will give you tips afterward noting that you didn’t use a certain technique. It will show you what buttons to push to perform the needed technique and I really appreciated this and thought it was a great feature. Once I learned what I was doing wrong from the game I quickly corrected and implemented the tips making me much more competitive. One technique that I never quite mastered was jumping higher. You can make the rider launch himself right before going up a ramp to gain height but I sucked at it and that’s why I rarely won the 250 CC races. One of the more realistic features was the actual league standings. I didn’t win every race and I didn’t have to. Some races I came in fourth or fifth place and was still atop the league standings. I loved this as it added a realistic feel to the game because you never knew who was going to win instead of having one great racer that seemed to always win or come in second as other racing games do.
Presentation and customization are each quite satisfying in MX Unleashed. There was a cool opening video and the soundtrack that you’ll listen to as you race were all punk rock or hard rock tunes from the early 2000s. Courses were always unique and fun to learn. You’ll hear the rev of your engine and watch dirt kick up behind the wheels. There was one instance where a weird glitch occurred making all the dirt behind the bike turn blue. It only happened one race but it was strange. Customization is a must in this game. You’ll be able to select all your gear, your jersey number, the name you wear, your bike, and other things. It was pretty awesome.
MX Unleashed offers many great things but a few things didn’t work. The freestyle mode lets you cruise around an area and select mini-games like stunts, or races against Monster Trucks or helicopters. It was a great idea but just didn’t turn out very fun. You can unlock vehicles like the Monster Truck, helicopter, dune-buggy, racing-truck, and a bi-plane. You would think they would be tons of fun to drive around but it didn’t excite me as much as I thought it would, as they ended up being a bit of a dud. The other thing I hated about racing was the chance that you got creamed by the other racers. With so many ramps, you’re bound to get landed on which knocks you off the bike for a few seconds. I rarely landed on other racers but it felt like more often than not I was getting hit by them.
I remember seeing this game in middle school but since I wasn’t really into dirt bikes or extreme sports I passed the chance to play it. It wasn’t until this game was offered as a free game on Xbox Gold that I picked it up and played it. I had a great time and was surprised at how well it held up over time and listening to the soundtrack took me back to my middle school days.
MX Unleashed is a great game for both fans of dirt bikes and extreme sports as well as casual gamers. It’s not easy to master but you’ll have fun learning the techniques as you race on tons of tracks both indoors and out that feature a cool soundtrack. You’ll have plenty of fun in career mode that is both fair and teaches you how to be a better racer.
MX Unleashed scores an 8.9 out of 10.
Do you remember when MX Unleashed first came out? How does it compare to other dirt bike games? What league did you prefer to race in? Did you like the freestyle mode and driving the other extreme vehicles? Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments.
If you’d like to own a copy of MX Unleashed, you can purchase a used copy of it for the Xbox for $11 on eBay.