When MotoGP was released for the Xbox roughly a year ago, it instantly became the definitive motorcycle racing game for the system. It accurately captured the excitement of grand prix motorcycle racing, and its blend of precise control, stunning visuals, and a challenge that could keep both casual and hard-core racing fans coming back for more made for an outstanding racing experience. The follow-up applies the standard sequel formula to the original game, making tweaks and improvements that make MotoGP 2 a game that delivers on just about every front a motorcycle-racing game should.
MotoGP 2 for the Xbox is a re-creation of the 2002 MotoGP series, and with the changes it makes to last year's title, the experience is a spot-on match. The roster has been updated to match last year's series, with riders such as Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, and Daijiro Kato. The track count has gone up to 16, representing all of the series' courses, from Suzuka and Sepang to Brno and Valencia. The 500cc two-stroke machines now share the starting grid with 1,000cc four-stroke bikes such as the Yamaha M1, the Suzuki GSV-R, and the Honda RC211V. The superb controls have been left unchanged for the most part, but the sequel features a refined visual presentation that manages to make its predecessor look a bit shabby by comparison. The single-player mode provides a wide variety of modes to play in, such as the quick race mode, for those who want to jump right into the action, and the stunt mode, which is an arcadelike game in which you pull off high-speed stunts to score points and unlock new riders.
The heart of the single-player game is the career mode, in which you create a rider to compete in the full MotoGP series. In addition to choosing a bike and leathers, you'll distribute attribute points into skills such as cornering, braking, acceleration, and top speed. Additional points are won by completing challenges and winning races, so if you're successful you'll have a pretty skilled racer by the end of the season. Each circuit is run in a sequence and presented as a two-day race event. The first day is for practice and qualification for grid placement, and the second is for the race itself. True to life, races are held rain or shine, and the lines you chose on a sunny practice day might be thrown out completely in the pouring rain of the actual race day. Coming in first rewards you with a highlight video from the real-life event you just competed in--which may seem like a bit of a cop-out at first, but the experience of seeing the same racers struggle through the same hairpins and chicanes that you just experienced firsthand really gives you a sense of the real-life sport's difficulty.
The greatest strengths of MotoGP's gameplay are its simulation of the operation of a motorcycle and its depiction of the experience of racing these incredibly fast machines. The operation of the game's motorcycles relies heavily on analog control, from gradually increasing lean angle as the bike dives into a turn to the smooth application of throttle to speed out of it. This translates very well to the Xbox controller, especially when the triggers are used to control the throttle and brakes. Shifting the rider's weight forward or backward helps ensure that the most important wheel at the time has the greatest traction--forward at the beginning of a turn, rearward when powering out of it. This simple yet convincing control scheme makes it easy to solve problems such as loss of traction, even a split-second before it would cause a crash. Like on the real-world tracks, gravel traps line the outside of nearly every corner, so you can't count on bouncing off walls to get through a difficult turn. Die-hard simulation and motorcycle fans should take special interest in the gameplay's scalable simulation settings, which allow you to select your own levels of control and assistance.
While the computer-controlled AI provides a lasting challenge for players, the most enjoyable competition is another human. MotoGP 2 features split-screen, system link, and Xbox Live multiplayer support. Players can even take their split-screen game online, so that multiple players in one room can compete against each other and other players over the Internet. Multiplayer modes include quick race, championship, grand prix, tag mode, and stunt mode. The last two, tag and stunt, allow players to score by performing stunts such as wheelies and stoppies, burnouts, powerslides, and more. The goal of the stunt mode is to get the highest aggregate score, while tag allows players to "tag" certain sections of the track by claiming the fastest time through that section. The game supports online ranking, so you can see how your track times stand up against all the other racers in the world, and, best of all, MotoGP 2's strong servers can host a game of up to 16 players without batting an eyelash.
On top of the great gameplay, MotoGP 2 features some astonishing production values. All 16 tracks were impeccably re-created for the game, and the weather effects, such sunlight glaring off the smooth track surface or rain spattering on your visor as you dive into a corner behind a pack of other riders, are enjoyable no matter how many times you see them. The bikes and riders are made of a large number of polygons, and they closely resemble their real-world counterparts. The animations of riders leaning hard into corners, tucking behind the windscreen, or glancing back as they pass are all well done, as are the subtler animations such as throttle manipulation and shifting gears. The four-player split-screen races don't look quite as polished, with some noticeable draw-in in the far distance and a slightly unstable frame rate, but the game remains completely playable, even when you take that four-player split-screen game online. The sound is pleasing as well, from the nasal scream of the two-stroke bikes to the roar of the four-stroke bikes. The sounds of plastic bodywork hitting and sliding against the tarmac and the wave of cheers as you pass through the grandstands are very convincing. The soundtrack consists of rock tracks from artists such as V8 Pack, Third Girl, and Darrin Roggenkamp, but if this isn't to your liking, MotoGP 2 supports custom soundtracks. Also, for those with high-end setups at home, MotoGP 2 supports 480p progressive scan and Dolby Digital sound.
In the end, motorcycle-racing fans will find very little to dislike in MotoGP 2. Arcade-racing fans will enjoy the astonishing sense of speed and need for lightning-fast reflexes, while simulation fans will enjoy the true-to-life depiction of riding a two-wheeled racing machine. The single-player mode provides a solid challenge that will have players coming back again and again to improve their lines and shorten their track times, and the solid implementation of Xbox Live support seals the deal on the game's replayability. To put it simply, MotoGP 2 is an outstanding game that belongs on the shelf of any racing fan with an Xbox.