MotoGP 3 Hands-On

We feel the lateral Gs in our look at the latest speed-filled MotoGP game from THQ.

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The Xbox's MotoGP series has built a strong following among racing fans and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. With the first game in the franchise--and, specifically, the freeware multiplayer version of the game that came packaged with Xbox Live starter kits--the two-wheel racing series established a solid reputation for itself. The second game in the series, the aptly named MotoGP 2, was recognized as GameSpot's driving game of the year in 2003. We recently had a chance to take a brief hands-on look at the latest installment in the series, MotoGP 3, and what we saw left us eager for more.

The aim of MotoGP 3 is to closely re-create the actual 2004 MotoGP series, which means that the game features fully licensed riders, bikes, and tracks from that season. As such, the track listing for the game will be slightly different from the one found in MotoGP 2. Gone is Japan's Suzuka, replaced by Losail International Circuit (located in the oil-rich Middle Eastern country of Qatar). Familiar course favorites such as Mugello, Le Mans, Assen, and Catalunya will return, along with 12 other real-life courses found on the MotoGP race calendar. In addition, bikes will line up in a three-wide starting grid, a rule change implemented in the 2004 season.

You won't just be hitting the race tracks in MotoGP 3. The game also features fictional road courses from points all over the MotoGP map.
You won't just be hitting the race tracks in MotoGP 3. The game also features fictional road courses from points all over the MotoGP map.

Fans disappointed that the Laguna Seca circuit will not be included in the game--the California track makes its debut on the MotoGP calendar in 2005--can take small comfort in knowing that the 17 real-life tracks found in MotoGP 3 are only part of the track action found in the game. The game's newly implemented extreme mode will provide another 16 tracks to race on against 10 AI-controlled racers (compared with the 20 opponents found in a MotoGP 3 grand prix event). While the tracks in this mode are more traditional road courses, each individual track is located in an area that hosts a MotoGP grand prix. As such, you can run an extreme mode race in sweaty Sepang (home of the Malaysian GP), or zip past the windmills in Holland (where the complex yet deceptively quick Assen course resides).

MotoGP 3's extreme mode will give you the opportunity to both purchase new street bikes and upgrade the look and performance of your collection of two-wheelers. Unlike in MotoGP 2, however, you won't be upgrading your bike by allotting points to specific attributes such as top speed, acceleration, and braking. Instead, you'll purchase upgrades with money earned in the extreme mode. Whether you'll be able to quickly alter your bike's performance--as you could in the last game by simply reallocating your bike's attribute points--remains to be seen.

By far the single most impressive feature we saw in our limited time with MotoGP 3 was the sense of speed the game creates. While streaking down the long straights at Mugello in MotoGP 2 was a thrill ride, that sensation pales in comparison with the hyperkinetic sense of speed conveyed in MotoGP 3. Even when using the game's third-person overhead camera angle, the sense of velocity is tangible: As you approach top speed, the screen shakes and wobbles slightly, the riders blur, and the engines whine in protest, making for a thrilling sensation of momentum. The speed effect is far more dramatic than in previous games, and it has a tangible effect on your riding ability. For example, even on courses we were familiar with, such as the aforementioned Mugello, it was difficult to judge proper braking points to avoid sliding off the course.

MotoGP 3's sense of speed is difficult to delineate with a single screenshot.
MotoGP 3's sense of speed is difficult to delineate with a single screenshot.

Of course, it wouldn't be a MotoGP game without solid Xbox Live support. Though we weren't able to check out the game's online component, we understand it will support 16 players per race via Xbox Live and include an improved seeding system that will help you more accurately identify online opponents of similar skill level. Just exactly how this will differ from the ranking system used in past installments in the series remains to be seen. MotoGP 3 looks to up the online ante with a few new features that are aimed to connect the game's single-player and multiplayer modes. Thanks to the embedded online gameplay design, a player can now choose to embark on a single-player MotoGP career in the normal fashion, racing against AI-controlled opponents, or opt to compete in each grand prix event online against live competition, significantly upping the challenge and realism as you progress through a career. Two other online features, a spectator mode and a commentator mode, will further improve gamers' online experiences. With the spectator mode, you'll no longer have to simply wait in the lobby for the next race to open up--you'll be able to watch the current race as it unfolds on the track, and maybe even pick up some racing pointers while you're at it. The commentator mode will allow the race host to designate one spectator as the game's commentator, allowing that person to call the action as he or she sees fit. Those without online access will be pleased to note that the game will also feature a split-screen multiplayer option for up to four players on the same console.

Customization is another big aspect of this racing series, especially in terms of control. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that no two MotoGP players use exactly the same control setup. Some favor the right analog stick for acceleration and braking, while others use the triggers for these purposes. Some may prefer having the front and rear brakes mapped to the triggers, while others use the face buttons for braking. MotoGP 3 will once again allow you to map your controller to suit your driving preferences. It will also allow you to customize the look and feel of your bike and rider with custom paint jobs, logos that you can design from scratch, and a number of different preset helmet designs.

There's still a few months to go before MotoGP 3's scheduled June release date. From what we've seen of the game so far, however, it seems to be well on its way to being another strong entry in a well-regarded series. We're most curious to see how the extreme mode--which seems, at its heart, to be an arcade-style approach to a career mode--will complement a game experience that has up to now been firmly rooted in realism. We're also curious as to how the game's new online features will be implemented. We'll have our answers in the coming months, as our coverage of MotoGP 3 continues.

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