MotoGP 3 Hands-On

We go full tilt with THQ's upcoming grand prix motorcycle racer.

With just more than a month to go before MotoGP 3 launches, anticipation is growing for the next entry in the two-wheel racing series that's come to be known by fans for its exciting blend of approachable controls, breadth of online play options, and surprising depth. We've been playing nonstop with the latest build of MotoGP 3, and, frankly, it's been tough to tear our hands away from the Xbox controller so we could put them on the keyboard to type this report. To say the least, we're very excited about this one.

Though we've been hearing of MotoGP 3's "extreme" mode for months now, it wasn't until this latest preview build came to our office that we got a chance to really explore the mode in depth. Essentially, extreme mode gave the developers at Climax a chance to stretch their programming wings a bit by letting them double the number of tracks in the game, as compared to the last MotoGP entry.

Extreme mode races pit you against nine other opponents on fictional tracks from all over the world.

Extreme mode races come in three varieties, depending on the size bike you wish to run: 600, 1000, and 1200cc. Before you even hit the track, you'll need to purchase a bike using the relatively meager amount of cash you start out with. Remember, though, the most powerful bike in the series won't be available just yet. Instead, you'll go with a more modest two-wheeler, and you must trust that your racing instincts will make up for any lack of power under the seat. Unlike traditional grand prix races, you'll earn money after each race in extreme mode. This money can either be socked way to purchase a brand-new bike or used immediately to purchase parts upgrades in areas such as braking, traction and stability, or bhp (aka brake horsepower). Each part can be upgraded up to three times, and the more complex the upgrade, the more expensive it will be. That said, in the time we spent in MotoGP 3's extreme career modes, we never came to a point where we were short on upgrade cash.

While courses in extreme mode are fictional, they derive inspiration from each country that hosts a race in the game. There are several urban courses that have you weaving in and about city streets, including one particularly impressive-looking track based in a virtual Tokyo. Extreme mode tracks are street and road courses, so many of them differ significantly from the traditional racecourses found on the MotoGP circuit, such as Brno, Saschenring, and Estoril. For one thing, they are often much wider than what you may be used to, and as such, they'll let you take corners at much higher speeds. For another, unlike some of the relatively sterile environments found in the Grand Prix racecourses, there's a tremendous amount of variety in the extreme mode tracks.

Beyond the aforementioned city tracks in locales like Tokyo and England, there are mountain tracks that feature fairly drastic elevation changes as you careen up and down the mountainsides; there are desert tracks that showcase a cool-looking heat shimmer effect; and there's a Malaysian course with a definite junglelike flair. Extreme mode tracks also feature numerous surface types. So rather than simply racing on straight-ahead asphalt, you might run over brick-laid streets in Britain or metal gratings that run along the side of some urban courses, all of which will return a distinctive feel to you that's conveyed mainly through the rumble function of the Xbox controller. In all, the extreme tracks have a nice variety to them, and we expect a couple of the really well-designed courses, such as the challenging Autobahn course and the superfast sprint that is Algarve, to be big hits among online racers.

MotoGP 3 meshes the offline and online games to provide a seamless career mode.

And make no mistake, online racing is the heart and soul of MotoGP 3. The series has long-embraced Xbox Live as a method of expanding the single-player experience. The interesting thing is that the line between the single-player and multiplayer game is blurred to great effect in MotoGP 3. You're perfectly welcome to complete your extreme or grand prix career against the tough racing artificial intelligence found in the game (more on that in a bit), but for an even more realistic challenge, you can also take any individual career race online to compete against a full field of real drivers. This brings an entirely new focus to the single-player campaign, because not only will you be competing against opponents who are far more unpredictable than any AI drivers could be, but also you just might think twice when looking to sideswipe a real opponent in a multiplayer career race.

Sowing the Seeds of Speed

Unlike the two games before it, your online ranking in MotoGP 3 will be calculated based on an all-new seeding system. The first time you boot up the game, your seeding will be set at "100." The more you races you enter and win, and the more you compete online, the more your seeding will improve (and thus decrease in numerical value). Not only will improving your seeding let you unlock certain content (such as high-profile MotoGP riders like Max Biaggi, Valentino Rossi, and Sete Gibernau), but also it will determine the quality of opponents you face in online races. When creating online race events, you'll be able to specify the minimum and maximum seed ranking that will be allowed in your race, letting you accurately qualify who will be allowed in your race and, in theory, providing a better, more even racing experience for everyone involved.

Losail International Circuit, located in Qatar, is new to the MotoGP 3 track lineup.

Beyond the clever ranking system and integrated online career races, one of the cooler elements in MotoGP 3's online suite of features is the spectator mode. If you're as sick of sitting in a lobby waiting for the next race to begin as we are, a simple press of the button will put you in the middle of the currently ongoing race, letting you pass the time by checking out any racers on the track (be they real or virtual), as well as letting you cycle through a large number of camera perspectives. While the novelty of the system might wear off after a while, spectator mode will certainly be a great way to check out your upcoming competition (or at least it's a great way to while away a few minutes) before the green flag drops on your next race.

If you're in the minority and wish to only play MotoGP 3 offline, there's still some good news. The racing AI in the game appears to be a good deal more challenging in this game than in the first two. We're being careful with our terminology by saying "challenging" rather than "smarter," as we ran into a number of times where opponents crashed into us with little regard for our position. In fact, any time you engage in a side-by-side battle with an AI driver where contact occurs, you'll most likely end up on the losing end, eating tarmac as you fall off your bike. That said, there's certainly some challenge to be had at the champion (and, we assume, the legend) difficulty setting, where in previous games there was little to be found at all, especially once you had the game's controls under your fingers.

Speaking of controls, everyone who plays the MotoGP series seems to have a different control "recipe" for getting the most out of their bikes. Some players set their controllers up to maximize powersliding, while some swear by the right analog stick for braking and accelerating. Some use the triggers for switching gears, while others don't even use manual gears at all. MotoGP 3 takes customization seriously once again, so it will let you map any control in the game to any button on the Xbox controller. You'll also still be allocating points to attributes, such as braking, acceleration, cornering, and top speed, for your created rider. And the bike and leathers options, as well as the logo creator seem to be deeper than ever before. Let's not forget a whole new set of unlockables, too. In addition to opening up new MotoGP riders, you'll also be unlocking tracks (or at least mirrored and reverse variations of already race-ready tracks) and new bikes from the game's larger-than-ever roster of two-wheeled terror machines.

Speeding through the neon streets of Tokyo.

As for the look of the game, the rollicking, hyperkinetic sense of speed that knocked our socks off in the first build of MotoGP 3 has since been toned down a bit. Specifically, the shaking-camera effect at top speeds (which, frankly, we loved) has been removed. What's left is a nice blur effect that can surely make for exciting times down the long straights of Mugello and Catalunya. However, it isn't remarkably different from the blur effect in the last game in the series.

In all, we're excited to be approaching the final stretch before MotoGP 3's release. The game's accessible controls and expansive online options look to provide an entertaining video game outlet for motorcycle enthusiasts, as well as an option for race fans looking for a little variety in their racing lives.

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