Having been released as a launch game for the PlayStation 2, Namco's original MotoGP was a solid racing game that accurately represented the sport of Grand Prix road racing and successfully translated what is one of the most physically demanding motorsports into a visually realistic game--one that was easily accessible to casual racing fans while still maintaining a lot of appeal for hard-core buffs. If MotoGP had one failing, though, it was the lack of racetracks that were available--with only five circuits, the game's replay value suffered. Fortunately, MotoGP 2 has twice the number of tracks available, and it includes just enough other enhancements to make it a worthwhile successor to MotoGP.
Like the first game, MotoGP 2 boasts bikes, racetracks, and factory teams that are licensed from Dorna's 2001 500cc Grand Prix (GP for short) league. Anyone who's familiar with the sport will undoubtedly appreciate being able to race alongside Alex Criville from Team Respol YPF Honda or Telefonica Suzuki's Kenny Roberts Jr. on 10 of the season's 16 circuits. Five of MotoGP's original tracks--Suzuka, Paul Ricard, Jerez, Donington, and Motegi--are still available in MotoGP 2, as are five brand-new courses, which include Catalunya, Assen, Le Mans, Mugello, and Sachsenring. The overall mechanics of MotoGP 2 remain essentially unchanged from those of the original. This means that the three primary gameplay modes of arcade, championship, and time trial are included in this sequel. As you can probably infer from its name, arcade is a straightforward mode that gives you the option of riding for one of the many teams represented in the game against 20 other riders on any of the 10 tracks. You can further custom-tailor your race by choosing the number of laps, adjusting the difficulty of other riders, and fiddling with one of five generic performance variables for your bike--transmission, handling, acceleration, brakes, and tires--and that's one more than the original game offered, by the way. Another new option is the ability to select wet weather, which severely impairs your vision and handicaps your bike's traction.
The time trial mode is similar to the arcade mode, and it lets you choose from the same number of prerace options, but you'll be pitting your skills against the clock, not other riders. Of these three modes, though, championship is easily the one with the most appeal. Here, you can choose to race for one of three beginner teams across all 10 tracks in succession, as you would in the real world. Before each race, you're given one practice session to tweak your bike's performance to that particular course and one qualifying round to determine your grid standing before you actually jump into the race. At the end of each race, you're given a certain number of points depending on where you placed. If the total number of points you earn at the end of 10 races (one season) meets your team's requirement, then you're allowed to sign a new contract with them. Or you can opt to jump to a better team that'll give you a faster bike if you meet its requirements. The rider with the most points after five seasons is crowned the overall champ. It would have been nice to have the option of racing the actual 2001 16-race season as it happened in real life, but it would have been impossible to model the game's different team requirements with only a single season, since nobody switches teams in midseason. As it is, MotoGP 2's championship mode in its current form, as with MotoGP's, is more than acceptable.
Likewise, the control game is no different from MotoGP's. An option before any race lets you turn the "simulation mode" on or off. When it's off, MotoGP 2's control scheme is very simple, and for the most part, you'll be able to be competitive even if you drive your bike like you would a car. When simulation is turned on, though, the bikes become temperamental and overly responsive to any control input you give them. MotoGP 2 does a good job of modeling rear-wheel spin coming out of turns and front-wheel lockups during braking, and simply mashing the gas and brake buttons around corners is a good way of acquainting yourself with the asphalt. The game makes full use of the Dual Shock's vibration to telegraph loss of adhesion before a total wipeout, and the controller's analog buttons offer enough leeway that you won't have to tap on the gas or brakes while cornering.
The challenge mode from the original game has also made its way into MotoGP 2. Though all 10 of the game's tracks are initially available for you to race on in any of the three modes, you can choose from only 12 of the game's 39 total motorcycles from the outset. You can unlock the remainder of these bikes by successfully completing the 70 challenges, which vary in difficulty and include everything from braking within a certain distance to beating a certain track's lap record. While some of the challenges might seem frustrating--some of them really are--the rewards you'll earn by completing them are certainly worth the headache. That's because in addition to gaining access to a variety of new bikes, completing the challenge mode unlocks an option called legends, a mode that will undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings of GP racing fans. Legends mode is very much like the standard arcade mode in that you choose a bike, track, and set your many racing options before jumping into the actual race. But instead of competing against a field of 20 riders from the 2001 roster, you get to race against five of the motorsport's all-time greats: Michael Doohan and his '99 Honda, Kenny Roberts Sr. and his '81 Yamaha, Kevin Schwantz and his '94 Suzuki, Freddie Spencer and his '89 Yamaha, and ultimate champ Wayne Rainey and his '93 Yamaha. These five riders are more skilled than any of the game's other 20 racers, and they'll hound you around the tracks relentlessly. What's more, once this mode is unlocked, you're given the ability to race as any of these five legends in the arcade and time trial modes.
Bringing the entire game to life is a slightly updated version of MotoGP's graphics engine. The updates don't constitute a full face lift--it's more like a quick nip and tuck. The bike models are essentially unchanged, although the riders are composed of a lot more polygons and animate much more realistically than the somewhat stiff motion of the original game. Likewise, some trackside environmental effects--like reflections on your rider's helmet and bike's gas tank--are more apparent than they were in MotoGP. A not-so-subtle enhancement to the original game's graphics are the new wet weather effects. In fact, the rain droplets that mar your vision in the first-person view rival the effect pioneered by Metal Gear Solid 2. Unfortunately, however, the bland techno beats from MotoGP have received no such enhancements, and while you have the merciful option of turning the music off, it would have been nice if the game included a soundtrack that featured something other than mindless beats. Thankfully, the actual sounds in the game, including the whiny engines and the crowd noise, are well done and never get repetitive.
To a passerby, MotoGP 2 might not look very different from its predecessor. Certainly, only someone who has played the original game will be able to appreciate the new additions. Nonetheless, MotoGP 2 features more changes and enhancements to the original game than most annual sports games from EA or Sega do, and the bottom line is that MotoGP 2 is a great addition for racing fans who missed the original MotoGP among the sea of more popular launch games such as SSX and Ridge Racer V, and those who do own the original will certainly appreciate all the new changes that this sequel incorporates.