MotoGP 3 PC Hands-On - The PC Learns the Meaning of Speed

We saddle up with the PC version of THQ's upcoming two-wheeled racing game.

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The third game in THQ's heralded MotoGP series is set for release at the end of the month and, just like last time, MotoGP 3 is making an appearance on the PC. We've been playing the Xbox version for months, but only recently got a chance to take the PC version of MotoGP 3 out for a spin, and so far we're feeling positive about the game's chance of success.

The first thing you need to know about the PC version of MotoGP 3 is that this is, for all intents and purposes, the same game as the upcoming Xbox edition. All of the modes found in the console game--including both the grand prix and extreme mode tracks--are found in the PC version of the game. The similarities run right down to the menu screens, which are identical to those found in the Xbox game. You can't use the mouse to navigate the menus; instead, you'll be scrolling through the menu choices just as you do when playing the console game. That said, the menus themselves are tidy and well organized, so you won't miss the mouse much anyway.

A first-person view lets you experience the thrill from the saddle.
A first-person view lets you experience the thrill from the saddle.

So what will the PC game offer MotoGP fans who happen to be Xbox-less? For one thing, outstanding visuals. MotoGP 3 on the PC has the same vivid color palette as the console game, bolstered by sharp bike and rider models, as well as high-resolution textures all around. Even the backgrounds, which tend to look rather dull and unfocused in the console version of the game, come to life on the PC. The lush green mountains that set the backdrop on the Rio track, the Sepang circuit's gorgeous grandstands shaped like hibiscus flowers (the national flower of Malaysia), and even the teeming crowds that line the stands all benefit from the graphical power of today's powerful video cards.

Other touches add to the visual quality of the game: dynamic reflections on the helmets; dramatic heat shimmer effects on tracks such as Losail International and Phakisa; puffs of dirty gray smoke from the mufflers (coupled with authentic "hiccup" gear-change sound effects that we didn't notice in the console game), and, of course, that kinetic sense of speed the series is known for. All of these touches bring a nice sense of immersion and tension to a game that might otherwise just be turning laps on two wheels.

Graphics aside, there's always the rock-solid gameplay of the MotoGP series to fall back on, and it looks like the PC version of MotoGP 3 is set to deliver here as well. The game features both single-player and multiplayer modes. The single-player game, in addition to having a full set of grand prix tracks on which to race--a schedule that follows the real 2004 MotoGP schedule, by the way--includes the newly introduced extreme mode, which essentially doubles the number of drivable tracks that you'll have. By taking inspiration from the real-life MotoGP schedule locales, the developers at Climax have created 17 original tracks in extreme mode, some of which will feel quite different from the traditional race courses found in the game.

Sparks will fly when the third game in THQ's MotoGP series invades your PC.
Sparks will fly when the third game in THQ's MotoGP series invades your PC.

Though the original courses in MotoGP follow a regional theme (the Dutch course, for example, is lined with windmills), some of the circuits diverge sharply from their grand prix roots. The Whale Coast track, for example, is a mountainous but extremely fast circuit inspired by the rugged coastline of South Africa. The neon-drenched Tokyo course, which has you racing through tunnels and along urban highways, is a stark contrast to the technicality of Japan's Motegi GP course. On the other hand, the Hungarian course, which runs through the streets of Prague, echoes the sharp turns and stop-and-start variety of Hungary's Brno circuit. All of the tracks found in the game, whether they're real-life GP circuits or the fictional tracks inspired by them, are drivable online in MotoGP 3's multiplayer game.

Hang On

Still there are some essential differences between the more-traditional grand prix game and the all-new extreme mode. For one, grand prix races support up to 19 other racers, while extreme mode races will only feature a maximum of 10 drivers. And, where grand prix racing is simply about collecting race wins and racking up GP points, extreme mode tosses cash into the mix. For each event you complete, you'll be awarded some money, which you can either sock away to save for an upgraded bike, or pour right back into your current two-wheeler by upgrading attributes, such as braking, traction, and bhp (brake horsepower). Extreme mode races come in three flavors, depending on the size of the bike you ride: 600cc, 1000cc, and 1200cc. When racing in the career mode, you can choose to enter either grand prix or extreme mode races, where you'll be earning rider attribute points as you go for statistics like acceleration, braking, top speed, and cornering.

The game's already-sharp visuals look even better on the PC.
The game's already-sharp visuals look even better on the PC.

Customization is a big part of MotoGP series and that still holds true in MotoGP 3 for the PC. Just as in the console game, you can fully customize the look of your ride and your rider--choosing bike and rider leather colors, designing logos, even adding custom text to your creations to make your two-wheeled machine truly your own. MotoGP 3 carries that customization into the workshop as well--you have more options than ever before for tweaking your bike setup before a race. Front and rear tire compounds, gear ratios, wheelbase, even suspension stiffness, are all yours to control through the easy-to-use menu system.

One of the hallmarks of the console MotoGP series has been its intriguing multiplayer design, which has taken real advantage of Microsoft's Xbox Live service on the console. MotoGP 3 for the PC also has multiplayer capabilities in the form of LAN racing, direct IP connection contests, and, of course, the ability to create your own matches. Whether the multiplayer aspect of MotoGP 3 for the PC turns out to be as full-featured and engaging as the Xbox version remains to be seen.

Finally, a word about the controls. There are some excellent console-style PC controllers on the market today, and anyone thinking about purchasing MotoGP 3 for the PC would do well to invest in one right away. The game is playable using the keyboard, but like almost any other PC racing game, it just isn't much fun unless you've got an analog controller in your hands. Just as in the previous game in the series, setting button assignments for the controller (along with many other graphical settings on the PC game) is executed through the MotoGP 3 launcher, which is a far clunkier way of doing things than in-game menus. Still, once you've got your controller set, you'll be thankful you never have to turn laps at Catalunya using the directional arrows again.

A kinetic sense of speed has become one of the hallmarks of the MotoGP series.
A kinetic sense of speed has become one of the hallmarks of the MotoGP series.

From what we've seen of MotoGP 3 for the PC so far, we're optimistic about its success. If you're one of the few motorcycle fans who haven't yet tried this series out on the console yet, or if you're a staunch PC gamer looking for an arcade thrill, MotoGP 3 may be right up your alley. We'll have a full review of the game when it's released at the end of August.

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