MotoGP might be a mystery to most North Americans, but the sport is very real in other areas of the world. When it comes to measuring who's the best at racing some of the fastest motorcycles on the planet, one can't go any higher. Sadly, the MotoGP video games have recently faltered at representing the excitement and prestige of the sport. One of the most important changes in this year's title is the downloadable updates from the new 2010 season, a first for the series. Whether the planned future DLC will be success remains to be seen, but for now, MotoGP 09/10 stands as yet another mediocre racing game.
One issue that's been plaguing the series is a simple lack of presentation. At the start of each race, there's hardly any footage of riders going through preparations as the infamously cute paddock girls keep them out of the sun with their umbrellas. All we get is a short cut scene from the perspective from inside the rider's helmet, and it shows the same thing every single time.
It's all rather dry, and for some reason, superstars like six-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi have no extended presence in the game. Even lending a voice would have added some much-needed personality. Being physically present at a race where motorcycles reach top speeds of 200 miles per hour has to be more exciting than this.
The core racing plays mostly the same as past games, which is a bit of a downer considering the feel of the bike hasn't evolved a great deal. Players have to take corners with smart braking adjustments and use the slipstream of air left behind a speeding opponent to catch up. One of the first additions that will catch the player's eye is the racing line.
It charts out a pathway and marks the best route to handle corners, and it changes color when the bike is coming up too quickly. The line is a nice cushion for those who are not familiar with the unforgivable nature of racing sims, this one being no different. As for the experienced MotoGP vets who may not want the intrusion of a handicap, the line can be switched off at any time.
The other new tool for newbie players is the second chance system. It allows players to rewind time for a few moments, erasing the existence of any bad crashes that would normally be a first-class ticket to last place. The only problem is that players are penalized for using second chance through the game's reputation system. Punishing people for using a feature that's advertised as a helping hand for novices just seems a little contradictory.
The dynamic reputation system is a large part of what differentiates MotoGP 09/10 from others. Whatever happens on the track will have consequences on how a rider is viewed off of it. This can have both good and bad repercussions in the game's career mode. Positive rep can be earned by passing opponents or popping wheelies, while negative rep will result from crashing into other riders or veering off the track.
For some added rep points, random challenges will pop up during a race. These tasks involve staying close to the racing line or intimidating another player with physical gestures by hitting the d-pad. The challenges make for some nice variety, so it's not always just about doing lap after lap, but they hardly ever happen. On average, a challenge will only occur once or twice during an entire three-lap race. Overall, the rep system gives the career mode a lot more substance in this year's game as opposed to others.
It's not just about you, the rider. An entire team of staff members needs to be assembled to achieve success on the track. Engineers increase the bike's performance, while press officers seek out better sponsorship deals. The more rep earned, the more high-profile staff members can be added to a team. The responsibility of having to meet sponsorship requirements and pay staff salaries helps to make it feel like there's something on the line. Doing poorly in races and losing sponsorship deals will mean having to lay off staff.
One issue with managing a career in MotoGP 09/10 is the bike customization. While research options like increasing brake power and engine performance are found in the career menu, other adjustments are not. Tweaking tire compounds and gear ratios has to be done in the menus after a race has been selected. It's fragmented and would be more organized if every bike attribute could be managed in one virtual garage.
Aside from career mode, all of the staple racing modes are accounted for. Championship lets players take unlockable riders like Casey Stoner or Jorge Lorenzo through a regular season. There are no reputation or career concerns here, just racing. Time Trial lets players download ghosts from leaderboards to compete for the best lap times. The racing line even makes a difference when it comes to player ghosts. Any ghost comes with that player's racing line, so it's possible to trace the steps of the best riders and see how they achieved the top times.
The manual for MotoGP 09/10 claims the game has an improved online multiplayer system, where more time is spent racing instead of sitting in menus. This just might be the biggest typo of all time. Frankly, the online portion of MotoGP 09/10 is a dinosaur. The lobby system feels arcane thanks to the lack of any party options. You'll spend a lot of time in purgatory there, too, waiting for one race to be over before a new one can be joined.
Strangely, the reputation and in-race challenge system is nowhere to be found online. Having the ability to earn reputation points online by competing in minichallenges with real players would have made for a lively addition to the multiplayer. Instead, all that's here is bread-and-butter racing. In today's online games, where having a persistent reputation is such a common feature (like Modern Warfare 2's ranking system), it feels wrong to have nothing. The player count has been boosted from 12 players to 20, and most of the matches ran smoothly. However, just being able to function isn't quite enough for any online game, and MotoGP 09/10's online play is nearing last place in terms of features.
As mentioned earlier, MotoGP 09/10 still isn't packing the polish in terms of presentation, and this ties right into the graphics. The environments and bike models are bland and don't really pop. From looking at the rider animations, one would think most MotoGP racers have severe back problems. All of their movements, like leaning when turning corners, are stiff and unrealistic. It's also worth mentioning that the entire game menu system is pretty ugly and not very inviting to navigate. Given the status of the visuals in other racing games, MotoGP 09/10 is lagging behind.
One integral part of the game that can't be critiqued yet is the updates, which will occur over the course of the 2010 season. So far, Capcom has announced two DLC packs that will feature new bike classes (800cc and 125cc) and two new tracks (Silverstone, UK and Balatonring, Hungary). The first two updates will be free, but there's no news on whether other downloads will cost any money.
MotoGP 09/10's racing mechanic still hasn't grown significantly, and many surrounding features, such as the multiplayer, are severely unpolished. Hardcore MotoGP fans will be able to sustain themselves on the more in-depth career mode, but anyone else will get bored fast. That's partly because the culture and excitement of the sport just isn't here. Even though the series took a year off for some fine tuning, it's clear that the extra time wasn't used to create a higher quality representation of MotoGP racing.
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