Climax knows a thing or two about speed, but the team has outdone itself this time by delivering a new game on a new console less than a year after the release of MotoGP 3. The short development cycle is definitely apparent in that MotoGP 06 is less a significant step forward for the series than an incremental upgrade to the previous game. However, given that the previous game is one of the best racing titles on the Xbox, that's certainly not a bad deal for racing fans. When it comes down to it, MotoGP 06 is not without its flaws, and the increased price is tough to swallow. But where the rubber meets the road, this is still a great game that will keep racing fans coming back for a very long time.
MotoGP 06 has two distinct race circuits, the Grand Prix circuit and the Extreme circuit. If you're looking for a sim racing experience, you can race on one of 17 real-world GP tracks against riders from the 2005 or the 2006 MotoGP season. You can race these tracks in quick race, time trial, or career mode. If you're playing single-player, there are four different difficulty modes to choose from, although if you're a series veteran, you'll need to skip the easiest two settings and go straight to "champion" if you want any sort of a challenge. Even then, the challenge in racing the Grand Prix tracks comes from the tight layouts that demand a lot of technical skill when choosing your lines to maintain as much speed as possible throughout the many difficult hairpins and chicanes you'll encounter.
If the Grand Prix circuit is a bit too technical for your taste, you can try out any of the three divisions of the Extreme circuit. There are 17 fictional extreme courses in the game, and you can race them on 600cc, 1000cc, or 1200cc bikes. As the bike size increases, the tracks become more difficult because the larger bikes are much faster, heavier, and more difficult to control. In comparison to the GP tracks, the extreme tracks require much less technical skill and instead reward a heavy hand on the accelerator. These tracks are so fast that you rarely have to use the brakes at all, and it can be a blast to open up the throttle in the long straights and wide, sweeping turns.
Between the two circuits and 34 tracks (plus reverse versions of each track), there's plenty of variety to be found in MotoGP 06. It's refreshing to be able to go from a tense, white-knuckled GP race that will have you on the edge of your seat trying to whittle down your lap times one-tenth of a second at a time, to a blazing fast, arcade-style race around an extreme track that will have you grinning from ear to ear with the sheer speed of it all.
The bikes in the game all handle just as well as they have in previous Moto GP games, which is to say that they all feel properly weighted and powerful, and they're all a lot of fun to ride. The default control scheme works very well, with rear and front brakes assigned to the left and right triggers, respectively. The independent braking system is an important component of the control because proper use of the rear brake will let you powerslide around corners to keep your speed up, while controlled use of the front brake is critical in the tighter turns that require a bit more precision.
The artificial intelligence in MotoGP 06 is certainly functional. While the computer-controlled riders mosey along at a leisurely pace on the easier difficulty settings, they provide plenty of stiff challenge at the higher difficulty settings. Of course, the AI riders very rarely crash, and they tend to keep the same line throughout each race, but you don't get the rubber-band effect that causes opponents to unrealistically bunch up in some other racing games. You'll still want to play it clean, though, as the other riders will almost always win when push comes to shove. Even though the AI is a very rigid substitute for real, live players, it's certainly a functional alternative if you don't want to play online.
Each of the pro racers in the game has his own bike, with all of the appropriate logos and stats. There are 19 riders and bikes for the Grand Prix circuit, although many of the bikes are actually the same model but with different skins. The Grand Prix bikes are all based on their real-world counterparts from manufacturers like Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Ducati. The extreme motorcycles, on the other hand, are highly customized street bikes that are equally fun to ride. The extreme bikes are lighter and more nimble than the Grand Prix bikes, and they also feature much more radical styling. All bikes can be customized by adjusting parameters like gear ratios, tire compound, and suspension hardness. The extreme bikes can be upgraded with new parts, so you can tune your engine, reduce the weight, purchase better brakes, and even install nitrous oxide.
The crux of the single-player game in MotoGP 06 is the career mode. You can choose a circuit and difficulty and then progress through a series of 17 races, accumulating points depending on where you finish in each race. At the end of the season, the rider with the most points accumulated is the champion. Before each round, you're given a variety of options. You can practice racing the track as much as you want, memorizing the best line to take for each and every turn to ensure your victory on race day. Once you're prepared, you can move on to qualification, where you have 10 minutes to post your best lap time. Depending on how your time compares to the other riders, you'll be assigned a position on the starting grid for the actual race. After qualifying, you're ready to race against 15 riders if you're on the extreme circuit, or 19 on the Grand Prix circuit.
Returning to the series year are challenges, which are short events that require you to meet a specific goal in order to earn extra stat points that can be applied to your career rider to improve his top speed, cornering, braking, and acceleration. There are three types of challenges, and they range in difficulty from incredibly easy to maddeningly difficult. Some challenges require you to negotiate a particularly wicked section of the track within a set amount of time, and others require you to take a set of turns and then cross a finish line at or above a certain speed. There are also "follow the leader" challenges in which you have to cross the finish line within one second of the professional rider on the track. Overall, the challenges are a welcome addition to the game because they give you even more incentive to master the most challenging sections of each track. However, some of the challenges are so difficult that you'll likely have to try at least a couple dozen times to pass them, and after a while, riding the same short stretch of track over and over can get old.
As you finish races in career mode, you'll not only earn points and money, but you'll also adjust your seed, which is a score between one and 100 that indicates your level of skill and experience. Your seed starts at 100, but slowly gets lower and lower with each race you complete. Your seed is affected both by single-player career races as well as online races. When racing online, your seed can only improve if you beat riders of the same or lower seed, but if you get beat by a rider with a higher seed yours will actually go up.
The seed is only one example of how well the online game in MotoGP 06 is integrated with the single-player game. For example, in career mode, before a race you can choose to look for a similar race event online and participate in that, to earn the same seed and championship points that you would with the offline race. The game supports up to 16 players online for both the Grand Prix and the extreme races, which is an improvement over last year's game, when the extreme tracks were limited to 10 players online. When setting up a match online there are a ton of options to choose from. You can turn collisions on or off, choose to fill vacant slots with artificial intelligence opponents, and set the lap count, number of players, and skill limits.
There are also different types of races to choose from. You can run a standard race; a stunt race where you get points for doing wheelies and skids; a tag race where you try to "tag" as many corners as possible on a track by getting the best time around them; or you can set up championship tournaments. The online play is arguably the best part of MotoGP 06, and when you get 16 well-matched human opponents in a race it can make for a very hectic and very exciting race. In our experience there's plenty of competition online ranging from beginners to experts, so it's easy to find a good race anytime. There is some slight lag present in some of the online races, but depending on your Internet connection, most of the races run smoothly.
The visuals in MotoGP 06 are hit or miss. Some tracks look absolutely amazing, like the rain-drenched Shanghai track. In fact, the weather and lighting effects look so good that you might find yourself distracted from the race. However, some tracks don't look much better than they did in the previous game. You'll occasionally see some low-res textures in the backgrounds, and there's a distinct line on the horizon when textures come into focus. It can look a bit strange when the yellow center line suddenly appears in a road just a few feet in front of your bike. There are also some very apparent dips in the frame rate, and sometimes when coming around a corner you'll notice the game slows down quite a bit. In addition to the frame rate issue, there are also a lot of very visible lines that frequently appear onscreen where the frames don't quite match up. It's worse on some tracks than others, but when it gets bad it can look pretty ugly. The other very noticeable problem is the lengthy load times before and after each race. Some tracks seem to take longer to load than others, but they all seem to take a bit too long. Despite these technical hitches, MotoGP looks good, and the flaws that it does have usually don't detract too much from the racing experience. The bikes and riders look great, with excellent detail on each part of the motorcycle and each decal on the rider's gear. The riders do animate stiffly once in a while, but for the most part they look good.
MotoGP 06 sounds great, with appropriate and distinct engine noise from motorcycles, and familiar but decent music. Most of the music is recycled from last year's game, so don't expect to hear much in the way of new tunes. The motorcycle sounds are great, though, and the sound alone when you have a pack of three or four bikes opening it up down the final straightaway is enough to watch a replay for.
If you have any interest in racing, you'll want to get this game. The online play alone makes the game worth the investment. The upgrades to this year's game aren't dramatic, but the improved online play, challenges, and handful of new tracks make this a worthy upgrade. That said, MotoGP 06 does have its share of technical issues, and unless you're very familiar with the previous game you won't see much of a difference in this one. Regardless, MotoGP 06 is a great game with plenty to offer race fans.