For the hardcore two-wheel video game fans, the more than two-year wait between MotoGP 2 and MotoGP 3 on the original Xbox felt like a miniature eternity. Luckily, the wait between MotoGP 3 and its next-gen counterpart, last year's MotoGP 06, was merely a year. This was to be expected, of course, considering the game was a fairly literal port of the Xbox game. The good news is that it seems like the Climax development team is settling into an annual release schedule for the series, as we found out in our look at the upcoming MotoGP 07 for the Xbox 360 at tonight's THQ press event.
Due for release in September of this year, MotoGP 07 continues the successful formula of real-world bikes, riders, and circuits in the grand prix mode, and you'll find fictional tracks and hot street bikes featured in the alternative street mode. Then, of course, there's the online racing, which has been the centerpiece of the series ever since the free demo disc of the first MotoGP shipped with the original Xbox Live accessory for the Xbox. For the 2007 version, the team at Climax has touched on all three of these main areas, and the result is a game that looks quite a bit different than last year's.
First, let's talk presentation, or, as the development team likes to refer to it, the "spectacle" of racing on the MotoGP circuit. First and foremost, you'll notice an entirely new look to the menu system--one that ditches the staid style of the previous games for a whole new look and feel. The new approach seems to be set on providing you with lots of information--whether its track statistics in the loading screen or a postrace telemetry wrap-up that will show you where you were fastest on the track and where your riding could use some work.
The biggest change visually, however, is on the tracks themselves. The amount of detail trackside is truly impressive on all of the tracks we visited during the demo. The crowds that line the tracks and jam into the stadium seating on tracks like Shanghai and Laguna Seca make for excellent eye candy--and it's made all the better by the fact that each crowd member is a moving 3D model. Developers said they can pack as many as 100,000 virtual people in a track, with as many as 20,000 viewable at any given point in the race (depending on where you are on the course, naturally). The draw distance, too, has been greatly improved. At Laguna Seca, for example, you can look across the Andretti Hairpin from the front straight and see the rise of turn 5--something you couldn't do in the last game.
The intricacy and details in and around the race track make for a race experience that feels much more alive, with light, movement, and color everywhere. Race at Donington Park (which is located close to East Midlands Airport in the UK), and you'll see and hear jumbo jets coming in for a landing nearby. Race at Laguna Seca, and you'll see helicopters floating in the air, folks lighting trackside flares, and tents, cars, and trucks everywhere. Because MotoGP 07 will feature the 2007 liveries, rider rosters, newly regulated 800cc bikes, teams, and schedule, the game will also include a new track added for the real 2007 season--Italy's Misano. While our first impressions of the track didn't leave us thinking it's the next Mugello or Phillip Island (in fact, its long sections and supertight turns reminded us a bit more of Estoril), it will definitely be nice to run an entirely new circuit in the game.
It's not just the grand prix tracks that have improved. While the extreme tracks featured in the game feature the same layouts as those in 06, they've been given visual upgrades, as well. The Autobahn track, for example, now features intricate backgrounds and improved lighting effects; the Tokyo track has been enlivened with moving signs and more detailed buildings, both of which better reflect the neon landscape of the Japanese metropolis. In all, the environments and tracks in MotoGP 07 make the relatively static trackside environments in MotoGP 06 feel positively austere in comparison. And, according to developers, all of this detail won't come at the cost of frame rate. While they readily admitted 06 had its frame-rate problems, especially in the tightest turns, the developers are aiming for a solid 60 frames per second, with all the trackside detail intact.
Beyond the visual improvements in MotoGP 07's extreme mode, you can expect to find more customization than ever before in the series. The bike lineup won't be classified by engine-displacement capacity any more, as was the case in the previous games. Instead, extreme mode will feature 20 newly designed bikes for you to purchase and customize as you see fit. This will include a paint and livery editor, as well as a host of parts such as brake pads, tires, engines, and so forth, which will have both a cosmetic and performance-enhancing affect on your ride. While we didn't get to check out the customization tools for ourselves, it seems like there will be plenty for you to do on your way to creating your one-of-a-kind bike.
Of course, once you have your ride sorted out, you'll want to take it online and put it up against the stiffest of competition. One of the most intriguing new features in MotoGP 07 will be pink-slip racing online, where two riders put their bikes on the line in a winner-take-all competition. With your two-wheeled heart and soul up for grabs, the stakes are raised considerably for online racing, and the development team is working to ensure that you'll be able to know exactly who you're going up against (as well as weighing your chance for success via the game's seeding system), and they'll be doing their best to eliminate online cheating to create as level a playing field as possible. Here's hoping they get it right--because as nice as it would be to win someone else's bike, the last thing we want is for someone to jack our prized virtual possession using some cheap warp cheat.
From a gameplay standpoint, MotoGP 07 feels much like its predecessors, with a more-accessible-than-you-might-think learning curve that lets you get on a bike quickly and make your way around the track as well as a difficulty that ramps up as you begin shaving seconds off your lap time. The controls are still fully customizable, and you can assign any button or stick to whatever function you wish. In an effort to make the game more user friendly, the developers have tried to add more visual feedback to the action on the track. This comes through in the corners especially, as your bike's tires will more readily get loose if you take a turn too quick. At top speeds, the screen will shake a bit to indicate your pace, and under heavy braking, your bike's back wheels will wobble a bit as your bike slows down. It's all designed to give you as much feedback as possible as you turn laps, looking to shave off that extra tenth.
Having loved the series since its inception, it should come as no surprise that we're very excited about the upcoming release of MotoGP 07. We're curious to see how some of the game's more ambitions features, such as the pink-slip races, come out in the end, but it's clear the Climax team has already made a strong start so far. As the months pass leading up to the game's release in September, we'll be bringing you much more on the game, so stay tuned.