Developer: Climax Group
Release Date: June 14, 2006
Everyone knows the old saying, "You only have one chance to make a first impression." If that were true for MotoGP '06, the two of us definitely wouldn't be dating right now. This was my first foray into the world of the MotoGP series, and it was shaky one at the start. When I swapped out Need for Speed Most Wanted from my Xbox 360 and put in MotoGP '06, I knew that I would have to change my whole style of racing and mindset in order to get a handle on the game. Think Gran Turismo, think clean lines, and think about actually using the brakes. Even with this being my new thought process, though, I couldn't help but want to throw the controller right through my new 50" plasma.
MotoGP '06 is a simulation style motorcycle racing game, period … at least, until you get through your first season (I'll explain this later). For someone who's never ridden one of these crotch rockets before, I headed straight over to the training section, which, unfortunately, didn't exactly prepare me for what was ahead. The limited offering of training events and instruction was definitely less than desired. I had barely achieved taking a lap within the allotted amount of time, when I got shuffled off to the big leagues with a terse, "Good job, you've learned how to hold a turn. Now go race around a track at 160mph, and don't worry, you'll be fine." You'd think a licensed game with top stars of the sport would have some of the athletes doing some voiceover or making a video appearance to provide instruction on the inner workings and strategies of bike racing.
Not only did the training leave me unprepared, but the default camera was also a difficult view to begin with (although I fell in love with it later on). The camera actually leans with the rider into the turn, rather than the traditional fixed view from behind. It reminded me of the autistic kid who used to stand next to me in the elementary school chorus; he was always bobbing and weaving his head side to side, which made it really tough for my parents to get a clear shot of me when taking their home videos of the concerts, but I digress. Granted, Climax does give you a nice variety of camera angles which you can utilize (default, close-up behind the driver, further behind the driver, three different first-person views, etc.), so I really can't complain about this. Personally, I found it beneficial to start playing with the close-up view that had no lean to it. You definitely lose the sense of speed you get from playing with either the default camera or the first-person view cameras, but it made a world of difference in learning how to navigate the tracks properly. Later on, when I was sweet and blowing away the competition (yes, I have an ego), I switched back to the default camera and was shocked at how much faster and exciting the game felt.
I've completed training with my newly honed racing skills, and I'm ready to start my career, but how do I stand out from the pack of 16? MotoGP '06 gives the player a nice set of options to design both the rider and the bike. I particularly like the stencils that can be placed on the bikes themselves. If you ever see a bike online with "Schlos" tagged across it, you better watch out, because I race dirty.
Things are looking good and I'm ready to ride, so I start my career in the Grand Prix, the meat of the game modes. There are actually four different levels of career mode that a player can compete in, but three aren't available until you get through one season of Grand Prix. All of the Grand Prix races are hosted on real tracks from around the world, and all are attended by the best racers in the business. All of the tracks, scenery, bikes, riders and weather effects look great, but it's when you finish this season and the Extreme 600, 1000 and 1200 become available that you really can get to see and appreciate what Climax has been able to do visually with this game.
Before each race, the player will have some options. You can either work on your bike (change settings for different desired effects), practice riding around the course, compete in challenges, qualify for the race, or just jump right in and go after the checkered flag. While it can be frustrating, competing in the challenges before the race is the best thing a player can do, as these mini-games test you on the most difficult part of the track you're about to race on. I really like that this is not a mandatory part of the game, especially if you just want to complete a quick race in your career before you head off to work in the morning, but it definitely helps you learn the track and gives you the opportunity to boost stats throughout your career. Each racing event will have two different challenges for you to try, and each one, when completed, will give the player a single experience point to increase either his cornering, braking, top speed or acceleration stats.
After banging out the challenges and dealing with the most annoying load screen ever (you will come across this all the time, it never changes, and it feels like it takes forever to load), you're ready to head into qualifying. While it's important to try and start the race in a good position, it's not all that necessary. Qualifying helps you to learn the track better and see where your competition stands, but if you learn how to start off the line properly, it's easy to get right to the front of the pack when the light turns green. Think Mario Kart, despite the fact that this is a simulation game.
Now all there is left to do is race. If you love simulation style racing games, then you'll love MotoGP '06. Racing is all about picking the perfect line, hitting the gas and leaning just the right amount into a turn so that you come out of it at the fastest possible speed without flying off the track. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of patience to get this just right, but when you do, the feeling is more than gratifying. Don't think you're going to get to this point right away; I spent more time sliding across the track on my back than I did on two wheels for the first hour that I played, which is why I hated this game at first. If you're more of an arcade style racing fan and can't pull Burnout out of your console, then this probably isn't the title for you, unless you're willing to put up with the Grand Prix races to get to the extreme races.
Once into the extreme race mode (Why do I think of Harold and Kumar every time I say that word?), the gameplay changes slightly and becomes much more arcade-y. The bikes hold the road better, are much quicker, and have the ability to power slide. You also get the chance to ride on some of the best-looking tracks to hit the X360; courses are set all over the world, and each has a distinguishable look and feel to provide a great variety of racing that will keep you wanting to progress forward.
Speaking of progressing forward, that's another little gripe that I have with MotoGP '06. Seeing the new courses is really all that was driving me to keep playing. It's a real shame that a title with such great visuals, controls and level design relied on that to keep the player happy. I would have really liked to have seen some additional content in order to vary the gameplay a little bit. It can get monotonous going through a season and knowing that with each new track you come to, it's the same routine: Do the challenges, qualify and race, lather, rinse, and repeat. It would have been cool to throw in some random challenge races, sponsorships, stunt competitions like there are online, etc.
Speaking of Xbox Live, MotoGP '06 holds up beautifully in the online world. Not once did I ever encounter any lag when competing in a race. I did however find a slight language barrier. The game does not seem to have many players online to begin with, which is a shame since you can compete against up to 15 other gamers in a single race, but a majority of the players that I have competed against and met while racing seem to always be from the other side of the pond (Atlantic Ocean). Racing like this has always been more popular in Europe and the online community here is a direct reflection of that. It's definitely fun to be playing with another gamer half way around the world seamlessly, but it's also a little disconcerting to know that he/she could be cursing at me without me even knowing it.
When all is said and done, I'm glad that I took the time to get to know MotoGP '06. The extreme sense of speed, beautiful graphics, precise handling and lines that I strive to perfectly hit every time I pick up my controller make for a nice addition to my X360 library. With that said, we might now be dating, but because of a few shortcomings, I don't see us ever going steady. The length, repetition and unusual lack of creativity for the load screen, the awful soundtrack (I thought I was playing Wipeout half the time), the limited variety in the career mode and the tough learning curve have insured that MotoGP '06 will have a spot in my little black book, but it won't be called upon very often.