MotoGP 4 Demo Hands-On

We powerslide our way through a couple of tracks in a demo version of Namco's two-wheeled racer.

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The folks at Namco sure like to tease. We nearly broke a finger trying to get through the packaging of the first playable build of MotoGP 4, the latest in the publisher's long-running motorcycle racing series, but once we loaded it up in our PlayStation 2, we found out our demo only included the arcade mode and a pair of real-life MotoGP tracks. Still, being the two-wheeled racing fanatics that we are, even this limited content was enough to give us a pretty good idea of where this game is heading.

The two tracks included in this build of the game--Phakisa and Jerez--are just two of the courses that will appear in the final version, which looks to accurately re-create the 2004 MotoGP season. While composed of different layouts, you'll approach the tracks fairly similarly--both are moderate-speed courses with more medium-speed curves and few opportunities to let the throttle out in full. Because of this, the handling of MotoGP's bikes is apparent right from the get-go, and it's safe to say that the difficulty level will play a big part in how your bike gets around the track.

The demo featured the ability to toggle both simulation handling and braking assists. With both features toggled to off, MotoGP 4 bikes can be quite twitchy in corners. Apply too much gas, and you'll watch (and feel) your rear tire begin to squirrel out to either side; gun it, and you'll be eating asphalt as your rear tire gets completely loose. As a result, careful throttle and braking adjustments will need to be made in every corner at the higher difficulty levels. Your best bet, it seems, is taking the old four-wheel racing axiom to heart and doing all your braking well before you enter the turn, which lets you glide through the apex of the corner and hit the gas at just the right moment. Unfortunately, the demo didn't feature the ability to customize the controls, so we were stuck using the X button for throttle, which is not exactly the best way to feather the gas. Hopefully the full version of the game will give you the amount of control customization that hardcore two-wheel fans demand.

Nicky Hayden owned Laguna Seca a few weeks back in MotoGP's first return to the US in 10 years.
Nicky Hayden owned Laguna Seca a few weeks back in MotoGP's first return to the US in 10 years.

MotoGP 4 will feature four "classes" of bikes to ride: 125cc, 250cc, full-spec MotoGP rides, and a number of MotoGP Legends (which we assume you'll have to unlock to access). Bikes from well-known companies such as Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, and Kawasaki were all included in the demo, as well as manufacturers like Proton, Harris, and Aprilia. Each bike featured in the arcade mode (the only mode available to us in the demo) is rated on a four-point graph that visually represents each bike's capabilities in areas such as braking, acceleration, handling, and maximum speed. Some bikes, such as the Ducati GP4, score well in the max-speed category, while a bike like the Yamaha YZR-M1 excels at accelerating.

From a graphics standpoint, the demo version of MotoGP 4 has the colorful look of the bikes, rider leathers, and helmets down pat. Though Jerez and Phakisa are not the most visually interesting tracks to ride on, we did notice the requisite number of background buildings and scenery that gave a sense of place to the tracks themselves. The sense of speed is certainly more measured in MotoGP 4 than in some of its arcade competitors, but that seems like a calculated move on Namco's part, as we didn't notice any obvious frame rate issues when playing the game.

If there's anything that really stood out about the MotoGP 4 demo, it was the big, throaty sounds of the motorcycle engines, which sound quite authentic to our ears. There's a meaty growl to the MotoGP engines, for example, that's different from the whinier drone of the 125cc-class bikes. In fact, the louder you turn up the TV, the better the virtual bikes sound, which probably isn't good news if you've got next-door neighbors with weak constitutions or heart problems.

The helmet cam gives you a unique perspective of the track. It's hell on bugs, though.
The helmet cam gives you a unique perspective of the track. It's hell on bugs, though.

With the real 2005 MotoGP season in full swing, we're more eager than ever to play a more complete version of Namco's two-wheeled racing game. The game is currently scheduled for release in the third quarter of this year, and we'll have more information on it in the coming weeks, along with a full review when it finally hits retail shelves.

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