MotoGP 4 Feature Preview: Online Play

The US version of this motorcycle racer will add the one thing the Japanese version didn't have: online racing.

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We last saw Namco's MotoGP 4 after last year's E3 and the game seemed well along in its development cycle, boasting a full slate of drivers and circuits from the 2004 MotoGP season, as well as a driving model that, while not as friendly as that found in the THQ MotoGP series, certainly had its positive points. Here we are less than a year later, and MotoGP 4 still hasn't found its way to store shelves. The reason for the delay, however, should please two-wheeled racing fans, as the Namco team has been hard at working adding online play exclusively for the US release of the game.

Online racing for up to eight players will be exclusive to the upcoming US release of MotoGP 4.
Online racing for up to eight players will be exclusive to the upcoming US release of MotoGP 4.

MotoGP 4 will include online support for up to eight simultaneous racers and, from what we saw of the game in action, it looks to be a relatively smooth, lag-free ride as you make your way around the course. The game will also support voice chat for all players in a race, though obviously that will require a headset. Options you'll be able to set before you take off in an online match include the kind of bike and engine class you wish to run (from the lowly 125cc's all the way up to the powerful 990cc MotoGP beasts), brake assists, the number of laps, and so on. You can also choose to toggle between simulation mode being on or off in online matches. With simulation mode on, the bikes handle much more squirrelly than on the default setting, and you'll need to carefully modulate your turn angle and throttle in deep corners to avoid messy wipeouts. On the downside, there won't be any ranking system for players online, and you won't be able to run online seasons. Still, the very presence of online racing in the US version of the game will give it replay value that a single-player-only game simply won't have.

Other aspects of MotoGP 4 worth mentioning include the challenges, around 125 of which will appear in the game. These challenges include one-on-one races against real MotoGP racers, time-trial races, and more-specific challenges, such as putting a specific amount of distance between you and your opponent in a certain amount of time. Challenges can be completed either in specific-challenge events or by running through races in season mode. By completing challenges, you earn MotoGP points, which you can use to further unlock MotoGP movies, new riders (including legends like Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan), and bonus tracks, bringing the total number of rideable circuits in the game to 19.

Sixteen real-life MotoGP tracks plus three bonus circuits means you'll have plenty of asphalt to race in the game.
Sixteen real-life MotoGP tracks plus three bonus circuits means you'll have plenty of asphalt to race in the game.

From what we saw of the game, the development team has put a good degree of work into making sure the bikes, riders, and environments are as authentic as possible. We really liked seeing the slight bounce in the suspension when accelerating down long straits, and the turn animations looked just right as well, with riders kicking out their knees under the braking before dipping into the turn. To add even more realism to the mix, the game will let you test parts in between races to improve your bike's performance in time for the next race.

In all, it's too bad that MotoGP 4 is still based on the 2004 MotoGP season, especially since the real-life 2006 season has already begun. That said, fans still pining the loss of Japan's Suzuka circuit (which was dropped from the MotoGP schedule after the 2003 season) will be able to race on the track in this game, while the online play should give them a reason to stick around for longer than they might otherwise. MotoGP 4 is scheduled for release this month, so expect our full review in the near future.

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