In the realm of racing games, it seems motorcycle racers have been at best a bit over looked, and at worst a bit boring. Although there are some impressive simulation Moto-racers out there, most of these games just don't appeal to the common gamer. Whether it's lack of time, patience or just interest, most gamers don't seem to want to spend hours fine tuning their bikes and learning to manage the pit stops, tire pressures, and unforgiving physics of a true simulation race game. However, as fans of the Xbox version of this title already know, Moto GP is not your average Moto-racer.
Of course Moto GP has the obligatory simulation/career mode of playing, but what really sets the game apart from most other games in the genre is a unique new scoring system used in the arcade mode. Instead of simply racing for position on the same tracks with less realistic physics, players are allowed (actually encouraged) to show off their best tricks and drive with style while still trying to win the race. By using the right combinations of the throttle and the front, rear, or both brakes, it's possible to pull off some pretty cool looking and valuable tricks with your bike. While some maneuvers like the power slide are useful for navigating turns at breakneck speeds, others such as burnouts, wheelies, and endos (a front wheel wheelie) are purely for show and arcade points. In the arcade mode, you are racing more against the clock than your other riders as you try to make it to the next checkpoint before your time expires. Interestingly though, you will get points for passing the opposition (called and overtake) and if you pass multiple racers quickly enough, your points will multiple like combos. You also gain an ascending bonus for each segment of the track you get through without leaving the track or hitting any walls. Although in this mode, it is possible to pass to the next track without winning the race, rest assured that if you fall too far behind, you won't make it to the checkpoint in time. You'll also score more points for being in a higher position at the end of each lap. By now you might be wondering, "What's the point of all these points?" Well there are some pretty sweet rewards for pulling off all those power slides and straight-away wheelies. Although each mode has its own rewards, you'll gain new tracks and some alternate rendering modes (such as wire frame and cartoon renders) as well as new racers to choose from as you progress through the arcade mode. While this mode alone is attractive to the rookie racer and still challenging enough for the veteran player, the game also has an impressive GP Championship mode as well.
The Championship mode is definitely for the more patient and dedicated gamer than the arcade mode. In the Championship mode, you create your own biker from scratch. You'll name your racer, select a nationality, choose a bike and race wear, and finally customize their stats with the few freebie stat points you'll begin with. From there you can jump straight into a GP race and see how you hold up, but you should probably build up your characters stats first by taking him in for some training. Stats are divided into categories including cornering, braking, acceleration, and top speed and each one has ten lessons to be completed for one point each. Once you are confident that your racer will stand up the competition, you can take him into a GP race and get down to business. GP races have more laps than the arcade races (the minimum allowed is 5) so they obviously take much longer. You'll also want to tone down the use of the wheelies and other show off maneuvers in GP mode as the races are much more competitive. You are awarded even more stats points after each race based on your final position as you race 10 of the world's most popular Moto race tracks. Along with the new tracks and intro videos, you'll also unlock more extras such as new race wear (called livery) and bikes as you progress.
The game's graphics levels are adjustable for users with lower-end computers, but even maxed out it doesn't take a supercomputer for this one. I tested the game using the NVIDIA GeForce2 64meg card and a P4 1.7G and when I first started playing the game, to get acceptable frame rates I wasn't able to run the max settings at 800x600, 32bit. I have to say this made for some rather mediocre graphics. However, after over clocking the card and messing with some hardware settings, I was able to run with maximum settings at 1024x768, 32bit and the frame rate was just fine. Neither, the textures or the models, are really mind blowing, but once you start racing at over 250 MPH, the smoothly flowing tracks and feeling of speed make up for the lack of high-detail. The game supports pixel and vertex shading, although my card doesn’t. Even with out it though, this is a very pretty racer. Most notable are the sky textures used. A few times I found myself struggling to stay on the track while admiring the clouds. Although some of the weather effects such as water splashes and sun flares are noticeably unnatural, at maximum settings, the overall feel of the tracks are slightly cartoon-ish but yet still believable and very clean.
Sounds / Music:
The sound effects and music in the game are the only real weak points of the game. Although I know there's not much to work with as far as motorcycle sound effects, I feel that the effects could have been made to sound a little more realistic. The stereo effects are well done though, which makes it especially easy to tell when and where a racer is approaching you from behind without having to look back. Overall the sound effects aren't bad, but they could have been better. The music on the other hand is particularly weak. Most of the tracks included with the game are the usual bland, looping techno-ish tracks that are found in most of today’s racers, and as with most racers, you'll find yourself switching off the music after a few races. The option to add your own music files for the soundtrack is a really good idea, but unfortunately you have to convert your mp3s or other files to the less popular .ogg format for the game to recognize them. (The read me file explains how and points you to a website for the applications you'll need to do this.) The creators point to patent and copyright problems with .mp3 and .wmv formats, but considering Grand Theft Auto 3 allowed players to use .mp3 files as a custom radio station (and with the fraunhoffer codec no less!), you can't help but feel MotoGP should have supported .mp3 as well. Of course if you end up spending hours playing this game and take the time to set up the music files, this option is better than nothing and more than most race games are currently offering.
One of the game's strongest points is the game play. As I mentioned earlier, the levels flow quite smoothly, even at speeds of over 300MPH. This combined with the agile handling of the bike makes for quite a fun ride. After only a few training missions, anyone will be able to start picking up on the techniques you'll need to finish your races far ahead of the pack. The new points system in the arcade mode might not be revolutionary, but it is a very cool feature. It reminds me of the good old days when people actually played games to compete against their own high scores, rather than just trying to make it to the next cut scene. I've played a few other Moto-racer games with more realistic physics, but unless you've been playing moto-racers for some time or are looking for the true sim experience, more realistic doesn't always mean more fun. In fact, the game plays realistically enough to be instinctive, but it's still forgiving enough to keep you from giving up. Even when you swing wide through a turn and end up flipping your bike, you'll know it was your fault and usually have a good idea what you did wrong. As mentioned earlier, the competition is a bit stiffer in the GP Mode than the arcade mode, and the arcade mode forces you to choose a rider with predefined stats, but the physics seem to be the same for both modes (as opposed to games like the Gran Turismo Series).
The game offers connection through GameSpy for multiplayer games and also offers split screen competition for playing offline against your friends. At the time of this review, I have yet to test the online multiplayer options but I will try to add an update as soon as possible.
The short of it - I like this game. There are a lot of race games out there that just aren't for the average gamer. Race games are a tricky genre in that the die hard fans want to find themselves challenged to master techniques and experience a convincing simulation. The general public however, wants to be able to play a race game without having to feel like they are working a second career or fighting the controls to make it around a corner. I think THQ did a very good job on this one. They have succeeded in improving on previous race games, balancing the simulation factor with the fun factor and they've provided unlockables and videos that are interesting enough to make you want to earn them. Fans of arcade racers like Extreme G and Kinetica will definitely get a kick out of this one. I'm not sure how fans of more serious sim racers like Gran Turismo will feel about this one, but they should at least respect that all the bikes used during the 2001 MotoGP seasons as well as ten real world tracks are included in the game. I sometimes play games simply to review them and find myself looking forward to being done with it. With this game, I can say I found it to be less of a chore and more like just having fun, which is how it should be. This could be the first of a new franchise series for THQ. By comparison, it's definitely one of the best (if not the best) moto-racers out there today.