THQ's MotoGP for the Xbox is the latest game that attempts to re-create the sport of Moto Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and for the most part, it does a very good job of doing so. Like the pair of similarly titled PlayStation 2 games from Namco, THQ's MotoGP lets you race against the sport's numerous real-world riders on a number of licensed racetracks throughout an entire racing season. It also offers a remarkable amount of replay value for a licensed racing game, and it boasts what's arguably the most precise control of any console driving game to date.
You'll notice two things about MotoGP the moment you fire it up. First, it makes great use of the Xbox's powerful hardware to produce some superb visuals. The bikes and riders are rendered using a high number of polygons, and the attention to detail everywhere is remarkable. You'll easily take notice of minute details like your bike's slotted rotors, the imperfections in your tire compound, the grooves in the asphalt, and streaks of rainwater on your visor. Additionally, your bike and rider's movements are animated beautifully. As you begin to pass other racers, you'll see them crane their heads backward at you. Brake heavily and you'll notice your front forks compress under your bike's weight. You can even see the riders working their left ankles while shifting. MotoGP also makes great use of motion blur to convey a manic sense of speed, and weather effects like rain, wet surfaces, and waves of heat are an impressive sight to behold. As far as driving games go, MotoGP is surpassed only by Rallisport Challenge, and even that is purely a matter of taste.
After taking in the graphics for a while, you'll then notice MotoGP's control scheme. For the uninitiated, the game can be played--and played competitively--using nothing more than a simple gas, brake, and steering setup. Like this, the bikes will handle somewhat like cars with a bad case of understeer, which isn't too far from reality. However, there's also the option of utilizing separate front and rear brakes on the bike, something that nearly all motorcycle games in the past have failed to make use of. The dynamics of using separate brakes has a very real effect on your cornering and braking performance during a race. Braking with the front brakes has a more significant destabilizing effect on your bike's balance than braking with your rear, though conservative use of the front will get you around corners faster than the safer, steadier rear brakes. What's more, using the controller's right or left analog stick, you can not only lean your rider respectively left and right, but pitch his center of gravity forward and backward as well. Leaning forward reduces your bike's drag coefficient, and this translates into improved top speed. Likewise, snapping your rider upright will increase drag, which will let you come to a stop quicker. No other motorcycle game--and few driving games in general--have offered this level of precision.
As with many racing games, MotoGP is split up into several distinct parts. There are five total, and they include the usual time trial, quick race, and career modes, as well as a pair of unique training and arcade modes. The career mode is obviously the heart and soul of MotoGP, but it differs slightly from the way that this option is presented in similar games in that you don't actually assume the role of an established rider. Instead, you have to create your own rider from scratch, and in so doing, you're given several different customization options that include choosing from different bikes, leathers, and paint jobs. You're also given a certain amount of skill points that you can distribute among four different riding attributes: cornering, braking, top speed, and acceleration. You earn attribute points by competing in and finishing races and through constant training. You actually use the same rider in training that you do in the career mode, so any attributes that you earn in one mode will carry over into the other. It's interesting to note that, if you're so inclined, you can skip training altogether, but since you earn skill points in this mode, you'll be more competitive in racing if you stick with it.
You'll compete against a field of nearly 30 experienced riders on 10 of the sport's 16 official racetracks in the career mode. So while you can't actually play as Max Biaggi or Alex Criville, you can test your mettle against them. Before every race, you're given the opportunity to run a few practice laps and then qualify for the grid. The actual race length can be changed in the options menu to be as short as three laps, or as long as the real deal. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, you will likely go through a single racing season in three to four hours. Thankfully, MotoGP offers a lot of incentives to play the game over again. Its arcade mode functions a lot like Project Gotham Racing in that you're awarded points for driving with flair. Do a burnout, and you'll earn some points. Pop a wheelie, and you'll earn some points. Complete a section of the track without hitting anyone or anything, and you'll earn some points. The more points you collect, the more features you can unlock--and there are a lot of features, including an 11th track, as well as several amusing graphics modes that add Photoshop-style filters to the game's graphics. You can also unlock new bikes, riders, and FMV movies in the arcade mode. Additionally, you can race on any of the tracks you've unlocked against three of your buddies on a split-screen or using the Xbox's link-up ability.
The game has an upbeat techno sound track that plays during the menus, interface screens, and movies, though it becomes all but indiscernible during the actual racing. The simultaneous wailing of 30 high-revving, half-liter engines will drown out just about any noise, and while some may find the game's engine sounds to be somewhat overpowering, the game is simply mimicking the rough sounds these bikes emit in real life.
As the popularity of motorcycle racing increases in the United States, so does the accuracy of the video game depictions of this visceral motorsport. THQ's MotoGP for the Xbox is one such game--while it can be easily picked up and played by anyone with a passing knowledge of driving games, its sophisticated control scheme will be appreciated by fans of the sport. It's the only one of its kind currently available for the Xbox, but it also stands tall on its own merits. MotoGP deserves a serious look from anyone who likes motorcycle racing.