Following the lukewarm response of Driving Emotion Type-S in Japan, Namco watchers turned their attention to Moto GP - the company's second racing game for the PlayStation 2. Sony of Europe set up a playable demo of the motorcycle racing game on the ECTS show floor and we took it for spin. Moto GP originated from Namco's arcade line and its gameplay reflects that lineage. The first thing that struck us was the fact that riders are hardly ever knocked off their bikes. Even when we purposefully made horrible mistakes and strayed hopelessly off the course the driver remained steadfast in his seat. On the one hand this tightens up the competition in two player races, but on the other hand the game looses some of its realism. Interestingly, realism was exactly what Namco had in mind when brining the game to the PlayStation 2. The game is based on the real-life FIM Road Racing World Championship, which essentially means it has authentic courses in South Africa, Japan, Germany, UK and more and several real-life drivers such as the members of the powerful Suzuki racing team.
The tracks themselves are almost perfect replicas of the actual courses. The game recreates entire courses down to every turn. This works in theory, but at least in the ECTS demo, some portions of the course that we raced were virtually non-maneuverable. One of the turns was so severe that unless we slowed down to around 5 to 10 mph we would end up on the gravel and off the track. These tight chicanes, which work perfectly well in real-life, interrupted the pace of the racing action - at least on this particular demo. Hopefully, some of the other tracks in the game are more conducive to fast-paced video game racing.
Once on the straight-aways and through bank turns the motorcycles move at a brisk pace. Although they don't seem to accelerate quite as quickly as their real-life counterparts, once they pick up pace the scenery zooms by very fast. Unfortunately, as in most realistic motorcycle racing games, the opposition provides very little resistance. In real-life races all the cycles have to follow a racing line and this makes it difficult to pass. Naturally, all of that goes out the window in motorcycle racing games, as players can break the line and pass at will while the AI opponents strive to achieve the perfect racing line. Essentially, this translates down to a racer-against-the-course rather than a racer-versus-racer type of gameplay.
Graphically Moto GP looks just above average at this point. The riders are nicely detailed and nuances in their movements add to the game's believability. For example, when they lean into turns the driver lifts his legs and tucks them into the side of the bike for greater balance. The game's environments aren't as detailed however. There are rarely any spectators watching the races and the few that are there are uninspired 2D bitmaps - they hardly even move. Also, the environmental texturing is average at best. Even the track itself looks bland and forgettable. Hopefully, Namco will spice up the game's surroundings before it is released for the PlayStation 2 and increase the realism and the use of racing strategy.