GP racing is a sport that, until recently, didn't get too much attention in the video games industry. Besides Delphine Software's Moto Racer series, there wasn't much substance in the genre. That changed when Namco entered released MotoGP, which was the PlayStation 2 port of its System-22 arcade game, 500GP. MotoGP received good marks from the press and consumers alike, and that was reason enough for Namco to revisit the series and lift it to new heights. The sequel to MotoGP offers six modes of play: arcade, season, time trial, challenge, versus, and legends. Those of you who are not familiar with the predecessor or games of this manner shouldn't feel intimidated by MotoGP2. The game's control scheme is identical to that of last year's game, wherein the X button let you accelerate, the square button let you brake, and the triangle button switched between two first- and third-person views. But even though this game won't be a simulator by any stretch of the imagination, you'll find out very quickly that MotoGP2 is not a game in which you can keep pressing the accelerator...you'll need a basic understanding of when to brake into turns.
The arcade mode lets you play any of the tracks with a full grid, and it lets you set the number of laps. If you feel like you're good enough to stand a long-term test, you'll have the option of racing for a full season, where you can play in three difficulty settings. Since Namco has the official FIM Road Racing World Championship license, you'll have access to all the authentic teams and riders as well, just like the original. Some of the more advanced teams will have certain requirements that you'll need to meet before being able to sign up. For example, you must place at least 11th after the first year is over if you expect to resign with most teams. If you fulfill the contract, you can stay with your current team for another season or join another team instead.
In the challenge mode, you'll be able to complete a number of tasks, like racing a part of a track in a given time or completing a season in first place, much like Gran Turismo's license tests. While there are 54 challenges in the first game, MotoGP2 offers 72. Most of the time-based challenges can be completed with a bronze and silver, but if you earn gold medals in these challenges, you're rewarded with photos of the drivers and the tracks, adding a collective element to the game. The time-consuming part of those challenges is that they are so enormously addictive. You will figure out very quickly that you simply won't stop unless you get the goal medal for each challenge, no matter how many times you have to race the section of a track.
The final single-player mode is the legends mode, in which you race against four legends, like Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Robert Sr., which is an enormous challenge because of their excellent driving skills. Whether there will be more legends available in the final version isn't currently known. Of course, the game also offers a two-player mode, which puts you in a head-to-head race. Unfortunately, Namco didn't include a race against a full grid or any two-player season mode, which would have been a great feature. So all you'll be able to do is battle it out head-to-head on a single track.
One of the most common criticisms about MotoGP was the small number of tracks. From a sport that offers 16 tracks and locations in total, Namco decided to re-create only five for MotoGP. This has changed significantly in MotoGP2, and Namco now has 10 tracks to offer: Suzuka, Montegi, Donington, Jerez, and Paul Ricard from the previous game, as well as the new tracks Catalunya (Spain), Assen (Holland), Le Mans (France), Mugello (Italy), and Sachsenring (Germany).
Many racing fans have wondered about another speciality in Namco's racing games. In all its games, Namco never had much of a weather problem since it was always sunny. But now, Namco has implemented a weather engine in the game in order to simulate rain, and it looks extremely impressive. A mix of gray fog and waves of rain splash against your helmet when you're racing, impairing your vision, especially at great distances. When you're in first-person perspective, your view blurs significantly due to the spray from riders ahead of you.
As in the first game, you will have the option to change the bike handling from normal to "simulation." This is where the game will really start to get challenging. No longer can you accelerate in a bend without fear of devastating consequences. Handling becomes much more realistic, since the back wheel of your bike will start to slide to the side when you're accelerating too quickly out of a turn. If you're too generous with the accelerator, your bike will slide sideways until you flip over, as has often been seen in many TV broadcastings of the sport. The same applies to braking. If you race into a turn and then fully apply the brakes, your front wheel will lock up and you'll crash hard. All this gets even more exaggerated when you're racing in rainy weather. If you fully lean into a bend until your knees touch the ground, the bike will slip away, whether you're on the gas or not, which makes racing in wet conditions enormously difficult and challenging.
Various tuning options will also return in the sequel. Hobby mechanics can alter five sections of their bike, affecting the handling of the bikes. Elements such as tires, braking, and suspension can be changed according to your preferences. Visually, the game won't seem to have made any quantum leaps, but careful eyes will be able to point out more detailed environments, and a few new replay cameras. In the beta version we played, the replays still suffered from some clipping problems, where parts of the tracks sometimes disappeared and popped back in--a glitch that will hopefully be addressed by the final release. MotoGP2 still has a smooth frame rate throughout the game, running at 60 frames per second without any slowdown.
On the audio front, MotoGP2 will still use many of the sound effects from the previous game, including menu sounds. The gameplay music will still be a mix of techno and dance, and while it tends to be a bit repetitive in the version we played, the music still mixes well with the naturally frenetic pace of the sport.
Considering the fact that MotoGP resurrected the interest in bike racing on today's video game consoles, it's pretty much a safe bet that MotoGP2 will attract many of the fans of the sport. Whether the new additions to the sequel will be enough to warrant your earnings remains to be seen when the game hits stores. The game will be released in Europe in December. A US release date has yet to be announced.