Ever since the burgeoning days of Xbox Live, there's been a MotoGP game to play. Long-time fans of THQ's two-wheeled racing series will remember that a fully playable demo of the game came packaged with the original Xbox Live kit. Since then, the series has built its reputation on its attractive graphics, challenging handling, and some of the best online racing around. With MotoGP 07, THQ and developer Climax have created another challenging and fun game. It isn't a massive leap forward from last year's MotoGP 06, but it will still please long-time fans of the series.
As in the last few installments in the series, MotoGP 07 is divided into grand-prix and extreme-mode events. Grand-prix races take place on real-world tracks, including the new-to-the-series Misano, and they pit your created rider against real-life MotoGP stars such as Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, and Kenny Roberts Jr. In extreme mode, everything changes up: the differently styled bikes, the fictional riders, and the tracks inspired by real-world locales. Extreme-mode races also tend to be a bit quicker and looser than the more staid grand-prix races.
Bike handling tends to be a bit more permissive in extreme mode; it's easier to powerslide your way around corners by double-tapping the gas, and the bikes seem a bit more stable. That said, handling throughout the game will still feel familiar to MotoGP vets: braking is still split between the front and rear wheels, you can lean forward or backward in the saddle to reduce or increase drag, and customizable controls will let you put together the control scheme that suits your racing style. One puzzling aspect of handling is noticeable when exiting out of corners; you'll often see the tail end of your bike waggling left and right, which is either the developer's visual emulation of traction control, or a warning system to let you know when the rear of your bike is about to go out from under you. Either way, the animation sometimes looks overexaggerated. Combine that with underwhelming rumble support during these tail-end waggles, and you come away with a mostly unconvincing effect.
Airborne vehicles abound in MotoGP 07. Jetliners zoom in for landings on nearby airstrips, helicopters hover low overhead, and, perhaps the oddest of all, fighter jets seem to be commonplace on both grand prix and extreme-mode tracks, as if many of the game's races are taking place in political hot zones. In some cases, these kinds of aerial details are accurate--Donington Park, for example, is located next to an airport in England, and those copters are ostensibly there for race coverage--but in other cases, turning laps at Laguna Seca while F-14s patrol the area is just strange and it ends up feeling more like a cheap attempt at adding visual interest where none is needed. Nevertheless, with active crowds on the sidelines and convincing weather effects, the game is for the most part a treat visually. Likewise, the frame rate, which had its dodgy moments in MotoGP 06, is improved this time around, although it's not altogether perfect.
Offline competition in the MotoGP series has always been hampered by a less-than-stellar artificial intelligence, and that's still the case in MotoGP 07. That isn't to say the competition isn't fast: in legend difficulty, you'll be up for some tight racing on practically every event you enter. Rider AI tends to fluctuate wildly in the game, especially in extreme-mode races. In some events, you'll take the checkered flag going away; in others, you'll struggle to finish on the podium against riders you smoked in the previous race. Opponent riders are mostly merciless in their adhesion to their racing line, doing little to avoid collisions with you or the other riders on the track. It's most noticeable in the starts, when bikes bunch up in the first turns. Get stuck in that melee, and there's a good chance you'll be kissing asphalt. As in previous versions of the game, avoiding contact with your fellow riders is always a good idea, if for no other reason than the fact that your rider will usually be on the losing end of any collision.
MotoGP's single-player game definitely offers worthwhile gameplay, from its flexible customization options for rider and bike, to a rewards system that lets you dole out race-won credits for rider attributes such as cornering, braking, acceleration, and top speed. But ultimately the single-player experience is designed to get you ready for the real meat of the game: online competition. In addition to standard player matches, the game also has ranked matches, pink-slip races (where the loser has to give up his or her extreme-mode bike), and a variety of online tournaments. Different tournaments have their own restrictions: one will let you race bikes only from Japanese manufacturers, and in another you can use only "streetfighter"-styled motorcycles. As the MotoGP series has progressed, the online opponents have raised the quality of their game, and, while it's sometimes tough to get a full field of racers together for the new tournaments, racing online in a standard grand-prix or extreme-mode track is just as exciting as it's always been.
When you aren't continuing your single-player career or powersliding around corners online, MotoGP 07 has other modes to keep you busy, including a cursory training that is mostly recycled from previous games, and a number of challenges tied to the various grand-prix tracks in the game. These challenges include timed sections, top-speed challenges, and single-lap races. Completing these challenges isn't just a method to learn the intricacies of some of these tracks; it's also a good way to rack up some Xbox achievement points. This time around, points have been spread a bit thinner across a larger number of achievements, including number of races won, number of pole positions earned, and participating in pink-slip races.
For the most part, the sound in MotoGP 07 is excellent. There's a good variety of bike-engine sounds, you can distinctly make out the crowd cheering you on as you pass by the grandstands, and even those seemingly ubiquitous airplanes sound true to life as they fly overhead. Which raises the question, why oh why would the producers of the game choose to cover all that authentic-sounding audio with a mediocre and all-too-repetitive punk-pop soundtrack that plays by default during race events? It's an arbitrary layer of mediocrity in a game that frankly doesn't need any bolstering up in the sound department, and you'll likely have vapor trails coming off your fingers as you desperately try to find the "music volume" option.
With new online modes and increased options for tuning and customizing your bike, MotoGP 07 certainly plays to the strengths of the series. Whether that's enough for long-time veterans to return for another lap depends on how much stock they put in things like online racing, a few new tracks, and an improved but not perfect frame rate. If, on the other hand, you've never played a motorcycle racing game and are sucked in by MotoGP 07's cool-looking bikes and dangerous sense of speed, you'll surely enjoy the ride.