MotoGP 09/10 Review
The balance between arcade racing like Burnout or the upcoming Blur and hardcore simulations such as the Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series is pretty tough to achieve. This is particularly true when the selections of racers available are slim, as is the case with motorcycle racers. For those used to four wheels gripping the road, the transition to two-wheeled monsters is hard enough on its own, even with the forgiveness of arcade-style physics. In the case of MotoGP 09/10, however, this is much harder negotiation: is this primarily an arcade racer with sim elements or a simulation with some arcade tendencies?
It’s actually a little of both—something that’s instantly noticeable when you’re first climbing onto your bike. On the one hand, handling physics are definitely arcadey, with pretty forgiving (as in not-so-realistic) braking and cornering, and the ability to recover fairly quickly from a bad turn and catch up with the pack once you’ve got the hang of how your bike handles (the need to tuck into your ride in order to gain some extra speed also feels a bit forced—you’ll find yourself routinely getting passed by bikes going significantly faster if you don’t make use of it). However, that doesn’t mean the game skimps on the sim elements, necessarily. For one, even with the game’s somewhat broad interpretation of motorbike physics, you still have to adhere pretty exactly to the game’s racing line. It ain’t Gran Turismo or even Polyphony’s one-off two-wheeled racer Tourist Trophy, but this definitely isn’t a racer you can play without paying attention.
Similarly, if you do happen to screw up on the track, you’re most likely going to pay for it. MotoGP has some pretty merciless AI; go into a turn at the wrong angle or even fail to take a straightaway correctly and the other riders are going to pass you by without much effort. You can seriously derail a whole race in a matter of seconds, and god forbid you find yourself off of the track. At that point you might as well restart a race, particularly if you’re not used to motorbike racing games. Needless to say, if you can keep you concentration, MotoGP can yield some real nail-biting races. One false move will drop your rank by at least five, but muscling your way back to the front of the pack isn’t completely out of the question. This kind of breakneck thrill is where MotoGP really excels, and will keep you coming back for more—as long as you’re willing to put in the hours necessary to master its physics. Like DiRT 2’s rally, motorcycle racing is a completely different beast.
The game’s set up should be familiar to anyone that’s played a ‘serious’ racing game, but sadly that means you’re not going to get to play with the game’s real toys—the hulking 800cc class—without paying your dues first. MotoGP makes you cut your teeth in career mode starting from the bottom—the 125cc class—before moving to the slightly better 250cc class. In order to qualify for each new race (and in turn, each new class of bike) you have to place third or better, which, given the aforementioned vicious AI and back-and-forth nature of a race, can be pretty difficult in and of itself (this seems to be another clear sim element of the game’s overall design). There’s more to career mode than just racing, however. You have to gain reputation points during warm-ups and qualifiers before a race by performing well on the track (think NFS: Shift’s aggressive and technical racing point trees), which in turn will make you a better sell to prospective manufacturers and sponsors, who are necessary to gain new bikes as well as cash.
Money is also important for more than just personal gain. Another vital part of the career mode is taking on and managing a staff of press officers and engineers, all of whom demand a paycheck. In turn for their hard work, you get the ability to get better sponsors and souped-up bikes; at the same time, you have to keep your sponsors happy by meeting certain requirements during races. It’s a balancing act, as failing to keep your sponsors happy will result in lower pay, which then trickles down to a smaller pool of staff (you have to fire them). Thankfully, this is all pretty manageable thanks to a series of easy to navigate menus, although it would have been nice to see your racing team be given a little more personality than just a series of names on a screen. Aside from that, however, this cyclical system pays off in dividends depending on how well you can race, as more rep points mean the ability to take on additional staff. It’s a win-win situation, provided you can take the consistently take the pole position without much trouble (and with a good deal of finesse).
MotoGP also lets you play around in modes aside from career, but the more powerful bikes are still locked from the get-go in all modes except time trial and multiplayer, meaning you still have to work to get the most out of arcade or championship modes. If you’re the patient type, MotoGP has a lot to offer, especially if you like the idea of hurtling down a straightaway at insane speeds in a two-wheeled deathmobile from the comfort of your couch. Just be prepared to grind to see your work bear fruit and get used to the idea of a pretty straightforward approach. One nice plus: the entire ’10 season will be free DLC when the time comes. That’s a pretty nice addition.