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X360 Preview - 'MotoGP '06: Ultimate Racing Technology'

by Hugh McHarg on May 11, 2006 @ 3:50 a.m. PDT

MotoGP '06 on Xbox 360 takes all the traditions of its three Xbox predecessors and re-launches the franchise on next gen. Visual effects surpassing anything seen before on any race game regardless of genre will be met with new tracks, bike models, refined handling and Live functionality making this a truly fresh and aspirational title even for fans of the series.

Genre: Racing
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Climax Group
Release Date: June 14, 2006

Vim and Vigor

The diversity of experience hidden beneath the rather reductive genre label "racing" can be mystifying to gamers for whom tooling around a paved loop – modeled on a real-world counterpart or not – falls somewhere beneath precision jumping and key-collecting on the scale of exciting leisure-time pursuits. It doesn't matter if we're talking car or kart, bike or motorcycle, tuner or arcade racer. The varieties and possibilities are lost on many potential consumers who aren't already fans of a particular sub-genre before they even consider picking up a controller. What's left for a developer to do, then, other than pursue a chosen niche with vigor and a healthy respect for authenticity?

Those two qualities showed up in full force on the Xbox 360 version of Moto GP '06 demoed at the THQ Pre-E3 Summit. The Climax rep manning the 360 station described one of the guiding notions of the game's development as the desire to create a richer and more realistic experience – in terms of visuals and the feedback the game hands out as you speed around the track – than other next-gen racing titles, car, bike or otherwise. Project Gotham Racing 3 came up frequently in the discussion, as that technically and visually polished title currently reigns as the premier Xbox 360 racing achievement.

The vigor reveals itself first and foremost in Moto GP '06's visuals. The fidelity to realism was apparent upon first spying the monitor from across the room, even before getting close enough to touch the controller. The Climax guy was quick to dish out the specs – 25,000 polygons per bike and 15,000 per racer – and direct attention to the sophisticated shadowing that treats the biker and bike as separate entities, with the rider casting a shadow on the bike and the bike casting a separate shadow on the track. Even in a room full of high-end TVs, Moto GP '06 boasted some of the most striking graphics of any game at the event. For Moto GP fans who like their bikes showroom-pretty, this title is where it's at.

At the level of rider and bike, the amount of detail differentiating surface qualities shows what the 360 can do when a game forces it to get up off the couch. Getting beyond simple textures and into replicating the properties of "real materials" makes for the next-gen difference, according to the developer. Up close, red leather does indeed have a distinct look compared to the red surfaces on the bike. Tires have a sheen about them that seems more subtle than a harsh shine, appearing, as the developer pointed out, to absorb light as well as reflect it. Each cockpit is modeled individually, and the transparency effect shows off the game's crispness to great effect. Kneecap-grinding wipeouts make you cringe as the bike skids sideways over the track with convincing weight.

Pulling back to a broader perspective, Moto GP '06 promises a realistic, 30-mile view from any point on the tracks. Climax used satellite imagery to capture the lay of the land around the real-world tracks, down to placing individual clumps of trees in spots where green masses appeared on the snapshots from way up high. The stands are full of spectators, too, contributing to the feel of an actual competitive event. One of the slickest visual flourishes, though, comes in the replays, an effect that mimics the hazy effect of diffused light as you look into the distance.

As startling as it is, pretty doesn't make a game, of course. Moto GP '06 appears to make effective use of the presentation to enhance gameplay. In my brief time with the game at the THQ event, the sense of speed seemed impressive while staying within the bounds of realism, and the bikes shifted solidly as you slow down and take corners. Tire marks persist on the tracks, letting you use them as cues for when to brake and for fine-tuning your cornering. In an example of audio effects mingling with gameplay, the developer on-hand suggested that the sound quality is so refined that you'll be able to tell which competitor is coming up from behind to overtake your position by the distinct sound of each bike's engine.

Up to 20 bikes take to the tracks at once in singe-player races, and the developer promises a consistent 60 frames-per-second framerate despite the throng of competitors. Online, you'll race up to 16 other players. Xbox Live play is set to include a spectator mode and a commentator mode in which one player can mouth off for everyone's entertainment as the race proceeds. Tracks are split between real-world Moto GP venues and more of the Extreme tracks familiar to fans of previous Moto GP installments. Among the Moto GP tracks are Laguna Seca, Shanghai and Jerez, Spain, and according to a Climax press release, the game will ship with current 2006 race data.

If Climax's goal in developing this first next-gen appearance of the Moto GP franchise is to harness the hardware to deliver a richer experience than was possible in pre-Xbox 360 days, this first look seems to affirm their seriousness about pursuing that end. Only more time to test out classic racer issues like single-player opponent AI will uncover the finer points, but you won't have to wait long, as Moto GP '06 is currently scheduled to drop later this month. Nevertheless, from this first brief encounter, the package looks like a promising leap into 2006 for Moto GP fans.

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