MotoGP 3 E3 2005 Preshow Impressions

We take a second look at the two-wheeled mayhem in THQ's realistic racer.

MotoGP 3 is the follow-up to the critically lauded MotoGP 2, a game that featured not only an accessible and challenging driving model, but also a host of seamlessly integrated Xbox Live features that added months, if not years, to the game's online life span. Since our last look at MotoGP 3 in January, the Climax development team has made some progress in terms of fleshing out some of the ancillary features and modes in the game, as well as providing a clearer picture of how the game is shaping up.

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MotoGP 3 puts you in control of the immensely powerful single-seater MotoGP bikes, and it lets you take your created rider through either a career mode that mimics the entire real-life 2004 MotoGP schedule or an entirely new gameplay mode dubbed extreme mode. Career mode will feel familiar to anyone who's played through a regular season in the previous two games. You'll be globe-hopping as you fight for the checkered flag on any of the full roster of real MotoGP tracks. Familiar courses, such as Assen, Brno, Sepang, and Mugello, will return, and if they don't look remarkably different from the last time around, it's only because the last game did such a fine job of accurately re-creating the tracks. A new course, Losail International, will make its debut in MotoGP 3, and the popular test track Sheridan will return as well.

The course list in MotoGP 3's extreme mode will feel familiar to those featured in the career mode, and for good reason. Just as there are 16 tracks in the game's career mode, so too will there be 16 extreme mode tracks, each based on a locale found in the career mode. While this essentially doubles the number of tracks found in the game (not counting the unlockable tracks), it's important to note that these extreme mode courses are entirely fictional tracks. Still, each course is designed to retain the flavor of its national setting. Consequently, the Tokyo track, for example will have you speeding through brightly lit city streets at night.

The extreme mode courses feel different as well. Though they are based on real locales, such as Spain, South Africa, and Germany, these aren't traditional racetracks. You won't see many runoff areas here, for example. Instead, abrupt walls, highway rails, and city buildings line many of the courses, which can prove to have disastrous effects for your rider if you're not careful on the throttle. In addition, unlike traditional tracks like Suzuka or Saschenring, which feature tight twisting sections designed to test your rider's quick turning ability, the tracks in extreme mode seem more open in design, reflecting a more "drivable" approach. Are the tracks easy? No. The generally narrow lanes and the inclusion of lots of 90-degree turns makes for a specific challenge not often seen in MotoGP tracks. We didn't have a chance to try all the tracks in extreme mode, but it appears they will pose an entirely different set of challenges for MotoGP fans.

In extreme mode, you'll have three performance classes to choose from: 600, 1,000, and 1,200. As you progress through the mode and win races, you'll be able to upgrade your bike with new parts, as well as unlock licensed gear for your created rider, such as helmets, leathers, boots, and more. The artificially intelligent opposition in extreme mode can be set on a number of different difficulty levels. Additionally, the game's producers assured us that this would let beginners stay competitive, while giving more-advanced riders a consistent challenge. In our own time with the game, we never felt out of the race, even when crashing. In fact, it may have been a bit too easy to catch up to the pack, though this was probably due to the low difficulty setting.

THQ was obviously intent in highlighting the game's extreme mode in its pre-E3 build of Moto GP3, as unfortunately, many of the career mode races we entered caused the game to crash. What we do know about MotoGP 3's career mode is that, unlike extreme mode, where you upgrade the bike and your rider's gear, you'll be upgrading your rider through attributes such as cornering, braking, and more. The producer we spoke to wasn't sure whether you'd be allowed to reallocate attribute points after they were assigned, a crucial capability in MotoGP 2, but we're hoping this flexible feature makes it into the final game. You won't be able to use your extreme mode rider in career mode, or vice verse (though a single profile will be used to keep track of either).

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Though we didn't get a chance to actually see MotoGP 3's online capabilities in action at the THQ event, we understand the game will have a much tighter Xbox Live integration than ever before. First of all, in career mode, you'll be able to race any career mode race either online or offline, a move that should add a considerable amount of challenge to career mode races once the AI ceases to be much of a challenge. Second, the procedure for jumping online has been streamlined dramatically. So instead of having to back out of career mode to return to the main menu, in hopes of finding online options, you'll be able to hop onto online races from almost any menu in the game. If you pop into a lobby while a race is under way, you'll be able to jump into the action on the track to watch the race unfold "live," which should prove to be considerably less boring than sitting there staring at a lobby menu. The host will even be able to assign one player as a play-by-play announcer, calling the action on the track. Finally, if you're tired of blowing away the competition (or being left in the dust by virtual two-wheeled savants), an enhanced seeding system should improve the game's online matchmaking system by better matching you to talent of your specific skill level.

Though the game looks to be upping the ante in terms of features and game modes (the newly included ability to adjust gear ratios is a great touch), there's one thing that was noticeably missing from this latest build of MotoGP 3: namely, the awe-inspiring speed effect that so impressed us in our last preview. You'll recall that we were previously blown away by the screen-shaking, teeth-chattering effect that came into play when reaching top speed on long straights, such as on the Mugello or LeMans tracks. Despite our best efforts of bike tweaking, we didn't see these same effects this time around. In fact, all we noticed was a slight blurring that looked similar to that found in MotoGP 2. This is pretty distressing, since this effect was the single most impressive feature we noticed in the last build of the game. Here's hoping this was an oversight by the development team. Perhaps it was the result of a conscious decision to further tweak the effect. Or maybe it was just something we missed, because leaving the enhanced speed effect out altogether would be a shame in the final build.

Despite that caveat, we're still excited about MotoGP 3, especially the online features that have always given this series its legs. The game has recently been pushed back to a September release to give the folks at Climax some extra wiggle room, development-wise. Until then, we'll see what the team has to show us at E3.

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