While fans of arcade-style racing games have always gotten to drive dirt bikes on off-road courses, there haven’t been many lately where they’ve gotten to take motorcycles on to city streets or designated tracks. But while the on- and off-road arcade motorcycle racing game Moto Racer 4 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) aims to fulfil that need, it’s somewhat undermined by a badly executed difficulty system and a generally cheap feel.
As an arcade racing game, Moto Racer 4 performs as you’d expect, whether you play the career, do a one-off race, or go up against your online pals. First, and most fundamentally, the controls are simple but not overly sensitive. Not only do you not have to manipulate the front and back brakes like you do in a motorcycle sim — this only has one brake button — but you don’t really even have to use the brakes all that much. It’s decidedly one of those racing games where you can just ease up on the gas and glide through all but the sharpest of turns.
Moto Racer 4 also, like other arcade racers, gives you a quick burst of speed with the touch of a button. And while you do a wheelie when you do this, it still works like a nitro boost in a Need For Speed game, since there’s no risk of wiping out when you’re showing off. Similarly, while you can be killed when you crash, collisions with oncoming traffic and barriers don’t send you flying nearly as often as they do in a realistic game. Or, for that matter, the real world.
Not surprisingly, Moto Racer 4 has the same kind of variety usually found in arcade-style racing games. In terms of the race events, there are not only normal races, time trails, and multi-race championships, but elimination events as well.
The tracks in Moto Racer 4 are also varied. Not only are they nicely twisted, and set in a good number of locales, but they also have multiple pathways as well as some crazy jumps. And this is regardless of whether you’re driving a motorcycle on a paved road or a dirt bike on an unpaved trail.
In fact, when Moto Racer 4 has you racing a dirty bike on a muddy path, this still plays like an arcade racing game, not an off-road racing game. With the exception of one track set in a desert airplane graveyard, the unpaved courses are never set up like you’d find in a motocross game, as this doesn’t have a lot of small hills or super tight turns.
That said, Moto Racer 4 isn’t as arcade-y as, say, Mario Kart 8. You’d need to add power-ups, more cartoonish visuals, and someone who looks like Ron Jeremy before you could call this Mario Racer 4. Instead, this is much closer to being a motorcycle version of Need For Speed.
The thing is, while much of Moto Racer 4 works well, and is what I was hoping for in an arcade-like motorcycle racing game, it comes up a bit short. Granted, some of its problems are superficial, but that doesn’t stop them from killing some of the enthusiasm I might’ve had for a better made game.
For starters, Moto Racer 4 is decidedly low-rent. This is most obvious in its graphics, which lacks the detail and definition of a really good looking Xbox One or PlayStation 4 game. But it’s actually the game’s sound design that’s more annoying. Specifically, in how they make the engines sound hollow and cheap. If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone swapped out my good speakers for crappy ones. Or Folger’s.
Then there’s the painfully slow load times in Moto Racer 4, which are just long enough to give you time to wonder if maybe you shouldn’t play something else.
But the biggest problem comes in how the progression and difficulty in Moto Racer 4‘s career mode is set up. Every event has three difficulty settings, as represented by one, two, and three stars for easy, regular, and hard, respectfully. Except that you’re not just picking how much or little of a challenge you want to face, you’re also betting those stars. So, if you decide you want a challenge, do the three-star race, and win, you’ll earn three stars; lose, and you’ll lose three stars.
It’s an interesting idea, but one that goes awry since you need those stars to unlock new events. Which means that if you want to play Moto Racer 4 on easy — say, because you’d like to feel like a total bad ass biker — you’re screwed because even if you come in first all the time, you may not earn enough stars to unlock the next set of races. This, of course, is not a problem if you want a challenge, or you’re a really good driver, but it’s bummer if you’re not great or you’re just okay and, like Lisa Simpson, you’re looking for a challenge…but a challenge you can do.
Admittedly, the progression problems and general low-rent feel aren’t enough to ruin Moto Racer 4, though they did kill my enthusiasm for it. After speeding my way through the first couple of events, and then having to replay them so I could earn enough stars to unlock the next batch, I found that this felt less like a game and more like a chore.
Which is too bad. I was really hoping to go for a fun bike ride this weekend.