MUD scrubs up
Have you ever watched Motocross? I've seen it a couple of times, and, well, it's hardly the most visually arresting vehicular sport on the market - lots of bikes writhing around a muddy track while clumps of spectators dot the periphery.
That's fine when you're watching MX1 or MX2 in real life, as you're much too busy admiring how these racers are performing such impossible feats. In the world of video games, however, developers can't rely on such an appeal - players expect to be able to jump impossibly high and perform an effortlessly perfect turn on muddy terrain. And the scenery needs to look interesting while they're at it.
MUD's world isn't one based too heavily in simulation - although that's what developer Milestone is most famous for with its fairly well-received SBK series. Here, instead of dirt tracks stretching to the horizon, courses can be embellished with a oversized factory saw blades and, as if by channelling the very essence of SEGA itself, an abundance of hot air balloons.
It's an arcade racer, if you hadn't guessed, and it's the first sign of a change in pace for a studio trying to stay afloat in one of the most competitive and harsh genres that isn't ruled by first-person warfare in a modern environment.
The jumps are high, speed boosts are doled out by a flashing bar powered by various energy drinks, and the approachable handling model allows you to pull the analogue stick to its extremes without your racer toppling off his bike in a fatal accident.
It is much, much easier to play than, say, SBK. While motorcycles have front and rear brakes, for instance, MUD makes a concession for those used to their racing games to be about cars - there's just a single brake button, along with your trusty accelerator and another input for the scrub. The latter is an advanced motocross move where the driver shoots off a jump and kicks their bike to the side, and it's critical in MUD for victory as a successfully executed scrub will give you a nifty speed boost.
The scrub is your only trick - there are no other fanciful strings of button inputs when you fly off a massive jump, and after a few races it's hard to see how this relatively simple game will be able to keep itself interesting over multiple play sessions.
However, MUD will also ship with an additional trick mode set across three arenas in the Czech Republic, Spain and USA - content that was originally intended to be sold post-release as DLC, but is instead being included with the core game in an attempt to make the package more appealing to today's increasingly discerning consumers.
Then there's the MUD World Tour, the game's main campaign mode which has you play as a group of three characters - all of whom can be upgraded RPG-style - in a quest across the MX1, MX2 and FIM Motocross of Nations leagues.
MUD is an odd direction for the traditionally sim-focused Milestone to take, but it's a clear sign of a studio trying to keep up with today's competitive market. Whether the public will take to it is another matter, as far too many developers have fallen by the wayside in recent years.