Motocross Madness 2

The high-flying, neck-breaking excite-ment of dirt bike racing is back in Motocross Madness 2. With a tonne of tracks, several gameplay options, and some of the most gorgeous graphics ever seen, Microsoft proves that when it comes to frenetic two-wheel action, Motocross Madness 2 is definitely the leader of the pack.

The game does away with the conventional tracks of other racers, opting instead for huge wide-open areas that beg to be explored. While this is certainly a refreshing change from the usual tunnel-style racers, it can be a chore learning the tracks and trying to guess where the next gate is going to be. Of course, with practice you will learn the shortcuts necessary to master the tracks, and you'll be having so much fun you probably won't even care if you're in last place.

In fact, a lot of fun can be had just cruising around, checking out the sights. Rainbow Studios has created some of the best environments ever seen in a racing game. You can spend hours tearing through the Arizona trailer parks or chasing down UFOs in Roswell, New Mexico. Much work obviously went into creating realistic, detailed landscapes - and it shows. If you've got a fairly high-end system, you'll be able to appreciate all the special touches like real-time shadows and spectacular skies. And the crashes look better than ever. The first time your rider hits a cactus in mid-air and your bike goes flying, you'll be rolling on the floor with laughter.

A host of gaming options are included, from racing events like Baja, Supercross and Enduro to the now-famous Stunt Quarry. While the indoor Supercross events are fun, the outdoor Baja and Enduro races are where the action is.

Nothing quite compares to zipping through these living expanses while dodging cars and jumping over speed-ing trains.

Although there's no music, you won't miss it. In fact, the lack of music only adds to the realism. From the buzz of your bike's engine to the sounds of the various planes, trains, and automobiles that populate the areas, there is plenty of aural atmosphere to excite your eardrums.

The twitchy controls take some getting used to, but they'll grow on you eventually, and you'll definitely want a gamepad for the best experience.

Performing hair-raising tricks is as easy as the press of a button and you'll be pulling off a Barney or a Big Kahuna in no time.

Multiplay is available for up to eight people through the MSN Gaming Zone and includes all the standard races, Stunt Quarry mode, and Moto-Tag, in which players race around various arenas trying to avoid being "it."

It may not be the most serious racing game around, but for high-flying stunts and bone-crushing spills, Motocross Madness 2 just can't be beat. n Product: Motocross Madness 2Developer: Rainbow StudiosURL: www.microsoft.com/games/motocross2/tipsThe fastest way between two points is not always a straight line, especially if many obstacles stand in the way. Look for paths and roads that lead around major obstructions.

If you begin veering off the track during some major air, it's sometimes faster to wipe out than to try to make your way back to the track.

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