Riding a motorcycle at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour around hairpin turns on hot asphalt is about as intense as motorsports get. MotoGP 3, the latest motorcycle racing sim from THQ, captures the spirit of the sport perfectly, with a full roster of riders and courses from around the world. This isn't a mere roster update, though. In the third installment in the series, developer Climax offers a more arcade-style racing experience with the addition of extreme mode, which adds all-new fictional tracks and riders to complement the licensed portion of the game. Diehard sim fans might object to this slight departure from reality, but it feels perfectly valid within the context of the game, and it's a lot of fun to boot. But if somehow the thought of zipping around 16 new tracks doesn't get your motor running, the 16-player online races definitely will.
MotoGP 3 is split into two distinct but complementary racing modes: Grand Prix and extreme mode. Grand Prix mode lets you take part in the 2004 MotoGP season, with fully licensed tracks, riders, and bikes. You can race against the best riders in the world on the 16 real-world MotoGP tracks, from the familiar Le Mans course in France to the new Gulf course in Qatar. All the riders, bikes, and courses are represented with pinpoint accuracy here, and for added authenticity you can unlock highlight movies from each race in the 2004 season.
When you play career mode you can create a custom rider and race your way through all 16 races in the 2004 MotoGP season. You can choose your bike and leathers, and even create a custom logo to slap on the side of your racing machine. Once that's complete, you're ready to race. Before each race, you have an opportunity to run practice laps to get a feel for the course. After that, you can move on to the qualifying round, where you're given 10 minutes to run the fastest lap possible. Your fastest lap determines which position you'll start in at the beginning of the race. You can't always count on the weather being the same for the practice, qualifying, and racing rounds, so you have to be ready to adapt if it's raining on race day.
After completing each race, you earn attribute points that can be applied to your rider to improve cornering, braking, top speed, and acceleration. These points can be redistributed between races; if you think you'll need a bit more on the top end for an upcoming race, you can pull some points from cornering and put them toward your top speed. In addition to modifying your stats, you can tune your bike between races. The tuning component of the game is fairly shallow, but you can adjust your bike where it counts most: tire compound for grip; gear-tuning for acceleration and top speed; suspension for stability; and wheel base for cornering. After you have your bike set up how you want it, you can take it for a test ride and even save the setup for easy access later on.
Depending on how you place in each career race, you earn championship points; the rider with the most points at the end of the season is the champion. How well you do really depends on your familiarity with each turn of every track, as well as the difficulty setting of the artificial intelligence-controlled racers. The artificial competition is downright pathetic in rookie mode, and even inexperienced racers will easily take at least a 30- to 40-second lead over the rest of the pack. Luckily, the pro, champion, and legend difficulty modes are challenging enough to give seasoned riders a run for their money.
The biggest new feature in MotoGP 3 is extreme mode, which lets you race in three different classes on 16 fictional street courses. You can race 600cc 2-strokes, as well as 1000cc and 1200cc 4-strokes, for a total of 16 new bikes. All of the bikes and riders are fictional, but they look and behave convincingly enough. If you're playing in career mode, for each race you'll earn money, which you can spend on parts, tuning, or new bikes. There are five different categories to sink your earnings into on your bike, and each category has three progressive stages. For example, if you want to spend some money to tune your engine, you have to start off with fuel mapping for $100, then move on to port polishing and engine blueprinting, with a $100 increase at each stage. It isn't especially involved, but it provides all the more incentive to keep winning races. As in Grand Prix mode, you can also tune your bike by adjusting things like gear ratios, suspension, and tire compound. Again, the tuning isn't too involved, so even the mechanically inept can easily figure out how to properly tune a bike.
The tracks in extreme mode are fictional, but they're set in real-world locations such as Tokyo, Barcelona, and Prague. These are all street circuits, so you'll race through narrow alleyways, city streets, or crooked country roads. Some of the races even take place at night. The courses look great, especially when you're zooming by at 180 miles an hour. The extreme courses are not only nice to look at, but they're also fast. These courses have fewer sharp turns, so you can keep the throttle open for most of the race. On the smaller bikes, you hardly need to use the brakes at all. Overall, the extreme courses are much less demanding in terms of technical racing skills, but they're still a lot of fun. And even if you're put off by the arcade-style feel of these races, it doesn't detract from the Grand Prix part of the game in any way.
Whether you play MotoGP 3 online or offline, you'll improve your seed, which is basically a skill ranking. If you win a lot of difficult races, your seed will get lower and lower. You start out at 100, and you can get all the way down to one if you're really dedicated. Your seed is used to let others online know how you rank in terms of skill and experience. When creating an online match, you can limit the seed range to even the playing field. This way, a beginner with a seed of 80 won't have to bear getting constantly smoked by someone with a seed of 10. Of course, if you really want to take on that 10 seed, you're welcome to do so.
The seed limit is just one of the many options you can customize in an online game. You can race any of the extreme or Grand Prix courses, with a full suite of options to adjust the weather effects, number of laps, scoring, and more. Up to 16 players can race in Grand Prix mode, and up to 10 can race in extreme mode. When you aren't racing, you can check the scoreboards to see how you rank among all the other MotoGP 3 players. It can be compelling to check the best lap times on each course and then try to shave precious milliseconds off your own times to put your name at the top of the board. The game also has optimatch and quick match options, which makes getting into a race quick and easy.
Aside from the new tracks and bevy of online options, MotoGP 3 just plays really well. The controls are fully customizable, and the bike physics are spot-on. It takes practice, but there's a simple satisfaction to be found in gracefully righting your bike after a perfectly navigated chicane or hairpin turn. You can really feel a difference when the road surfaces change--which they often do. You'll race on cobblestones, wooden bridges, and rain-slicked pavement, and if you stray off the course there's always a dreaded gravel trap waiting to swallow your wheels and slow you down. All of these effects can drastically alter the outcome of a race. For example, when the track is wet, it really feels like your rear wheels are about to slip out from under you at any moment. As a result, you have to modify your lines and ride a bit more conservatively to stay on course. The game is full of intense moments like these, when you feel like you're riding the razor-thin line between running a record-setting lap and taking a leather-shredding spill across the pavement. One thing to especially look out for is getting too close to the computer-controlled riders. If you tangle with them, you'll most likely end up eating asphalt while they ride on unfazed. Although the AI isn't overly aggressive, it's still frustrating when you get knocked off your bike at the slightest contact with another racer.
The production values are as high as ever in MotoGP 3. The courses, bikes, and riders look great. The frame rate holds steady throughout the game, and the lighting and weather effects are well done. The engine noise sounds authentic, and while the music isn't particularly interesting, it isn't intrusive either. The game also supports custom soundtracks, so you can race to your own mix of songs.
MotoGP 3 is the best yet in a series of great motorcycle racing games. With an expanded track roster, excellent online support, and tight racing mechanics, this is the game to get if you're a racing fan, no matter what your level of interest may be.