Release Date: August 24, 2007
If the genre of motorcycle racing actually existed in video games, Climax's MotoGP series would probably be at the corner of it. Year after year, the franchise has supplied a tight simulation of the MotoGP circuit that you literally can't find anywhere else. But has this absence of competition finally gone to the developers' heads? The lack of significant changes in the latest iteration, MotoGP 07, might cause some to say yes. However, hardcore bike enthusiasts will still find a very finely tuned racing game that may have not have gotten a giant boost in content, but has suffered no decrease in quality.
MotoGP 07's single-player portion offers all of the usual racing refinements with a quick race option and career mode. Career mode allows motorcycle aficionados who want to get their hands greasy the option of adjusting things such as gear ratios, tire compound, and wheelbase. If you're unhappy with the current setup, you can acquire new parts, or even a whole bike, with available brands such as Kawasaki, Honda, and the newly added Ilmor GP. The one thing about this wealth of customization that might annoy some fans is that the ability to purchase new parts (and bikes) is limited to an Extreme Mode career, which must be unlocked by first completing a regular Grand Prix season. It seems a bit odd to make the hardcore fan base wait for such options when many are probably eager to jump right into customizing their ride from the onset.
Before each race day, other events are available including the usual practice and qualifier runs. Also present are a couple of challenge modes (timed run, follow the leader, speed run), which can earn you extra rider skill points. Leading up to a race, players can also hop online to search for similar events on the same track, which can increase your worldwide ranking (or seed), but will not lead to any progression in the current season.
Naturally, before you take your rider and bike out to the track, you'll want both looking good. Cosmetic upgrades are available in regular season and Extreme mode, but it could have been a bit deeper. You're given a variety of shapes and clip art, but none are any actual company logos, and only a total of eight items can be applied to either rider or bike. This leads to that "custom player" look often seen in other games, racing or not, and when compared to the appearance of the real life pros, it just looks a little cheap.
If you're not into all that fancy customization or don't feel like earning rider points to develop your racing skills through a career, there is now a Championship mode for all of those with an insatiable lust for speed who just want to get to the racing. All 18 tracks of the MotoGP circuit are provided, along with 21 real-world professional riders (more of which can be unlocked through building your seed). Don't expect this mode to net you any unlockables, as regular offline races do not affect your ranking. Some of you keen MotoGP fans may notice that Ilmor rider Jeremy McWilliams is available to play as, but not race against, as he suffered a crash before the first round in Qatar, resulting in Illmor later pulling out of the 2007 season.
For the more casual player who just wants to jump right into a pro season, get ready for some punishment control-wise because the MotoGP series is about realism with a capital R, even when the "sim" setting is set to zero. The left stick leans your rider forward and backward, while the right controls acceleration and the auto brake. Individually, the front and rear brakes are controlled by the right and left triggers, with the bumpers functioning as gear shifts. You might want to just stick with automatic controls when starting out, as properly braking around corners is an art in itself, and they will get harder to navigate as you progress onto more intricate tracks.
Although MotoGP 07's controls can be labeled as hard, you really can't call them unfair. Racing these machines in an efficient fashion is a skill that takes some time to build, but feels extremely rewarding once attained. I promise that although you may initially be cursing louder than the roaring engines, you'll be tilting your head while perfectly rounding corners in no time.
The multiplayer remains largely the same as last year's offering, with four-player split-screen and up to 16 via online or system link, but it's a shame that Climax still hasn't squeezed in those four extra players to have a true MotoGP race. All of the racing modes in the single-player portion are available, including a couple of others, such as stunt and tag. The new addition to multiplayer is Pink Slip mode, which works a lot like the gambling seen in other racing games; it gives you the chance to win another player's custom bike or lose your own. In order to ensure players aren't risking the loss of crappy rides, the game requires you to have unlocked at least two bikes in Extreme mode. Personally, I've never understood the draw of wagering something you put work into, but I guess some folks just like to have something riding on the match.
One thing we can all agree on, bike fan or not, is the sheer beauty of the MotoGP series, and 2007's entry is no different in terms of graphics. All of the bikes look sharper than last year's title, and once you see the way the lighting makes these babies shine, you'll want to sit through every replay, even if you came in last. Prior to each race, a cinematic showing 3-D crowds pops up, but it's easily the ugliest part of the game. With low-resolution models and a very rough, dark look, you'll think it came from a completely different game. The environments and tracks all look colorful and detailed (don't forget to check out that high-definition asphalt), but we all know that the bikes are the real stars.
They all sound just about as good as they look too, with realistic rumbles that are distinct to the models they represent. I can't say that any of the North American players will be jazzed about the soundtrack, featuring Loui, Killick, Carter Brown and other varying rock tracks that you've probably never heard of. The music isn't bad by any means, but I did find that the same songs were being played a little too frequently, particularly in Championship mode, so even those better tunes might start to get on your nerves. Good thing for custom tracks on the X360.
So has the MotoGP series gotten any better? Not much. Any worse? Heck no! Sure, there are some new features, but they come down to things we've seen many times before (Pink Slip racing) or something that should have already been in the series (Championship mode). The title makes a few concessions for casual players, but the requirement of playing a whole season before unlocking Extreme mode just seems like a slap in the face to all of the seasoned MotoGP fans who want the tuning and buying to begin from the get-go.
Like a bike enthusiast's appreciation for every finely tuned nuance of his machine, the same gratitude will most likely be extended to MotoGP 07. As it stands in the racing genre in general, the additions to the game haven't exactly caused the series to shift to a whole new gear or reach a much higher speed. Climax can take their time, though, right? It's not as if anyone else is in the race.