First Impressions: The world's best crotch rocket sim is coming around for another lap.
For some strange reason, motorcycle racing isn't a big hit in North America. Compared to the rabid fan following in Europe and Asia, two-wheeled racing is barely a bug splat on the windshield in the kingdom of NASCAR. That's a shame because little can compare to the sheer excitement of the MotoGP circuit, where slightly ? no, make that completely
? insane riders whip around twisty tracks at ungodly speeds, with nothing but air between them and the hard painful tarmac.
Fortunately, UK developer Climax has been letting gamers experience that excitement first hand for years with the renowned MotoGP series. The realism and thrills have improved with each iteration and from what we've seen so far, MotoGP 07 could be the most immersive version yet and further cement Climax's position as king of the motorcycle racing sim.
Taking the approach that you don't mess with a good thing, this latest version won't be a radical makeover of the franchise; instead, it will be an enhancement of last year's excellent MotoGP 06. The obvious updates will include a revised 2007 rider roster and team colors, along with the return of Italy's Misano track, which last appeared on the circuit in 1993. All of the tracks from 06 will return, including the Extreme street racing tracks which will naturally include a new Italian track to complement Misano.
So what makes 07 different? As fun as the series is, it has often been criticized for lacking personality. That will all change as Climax will immerse us in realistic race day excitement and a big event atmosphere by adding cool introductory cutscenes and something new to the series: animated crowds. Adding spectators may sound trivial at first but consider that each person in the crowd is an individual 3D model and that up to 20,000 people can be seen onscreen at a time, with a grand total of 100,000 cheering spectators around the track waving flags and setting off fireworks. Not only that, but some tracks like Donington Park will have jumbo jets roaring overhead while TV helicopters will buzz over Laguna Seca. These enhancements are designed to help pull you deeper into the experience and make you feel as if you're actually participating in a real MotoGP race.
The developers have also addressed another criticism regarding the game's steep learning curve. The series is a motorcycle racing simulator, not an arcade racer, and as such, the controls can be difficult for the pick-up-and-play crowd. For example, you turn your bike by leaning and the triggers individually operate the front and rear brakes. Knowing which brake to use and when to use it can make all the difference between finishing first or getting a serious case of road rash.
Fortunately, previous editions have made concessions from the hardcore sim setup by including things like automatic transmissions, one-button braking and customizable controls. New to 07 will be small visual cues to help casual gamers and newcomers handle their bike better; for example, during hard braking your rear end might start to fishtail, an indication that you should ease off if you don't want to lock up and spin out. Hardcore fans shouldn't worry that the developers are dumbing down the series into an arcade racer, however; make no mistake, the series is still committed to creating the most accurate motorcycle racing simulator on the market so the main gameplay and physics will stay true to the hardcore racer's heart.
Regardless of whether you're a casual racer or a serious knee dragger, you will be happy to know that the popular Extreme street racing mode will return. Using fictional tracks set in the real MotoGP event cities, Extreme Mode uses fictional street bikes that are a bit more forgiving than their officially licensed racing counterparts but are no less fun to ride.
Extreme Mode won't be separated by engine displacement class anymore; instead, you will be able to choose from 20 bikes that you can customize with even more options to upgrade and tweak your engine, brakes, tires, chassis and so on. You will even be able to customize your paint jobs, leathers and helmet. Best of all, you can show off your sweet custom ride by taking part in online multiplayer races. If you've got the nerve, you can also participate in the new Pink Slip Mode where you can race online against another person with the winner taking the other player's customized bike. Ouch.
As with the race tracks, the Extreme tracks have been improved with more detailed and interesting backgrounds, enhanced lighting effects and other additions to make things feel more lively and realistic. In fact, the entire game has been given graphical upgrades with increased detail throughout and much better draw distances. Climax assures us that all of these graphical improvements won't affect the framerate, which should clock in at a blistering 60 fps ? an impressive achievement considering all of the added background action.
Climax has also added cool new touches like track statistics in the loading menus and a detailed post-race analysis that not only shows your lap times, but also breaks down your performance on each portion of the track to help you identify slow or problem areas that need improvement.