Quick confession time. I pretty much know nothing about motorbikes. I know that bikers tend to refer to their helmets as lids, oh, and that motorbikes have two wheels. That’s pretty much it. Even though you can count my motorbike knowledge on the fingers of Terry Nutkins’ hand, that shouldn’t stop me from enjoying games that involve motorbikes. I mean, I love the Modern Warfare series but if you handed me a gun in real life, I’d be more likely to blow my own foot off.
Actually, that bit about knowing next to nothing about motorbikes is a slight exaggeration. One of my friends is a member of a bike gang and would often talk for hours about how bikes were far superior to cars. It’s just that my brain would shut down about a minute into the conversation. Whilst round other mates’ houses we would usually spend the night playing either Halo or Pro Evolution football. If I was at my biker mate’s house he would always be playing the latest in the MotoGP series.
After slowly wearing me down, I eventually started to enjoy and, dare I say it, even grew to love the MotoGP series. It offered something a little different than the usual racing games.
Whilst most car racing games (including the most realistic simulators) you could potentially pick up and play, MotoGP asked the player to really understand the physics of motor racing. You had to learn the difference between front and back braking and how it affects cornering, and the weight distribution your rider had on the bike.
Unfortunately, my mate moved down south a few years ago and with him went my interest in the MotoGP series, the last one I played being MotoGP 2. Well, after seven years (and a few more inches added to my waistline), it’s time for me to revisit the latest offering from the stable, MotoGP 09/10.
Well, it’s a racing game on two wheels and it’s very disappointing…
Okay, I should probably elaborate. As I mentioned before, I was a big fan of the last MotoGP games that I played and had high expectations for this release., especially as it’s the first that I’ve played on what’s considered a more advanced generation of consoles, those with either a 360 or a 3 after their name.
There are several varieties of game modes you can play: Championship, Career, Arcade or Time Trial. Championship lets you play through a season of races without having to worry about the more in-depth options that career mode offers (more of which I shall touch on in a bit). Arcade is basically Championship but with stages that you have to complete before a timer runs out (a lot like the classic arcade game Super Hang On, but without the rickets sufferer walk you used to get afterwards). Time Trial does exactly what it says on the tin. You complete a lap and then see if you can beat it.
If you’ve never played a MotoGP game and feel that, just because you’re good at Forza, then this should be a walk in the park, you should probably think again. As I mentioned earlier, the motorbikes have a front and back brake and they both cause different things to happen to the bike. You’ll have to get to grips with this if you want to be successful.
As I’ve played MotoGP before, not only was I expecting this, but was relishing the chance to get back to the skills that I used to have. I’m not too sure which game in the series since I last played this occurred in, but the button layout has changed and, in my opinion, for the worst.
Accelerator used to be on the A button, leaving the two triggers for your front and back brakes. Now the accelerator is mapped to the right trigger, left trigger still being front brake. The back brake is on the X button, which has two consequences. It makes the back brake seem less important than it used to be (it’s not) and makes the controller trickier to navigate.
The old way worked perfectly, so I can’t understand why it was changed. Add in the fact that the A button now is used to tuck your rider in and left, and right shoulders look behind and change view, and it’s like trying to pat your head, rub your belly and recite La Marseillaise backwards whilst juggling with your feet. God help you if you also want to ride in manual.
The bread and butter of MotoGP 09/10, though, is the Career mode. This is the simulation mode that lets you develop a rider both on and off the track. You first get to customise your rider, and by customise I mean choose your name, team name and what colour you would like your team to be. Okay, so there are a few other options as well, but in the age of games like Tiger Woods, where you can pretty much decide how many wrinkles you would like on your character’s forehead, this is a poor show.
You are then introduced to your mentor, a disembodied voice with a Scottish twang that, after his second comment to you, becomes one of the most irritating voices I’ve heard in a game. This is not a go at the Scottish or their accents and more to do with his condescending attitude and ‘no shit, Sherlock’ words of advice. He even beats MC Harvey’s craptasic commentary in FIFA Street. My advice is to turn him off.
The racing itself has an extremely steep learning curve. To begin with, you’re only let near 125cc bikes, and this goes for all game modes. To unlock 250cc and the pièce de résistance MotoGP bikes, you’ll have to prove yourself on the lesser models first. This is a wise move, as, just like in the really real world, going straight onto a top power bike will see you become a grease spot on the tarmac in no time.
Unfortunately, the 125cc bikes are bloody dull, and everyone you’re racing against seems to have a much better bike than you. You’ll have to push yourself to the limit (possibly with Paul Engemann playing in the background) to have even a hope of getting at least 10th spot, which is the position the points start at.
In Career mode you also get the opportunity to manage your racing team, which on paper sounds like it could be fun, but because of the way it’s been implemented is a pain in the arse. Basically, you get to employ a press secretary and an engineer. The former deals with your sponsorship whilst the later improves your bike’s mechanics. That’s pretty much it.
After most races Mr annoying Scotsman will announce that you have a new sponsor and you then have to choose between which one you want. With the engineer you select what part of the bike you’d like to improve and he’ll set about his task. That’s it. There’s not even a quarter of the tuning that’s available in other racing games. The money you get from the sponsors only goes towards paying your staff and employing a greater number of them.
It doesn’t help that the menu screens have a very simplistic layout, yet are confusingly extremely difficult to navigate. For a good half hour I was clicking, then backing up to try and get my engineer to upgrade my bike’s gears. I ended up ignoring the messages from my press secretary so I could get on with racing and try to move up in the bike’s engine size.
Also, on a very, very petty complaint, one of the sponsors I got (when I still gave a toss about them) was for Raccoon Bank. The publisher for the game is Capcom. Do you see what they did there? Yeah, well, it kinda devalues the realism when your sponsor happens to come from a zombie-infested city.
I’ll be the first to admit I exaggerate. In fact, I would say I’m the world’s biggest, but believe me when I say that this game is the most frustrating and furious game I’ve ever played. I’m not trained in the art of Zen, but I’m usually a pretty chilled out fellow, but MotoGP 09/10 nearly sent me over the edge and numerous times I had to turn off the Xbox to avoid it flying out of the window. Because you have to squeeze every little bit out of the 125cc, you’ll find yourself making tiny mistakes that can send you from second place right down to twentieth. On the last goddamn frigging corner…happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
Luckily, there’s also the option of rewinding. This works exactly the same way as in Forza 3 and is even on the same button. Whereas, in Forza, you’ll probably only use the button sparingly, in MotoGP it becomes a godsend. Trust me when I say that you’ll come off your bike more than times than Evel Knievel. In fact, most of the time I seemed like I was racing in reverse.
And then something happened. I actually started to enjoy the game. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this occurred at the exact time that I was finally allowed on the MotoGP bikes. The races became smoother and faster, and I actually started to beat people. My rankings started to move up.
Unfortunately, this moment of light burnt out far too quickly as repetition crept in (that sounds like a Joy Division lyric). Because I was distracted by my sheer determination to get the higher powered bikes, I hadn’t noticed how repetitive the game had become., stuck in a loop of practice – qualify – race, over and over again.
Whereas in other racing games the sheer variety of vehicles and customisation keeps you entertained, in MotoGP 09/10 there’s hardly anything of substance there to keep you interested. It was then that I cracked and ended up turning the game into Road Rash to try and see how many people I could ram off their bikes, and I don’t think that’s what the developers had in mind.
On the positives, it has real world tracks such as Donnington, but suffers when it uses tracks other racing games have also used, such as the Suzuka Circuit, as the level of detail isn’t as good. There are also the real licensed riders, which I suppose is something.
I’m still holding out hope as this doesn’t seem like it will be the last in the series, but there will have to be vast improvements if they want to avoid me waiting another seven years before playing again.
MotoGP 09/10 is out now for Xbox 360 and PS3 and is available from the Den Of Geek Store.