Release Date: October 28, 2008
Discussing the MotoGP franchise can be a bit confusing because of the weird way the licenses were handled in past years. Depending on the year, the MotoGP license was in the hands of different developers, ranging from Namco-Bandai to Capcom. In fact, in 2007, rather than the MotoGP titles all being done by a single developer or one of those developer's offshoots, different systems had different developers. MotoGP 07 was released by Capcom on the PlayStation 2 and THQ on the Xbox 360, leading to two different game experiences with the same year and the same brand! Things have changed for 2008, however, and for MotoGP 08, development for all systems is in the hands of Capcom, allowing for each system to have a more streamlined and predictable approach. From what you've played, MotoGP fans shouldn't worry, since Capcom seems to be doing a fine job with the license.
The primary focus of MotoGP 08 appears to be ease of play. Even for a Moto novice, the game is very easy to pick up and play. One nice feature about Moto GP 08 is the addition of a tutorial mode that does more than explain how to play the game. As soon as the game boots up, you're offered a helpful option to pop into a tutorial, which even experienced gamers should accept. In the tutorial, you're thrown into a basic race, and various tips will pop up when you make a mistake. The more mistakes you make, the more tips the game will give you, allowing you to slowly adjust to the feel of the title without relearning things you already know.
Once the race is over, you're graded on how well you did and recommended one of three different racing styles: Arcade, Advanced or Simulation. Arcade is the easiest of the three, and playing in the Arcade style makes the game fairly forgiving as far as balance and handling goes, but also offers the least amount of fine control. Simulation is the most difficult and the easiest to end up tipping over with, but if you master Simulation, you've got unparalleled control over your bike, which can be the difference between victory and defeat in tough races. Most players will probably end up with Arcade or Advanced at the end of their tutorial, although you're not limited to whatever you're graded on. If you want to go for a full-on simulation right out the gate, feel free, but be prepared to take some tumbles while learning the basics.
All in all, the racing in Moto GP 08 feels pretty run-of-the-mill. There are no particular surprises in store for anyone who has ever played a racing game before, and for the most part, the controls are smooth and responsive. My only real complaint in this early build came from the brakes. I've played my share of racing games, and Moto GP 08's brakes threw me off for the first couple of races. Compared to basically any other racing game I've ever played, Moto GP 08 requires you to brake much earlier then I'm used to, and my sense of timing was thrown off completely. Even in the easiest Arcade difficulty, the timing is quite different, so unless they change this for the final version, expect to have to spend a bit of time relearning the basics before you can leap in to the more difficult control types.
Moto GP 08 offers a wide variety of available game modes, although nothing that isn't too standard for the genre. Quick Race, Time Attack and Championship are the most basic of the game modes. Quick Race allows you to take on any track with any racer, in any weather and on any difficulty and is a good way to just leap in and play. Time Attack challenges you to beat your own top score instead of other racers, and it's probably the best way to master any given track. Championship asks you to play through a number of races in a row under the same customizable settings as Quick Race. There's nothing particularly new or surprising here, but plenty to keep Moto enthusiasts busy.
Challenge mode is a bit different, and in this mode, you're given a set number of conditions and have to complete them in order to win the challenge. These range from the simple, such as winning a race in a short period of time, to the more complex. Among the Challenge Races we saw in the preview, one had the player thrown into last place on a wet track and you have to catch up in order to win the race, while another tasked you with completing a lap with damaged brakes. Each completed challenge unlocks further challenges, and with 50 in all, there seems to be enough to keep even the most skilled racer busy for a while.
The meat of the game is Career mode, in which you create your own racer and take him through the trials of becoming a master MotoGP racer. You begin as a simple 125cc racer for one of four teams. Each team has a different bike, so your choice does more than influence your paint job, since each bike has its own strengths and weaknesses. As you win races, however, you'll unlock new teams and new classes to join, eventually becoming one of the coveted MotoGP class racers. In addition to unlocking new teams to join or new helmets and paint jobs for your bikes, winning races also earns you experience points. Earn enough experience, and you'll gain an Upgrade Point, which can be spent to increase your max speed, acceleration, braking and traction stats, so you're going to want to ensure a lot of victories to make sure you've got the best racer on the track.
Once you've done well with a racer in Career mode, you can actually take him online via Xbox Live to compete against other racers. The Xbox Live mode looks fairly robust, with everything from class to weather being customizable. While the licensed racers are fairly solid in all regards, you're going to want to use a customized racer to ensure you've got the best possible character for your playing style. It's also a lot more fun to beat friends when racing as yourself than as Alex De Angelis.
MotoGP 08 seems like it's going to be a solid racing title, which should come as no surprise. The focus appears a lot more on being simple and easy for anyone, be it a novice or a veteran, to play, instead of introducing a bucketload of new features. The result is a very streamlined game experience, with a lot of options and yet nothing to completely overwhelm gamers. Even upgrading and customizing your riders and bikes are very simple, and it only takes a little time before you've learned how to ride, although mastering the three different control difficulties will take you a lot longer. MotoGP 08 may not be a particularly surprising racing title, but it is an all-around solid one, and racing enthusiasts and newcomers alike should be quite pleased with Capcom's efforts when the game hits stores on PS2, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC at the end of October.
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