It is amusing to me that in the annals of video gaming, racing games based on actual world series events don’t do very well critically or commercially. If you take a look at the top selling racing games across generations, they have usually been fictional amalgamations of a variety of racing classes encompassing a wide range of vehicles.
And it’s not that bestsellers are arcade games that eschew the true sim experience in favour of fun and easy to access gameplay, as can be testified by the roaring success of the Gran Turismo and the Forza Motorsport series. Even in an arcade tilted series like Need for Speed, most critics hail Porsche Unleashed as the one of the best games in the series.
So why is it that games based on best in class real world racing series like Formula 1 and MotoGP don’t do so well? It could be partly because the two largest video gaming markets in the world, the USA and Japan, are not as into F1 and MotoGP as more homegrown series like NASCAR, Formula Nippon or the underground street racing scene in Japan. Or it could be because very few of the games based on these championships have actually delivered a fun experience of racing in these classes of competition, either because they have been too realistic to appease the newbies or too simplified to cater to the hardcore.
Striking a balance has always been a key factor of success, at least critically and only a few games standout as worthy simulations, examples being Grand Prix Legends, F1 2000 on the PC and MotoGP 07 on the PS2. Till 2008, the responsibility of publishing games based on the MotoGP series had rested on two shoulders. Capcom published the game for the PS2 in association with the development house Milestone, while THQ developed games for the Xbox, Xbox 360 and PC in association with the development house Climax Studios.
For 2008, all rights for all platforms have been given to Capcom. The Capcom published titles have earned a reputation for being more realistic and a better simulator than the arcadey THQ titles. I loved MotoGP 07 on the PS2 and consider it as the best motorcycle racing sim I’ve ever played thanks to its almost inch perfect simulation of biking physics right from separate front and rear braking to weight shifting due to rider leaning on the bike. Understandably, I was very excited to hear about Capcom’s exclusive rights for the present season and was eagerly looking forward to the game. I wanted to see what the Capcom-Milestone combine could do with the new hardware at their disposal.
MotoGP 08 is a fun title with a few niggles. The game features the full suite of game options – single race, time attack, career, etc. and adds some twists such as the challenges mode, where you complete a series of challenges to earn points and unlock achievements. It also has online multiplayer through Xbox LIVE. In addition to this, and a first for the series, it also includes the option to race in the junior categories, the 125cc and 250cc classes.
For newbies, it is highly recommended that you move up through the classes during the course of the game as the learning curve in the MotoGP class, though not quite as steep as last year’s PS2 release, is still daunting enough to turn you off after you’ve had your 57th lowside. The Career mode is the best part of the game, but suffers from some glaring flaws. It lasts just five seasons and the difficulty level cannot be adjusted at any time during the five seasons. You are allowed to tweak and upgrade your bike during your career so in most cases, you will end up smoking the competition by the time you are into your third season in all but the highest difficulty setting.
The full field of riders from the 2008 season is present in all classes with authentic team names and race colours. All the tracks from the 2008 season make an appearance as well and it’s an incredible experience to recreate the first night race in MotoGP at the Losail circuit in Qatar. You can choose from three riding models, Arcade at the easy end and Simulation at the tough end with Advanced providing an acceptable compromise between the two opposites. I chose advanced during my playthrough.
While MotoGP 07 boasted of a very accurate driving model, 08’s driving physics seems to be a bit wonky. While bike handling is pretty accurate, the riders behave like metronomes, each one accurately sticking to the racing line at all times like they are on rails and failing to deviate even when you get into the mix and try to throw them off.
The advanced mode is pretty challenging with the emphasis being on proper throttle control out of corners if you want to prevent the usual lowside. Thanks to the inclusion of advanced bike electronics for the past two seasons, MotoGP 08 has rare occurrences of highside crashes, but in simulation mode, push your brakes enough over the limit and you can recreate those as well. If you exercise enough control over your throttle finger, and make proper use of your braking zones, you can find yourself racing toe to toe with the AI opponents lap after lap and this is when the game is at its best.
The graphics engine is solid with beautiful bike models, but sadly lacking in polish. For example, there are little or no special effects like heat haze, tyre smoke and glowing brake discs. The tracks themselves, though accurately rendered down to the inch, are remarkably lifeless. All human biker models are virtually identical so you can’t tell the nearly 6-ft-tall Hayden from the pocket sized Pedrosa apart from each other. This is particularly sad given the storage space and power of current gen consoles. The usual gamut of camera angels is present, although most players will stick with the hover behind camera view, given the wobbliness of the driver’s perspective.
Sound is high pitched, whiny and flat, but that is to be expected given the limited number of cylinders and high rev nature of MotoGP engines. Overall, there’s nothing much to write home about here. They get the job done.
There is no split-screen option in the game and those looking for a match up against human opponents have to go online. I didn’t get a chance to try this mode out much, but on the one occasion that I did, there were hardly any players online and the race was laggy and not much fun.
If you are a fan of bike racing and are itching for a proper sim on new gen consoles, you can’t go wrong with Capcom’s debut multiplatform effort, with all three classes represented, multiple difficulty settings, a lengthy if artificially limited career mode, bike tweaking and single player challenges. But long time fans of the series should stick with MotoGP 07 on the PS2 and hope for a substantial improvement in next year’s effort.
(+) Demanding, but rewarding gameplay
(+) Inclusion of 125cc and 250cc classes
(-) Lacklustre visual effects
(-) Wonky physics feel like you are driving a robot against robots
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 6/10
MotoGP 08 is in stores for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3