MotoGP 2 impressions

We check out the latest build of THQ and Climax's motorcycle racing sequel. New screens inside.

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At a press event in the UK earlier today, representatives from Climax were showing off the latest build of MotoGP 2--the sequel to the motorcycle racing game currently being enjoyed by thousands of players on Xbox Live. Online play will unsurprisingly play a large part in MotoGP 2, and one of the first features pointed out to us by Climax programmer Peter Primley today was that even when playing the game solo, you will automatically be logged on to Xbox Live so that you can receive game invites from friends.

As we've reported previously, MotoGP 2 will feature updated stats for the 2002 season, and whereas MotoGP featured only 10 of the 16 tracks that make up a full MotoGP season, the sequel will feature all of them. In keeping with changes made to the sport, the game's 22 real-life riders will now ride a mixture of the 500cc two-stroke bikes found in the original game and the 1000cc four-stroke bikes that now compete alongside them. The differences between the two types will be quite pronounced, with the new 1000cc models boasting greater top speeds but less impressive acceleration and handling.

The most noticeable improvements in MotoGP 2 are in the visuals. The bikes in the game are particularly impressive, because despite the fact that they each now consist of around 4,000 polygons as opposed to 6,000, they're much more detailed and feature, for example, accurately modeled air vents rather than relying on textures to give the impression that they do. The bikes in MotoGP 2 also boast higher-resolution textures with sponsorship logos that are far easier to make out than those in the original game. More impressive still is that Climax is one of the first Xbox developers to employ a technique known as Fresnel Lighting to make the models look even more realistic by doing away with exaggerated environment mapping on reflective surfaces. It's still possible to see reflections of the surrounding area on the bodywork of the bikes, but the new technique means that when you're looking at a panel that's flat in front of you, the effect is more subtle and only becomes exaggerated when the panel is viewed from a narrow angle. As if that weren't enough, you will also be afforded more freedom than ever before when you decide to customize your own bike for use in the game's online and career modes. Rather than selecting a preset design and merely being able to change the colors around, you will be able to create your own designs from scratch using eight layers of geometric shapes and text. There will also be a number of new options that will allow you to tweak your bike's performance, including the options to alter the wheelbase length, suspension, and tires.

The improvements that Climax has made to the circuits in MotoGP 2 are every bit as impressive as those made to the bikes racing on them, and while many of them are visual, Climax is also putting a lot of effort into ensuring that unscrupulous Live players aren't able to take illegal shortcuts or record lap times of around three seconds by crashing in certain positions, which they're currently able to do. The most obvious additions to all of the circuits in the game--aside from the realistic textures, additional trackside objects, and details such as skid marks and oil patches--are the walls that now flank the track in areas where illegal shortcuts might otherwise be possible. The walls aren't at all unsightly and will in no way interfere with the racing of anyone playing the game as it should be played--just those who try to cheat or stray a little too far from the racing line in a moment of madness. Players who spend too much time on the grass during a race, even if it's accidental, will find that their time doesn't get recorded.

Anyone who's played MotoGP on Xbox Live for any length of time will know that races can be ruined not only by players taking shortcuts, but also by those who find it amusing to race backward or park their bike across the track. Thankfully, Climax is aware of this, and while it doesn't wish to stop players from racing backward if that's how they want to get their kicks, the company's implementing new features that should make it much more difficult for jokers to ruin races for everyone else. Turning collisions off entirely has never really been an acceptable option, given that even the most proficient racers come together once in a while, so Climax has now included a feature whereby players who are clearly not racing properly (as determined by their direction and time spent on the grass) will automatically be relegated to ghost status, rendering them unable to collide with other players.

Aside from the online issues, Climax has also taken the trouble to address the MotoGP problem of players being able to significantly upgrade their bikes in the game's training mode before even attempting their first full race. In the sequel, around 14 training challenges will be available at the start of the game, but to further upgrade your bike you will need to unlock the remaining challenges at a rate of three per circuit as you progress through your first Grand Prix season.

MotoGP 2 is currently scheduled for release before the end of June. For more information on the game, which is also in development for the PC, check out our previous coverage.

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