Released six years ago by Electronic Arts, the original Moto Racer capably blended the two distinct disciplines of superbike and motocross into one explosive package and proved to be one of the first truly satisfying PC motorcycle racing games ever produced. 1999's Moto Racer 2 offered numerous new perks and even more options, yet it failed to deliver an appreciably better ride at a time when motorcycle racing was really beginning to take off with the likes of Microsoft's Motocross Madness. Now, with Moto Racer 3, returning developer Delphine Software and new publisher Infogrames have upped the ante considerably by somehow squeezing almost every conceivable form of two-wheeled competition on a single disc. From speed-drenched blacktop racing to dirt-encrusted supercross and motocross, trick-crazy freestyle, painstaking trials, and even a certifiably suicidal "traffic" mode, the game seemingly covers all the bases. Unfortunately, it also feels awkward and incomplete. In attempting to be all things to all PC motorcycle enthusiasts, Moto Racer 3 isn't quite as enjoyable or as polished as it could have been.
That's not to say it is not without its charms, the foremost of which is its stunningly diverse selection of racing alternatives. In speed mode, you'll hurtle through long and accommodating paved racecourses at breakneck speed, the wind buffeting your helmeted head as you negotiate wide straightaways and huge sweeping corners. In supercross/motocross mode, you'll bounce and be bounced over a series of sadistically undulating dirt tracks, thrilling to the inevitable air time you'll experience yet struggling to keep your tires on the ground, where they can translate the power you so dearly want to apply. As a freestyle rider, you'll use ramps, knolls, moguls, and whatever other launching devices you'll find strewn about the vicinity to grab the biggest air and perform the most death-defying stunts before the constantly ticking timer counts down to zero. In the trials mode, you'll slowly and meticulously balance and maneuver your steed over an obstacle course designed to topple you to the ground at just the slightest miscue, and in traffic mode you'll blitz through the virtual streets of downtown Paris, trying to outride your single opponent to the finish line without first being beaten into escargot by a frenzied Parisian rush-hour motorist.
If all this sounds like fun, that's because it often is. Moto Racer 3's physics model and track designs are simplistic enough for absolute rookies yet not so primitive as to completely alienate experienced players. Its racing parameters are extremely varied and downright exhilarating. Certainly the raw sense of speed of its traffic mode and the raw sense of flight in supercross/motocross are almost worth the price of admission. Almost. The sad truth is that from start to finish, Moto Racer 3 gives the impression that it quite probably should have undergone extensive additional tweaking before being pushed out the door.
Just loading the game is a chore. You'll sit through at least a half-dozen introductory animations before the first in-game interface appears and then sift through two or three more interfaces to get to the good stuff. Loading an actual event isn't quite so painful, yet exiting a completed race is virtually impossible without first tolerating nearly a half-minute of postrace pageantry. And should you decide to access user options, be prepared to endure one of the most unusual menu systems in the business. For starters, most important universal preferences, such as display, audio, and control setup, are accessible only through an external utility. Some basic preferences may be adjusted via a series of hotkeys, yet the really important modifications must be enacted before you launch the program. Worse still, all event, mode, and bike options are spread across an inconvenient jumble of interfaces that force you to clumsily shuffle between them just to view rudimentary information.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, which featured a total of 32 circuits and a track construction kit for pumping out even more, the game features just 15--three per mode--and no track-creation facility. Nor does it provide environmental, time-of-day, or reverse-track variables. When you race outdoors in Moto Racer 3, the weather is always bright and dry and the days never end. The lack of long-term championship or career modes is particularly bizarre. Each time you contest an event, you do so individually and with just one motivation--accumulating "points," which are then used to unlock new tracks and faster machines. You can't even use those points to upgrade your bike with a selection of fancy new parts, as no such parts exist.
The game's presentation is just as inconsistent. Its racing environments are clean and colorful with generous decaling, signage, track textures, and offtrack periphery. Its bikes are believable and nicely rounded where they should be, and the mounted riders move about in their seats to mimic their real-life counterparts. Smoke and mud pour from tortured tires, airplanes and blimps roam through the skies, and oddly out-of-place cheerleaders flaunt their pom-poms. Yet especially when compared with recent graphical showpieces like EA Sports' Superbike 2001, Moto Racer 3 seems all too average. Superbike's wonderfully realistic source-sensitive lighting is sorely missed, as is its intricate level of motorcycle detail. Riders in Moto Racer 3 do not gun the throttle or offer gloved fists to offending competitors, and machinery does not break apart or exhibit damage after a crash. Granted, precious few motorcycle games have ever represented their machines in less-than-showroom condition, yet the potential for carnage would definitely have been appreciated. In-game audio is only fair, with the highlight being the loud and whiny whirr of your own motor. Competitor engines do not scream with the anger they would on a real track, and mechanical and environmental effects are virtually nonexistent.
The most damaging graphical problem is the game's frame rate, which often chugged and sputtered on our Athlon XP 1600+/GeForce 2 test computer. Reducing the resolution from the preferred 1024x768 to 800x600 and removing antialiasing markedly improved the situation, although by doing so, we lost much of the clarity and graphic detail we would have otherwise enjoyed. And even then, the game slowed noticeably at the slightest hint of tire smoke and exhibited clipping in the speed mode.
Riding a Moto Racer 3 bike is, in a word, interesting. The only motorcycle game to offer such a diversity of disciplines, it demands that you learn how to control your mount through dirt and on pavement when entering and exiting jumps and while perched perilously on tiny obstacles. And clearly, some modes are superior to others. Speed mode, for example, is a high-velocity blast speckled with seemingly talented AI competitors who race smartly and go out of their way to avoid bumping incidents. Learning your way around the game's surprisingly intricate and effective garage facility is almost mandatory when you increase the difficulty level and opponent speed, yet there's no denying that this mode is generally geared toward arcade simplicity rather than simulation complexity. There's also no denying that a trio of tracks is far too few.
Wandering through the roadblocks and traffic of Paris is equally stimulating, although the streets are frightfully thin and the hurried motorists frightfully dim-witted. As a result, you may end up crashing so frequently that you may want to forever curb your city racing. Freestyle's big bag of tricks is intriguing not only for its serious aerial potential but also because it demonstrates just how realistically your bike's suspension system compresses and extends. Sadly, Delphine has positioned the default trick-producing keyboard hotkeys in such a manner that the really high-scoring stunts are inordinately difficult to perform without first growing 10-inch fingers. Thankfully, tricks can also be initiated through the joystick, although you wouldn't know it by checking the printed manual.
The trials segment, where you'll vainly attempt to balance and meticulously inch your bike over various obstacles, will more than likely seem like a curious sideshow to anyone who can't control their patience. Conversely, high-flying supercoss/motocross is a howl. Its assortment of venues is once again limited to three, but there's a lot of variety here nonetheless and enough challenge to force several additional trips to the game's exceedingly valuable garage. And certainly, you'd better learn the particulars of front-to-rear weight shifting if you ever plan to succeed over these wildly undulating circuits.
Moto Racer 3 successfully combines five extremely unique motorcycle disciplines into one convenient package and delivers a substantial helping of thrills and spills. However, it is not nearly as deep as it initially appears or as sophisticated as a third installment should be. Nor does it offer an online matchmaking service or dedicated server for multiplayer competition, relying instead on eight-player LAN and old-school Internet TCP/IP connections, whereby you must know your partner's locations beforehand. For these reasons, Moto Racer 3 may hold more appeal for motorcycle newcomers and younger audiences than seasoned veterans.