Racing games can be pretty intimidating to review. Most racing game enthusiasts have a list of turn-ons and turn-offs, be it camera angle, engine noise, or the customization of gear ratios. Top that with the fact that MotoGP 09/10 is a new entry in a well respected franchise for a very niche audience and you have a recipe for disaster. Luckily, I am feeling up to the challenge.
For starters, let me explain my own personal game play preferences. I always play with a behind the bike camera, in this case the one that is tightest on the bike. First person mode, makes me a bit queasy, even with the horizon locked. Secondly, I play with an automatic transmission. There are advantages to playing with a standard, and it does not add much difficulty to the game, but I get enough shifting and clutch play with my real bike and prefer to play a game like this in a more relaxed manner.
The first thing one notes when starting MotoGP 09/10 is how of the game is how little is unlocked from the outset, with only the 125cc class available to start. This is not the hurdle it appears to be. For the player wishing to pop in the disc and start tearing up LeMans with Nicky Hayden, this might be off-putting, but I found that it inspired me to take my time and work through the 125cc and 250cc classes in order to earn the privilege of racing the big boys in 800cc MotoGP. For a more casual player, particularly one looking to play online with the more famous racers, this could definitely be seen as a strong negative.
Truth is, it took me time to master the intricacies of MotoGP 09/10‘s physics, which err on the side of being arcade. To put a name on it, I would call the feel of MotoGP 09/10, “Serious Arcade.” The player assists are gentle enough that a true novice might not even notice they are being taken care of and natural enough that even an experienced rider will not cuss them too much. Of course, I say this while real MotoGP racers are bellyaching over the abundance of computer assists on their real rides, but I find it hard to feel sorry for someone whose job involves riding a Ducati.
Once I got over my ego and accepted the fact that the racing lines, on the track in appropriate green, white, and red, were there to help me survive the cruelties of MotoGP tracks, I began to understand that feel. Braking before a turn makes the bike easy to muscle about and twisting the throttle makes it roar back to life. Using X to tuck in makes the bike much less responsive to lateral movements, but the increased aerodynamics boost acceleration and top end speed.
Midway through my first season in the 125cc class, I figured out how to integrate braking, accelerating, and tucking into a race line. The dread I felt as I gunned the throttle and tucked behind my windscreen gave way to elation as the rear tire lined up behind the front on the very edge of disaster and I sped across the straightaway at 130 mph. Chaos and control, fear and joy, this sort of thing can happen a few times per race, and it does not always end with a win. Thing is, the control and AI are such that every win felt deserved and every loss felt bitter.
What makes MotoGP 09/10 feel so solid is the framerate, which never wavers. While not a startlingly gorgeous game, MotoGP 09/10 is built on a stable engine that never sputters or stalls or drops frames. I never experienced any of the illusion killing draw-in or collision issues that have made me hate other racing games. While never photorealistic or revolutionary, I was always pleased with the way MotoGP 09/10 looked, which is more than I can say for many racing titles.
The few truly notable graphical flourishes are quite nice. The rain effect was one of the most subtle and realistic I have seen in a racing game. The slick pavement looked dangerous enough to give me pause on the sharp corners and the way the light danced across it bordered on dazzling. The racing line has a little bit of dithering on the edges, bringing to mind the computer generated effects Fox uses on NFL broadcasts, in a good way. The menu design is clean and easy to navigate, though not as sexy as something like Dirt, the reigning king of sexy menus.
There is one graphical effect which might be pretty controversial. When the bike starts going flat out fast and approaches top speed, the bike begins to shudder and the world gets blurry. This effect is fairly rare in the lower classes, but it can be kind of a shock the first time you encounter it. To be fair, I have encountered a similar effect in real life when pushing a bike about as hard as it wants to go, though it was less blurry.
If you play in English, as I do, the voice over man is a real treat. Actor Phil McKee gives advice and guidance throughout career mode. Mr. McKee is a jovial and unobtrusive presence, which is about all I could ask from a voice over actor. I thought the way he chastises the driver for dropping the bike were quite droll.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag. If Big Beat is what you want to listen to whilst hurtling around the track, then this is the game for you. With a limited array of songs, fourteen or so, some tracks get old quickly. I will never understand why more developers do not take advantage of the PS3′s hard drive and allow custom soundtracks, but the absence is notable here. With such a long and involved career mode, the ability to listen to anything else would have been a relief, though what is here is very good.
The music that is here lacks variety and can be a bit of an onslaught. There are British Big Beat, Japanese Big Beat and American Big Beat. If it reminds me of anything, the soundtrack evokes the soundtrack to Gran Turismo. This is far from an insult, as I still have the original soundtrack to that game on my iTunes. Of course, the hardcore will likely listen to the engine noise and turn the music off. I would rather put my head in an oven and turn it on, but to each their own.
The majority of a player’s time with MotoGP 09/10 will be spent with the Career mode. In Career mode, the player creates a racer and guides him through the ranks of MotoGP. The first stop is the highly competitive 125cc rank. At 125cc, the bike and rider must work in perfect congress, as the power curve is tight and the bikes are light. While it might feel odd to race such small bikes when the majority of players really want to hop on the 800cc goliaths, the time spent in 125cc is a great way to learn the ropes. Plus, it gives the player some much needed practice time with hiring staff, managing sponsors, and scheduling research.
In Career mode, each race is either a Race Weekend or a Wildcat. Race Weekends are fairly involved affairs. There is an opportunity to take practice laps, which I strongly advise you to do. Not only do practice laps give you more experience with the track in question, it gives you a chance to earn Reputation. Reputation is how your racer levels up and gains new sponsors, new bikes, and better staff. It is earned by turning fast laps, hitting perfect turns, going through “Clean Sections,”‘ slipstreaming, and overtaking other riders. Well, those and the rare wheelie. Reputation can also be earned during qualifying and the races themselves. In the actual races, there are challenges that are laid before you. These can be things like intimidating a certain rider or maintaining a high speed through a section of the course.
After 125cc is 250cc, the bigger, faster, nastier division. The fatter 250ccs feel almost completely different and the racing lines are very different. Truth be told, I did not get too wrapped up in 250cc because I felt like it was holding me back from what I really wanted. All of the time spent in the lower classes really does pay off once you make it through 250cc, though. That is when the game really comes into its own. That is when the 800ccs become available.
To say that racing 800cc MotoGP bikes around the most famous tracks in the world is a thrill is an understatement. They feel heavier and more powerful, though arguably not bigger and heavier enough. The sensation of speed that feels so palpable in 125cc feels outright insane in 800cc and it almost seems too fast. Maybe someday my hand-eye coordination will be up to the task of manually shifting a Ducati Desmo while flicking it around a track at crazy fast speeds, but I am not there yet.
For those unwilling to, or uninterested in, playing the full on Career mode, there is Championship mode. Championship mode let’s you play a full season with one of the real riders and ignore all of the sim aspects. Think of it as a Career Lite mode and you will not be far off. A part of my mind suspects most will play one or the either, with the neither appealing to fans of the other. Even if Championship mode is your forte, the best stuff must be unlocked, so some time in the 125cc and 250cc classes is required before you will be tearing up the tracks with Rossi.
Arcade mode is all about time. The goal is to turn the fastest laps possible while accomplishing the little goals that pop up. These goals, like intimidating or passing another rider, are sometimes very easy, but some can be a real bear. Either way, the Arcade mode is based entirely on racing flawlessly and quickly through the game’s tracks. Challenges, much like those in Career mode, pop up periodically and give you the chance to earn more time.
Time Trial is the mode I was most surprised by. I am not, by nature, a perfectionist, but the Time Trial mode brought out that out in me. Really two modes in one, Time Trial allows you to create new racing lines for tracks, save them, and apply them in other modes. This can be a boon if you use a different braking and accelerating pattern from the norm. As a fan of going deep into turns before hitting the brakes, being able to generate my own racing lines has been a gift. The other half of Time Trial is the use of ghosts. Downloading the ghosts of highly ranked players is a nice feature and one of the better uses of the PSN in recent memory. Learning from the best cannot be a bad thing.
Online multiplayer is quite a blast. The ability to have a full-on 20 bike race is amazing and fun. Well, except for the guy who comes in 20th. He or she probably does not feel too good about it. Being able to use a custom bike from Career mode is especially satisfying, as it lets you show off the custom livery you have created. In fact, the only downside to online multiplayer is a lack of racers. So, if you do buy this game, get the PS3 version so we can race. My PSN is chuckjaywalk.
It is pretty obvious, to me, that MotoGP 09/10 has plenty of legs. I can see myself playing it deep into the real MotoGP season. Between beating Career mode, Arcade Mode, and Championship mode, there is plenty of time to be whiled away. On top of that, I am quite addicted to creating my own racing lines and trying to find the quickest way around each course with my bike of choice. I cannot overstate how useful the ghosts are to overall success and growth as a racer, either. That might be my favorite thing about this game: it feels like it wants the player to grow and improve.
Capcom promises two free DLC packs as the real MotoGP season is underway. The first promises new bikes, riders, and liveries for the 800cc class and new tracks. The second is unannounced, but would presumably cover the smaller displacement classes. Either way, this is a fairly novel technique, releasing a sports game with the previous year’s data and updating to include the new season. Whether or not this will work as promised or planned is anyone’s guess.
With all of this good will, I do have to point out some negatives. The inability to jump straight into the 800cc class and use the most famous riders will irritate some people, no doubt. The soundtrack will not please everyone. The graphics are not terribly impressive. The learning curve can be pretty severe. In the early going, the whine of the 125cc bikes can drive a sane man insane, particularly if you take on the whole series in one sitting. There is a minor glitch with the voice over track that sometimes makes Phil repeat himself.
All of that said, I cannot quite bring myself to quit playing MotoGP 09/10. There is too much to do to be bored. The need to shave a second or two off of my lap times consumes me. Hell, I dreamt of a perfect lap last night. Is there anything more I can ask of a racing game than that?
Story/Modes Rating: GOOD
Graphics Rating: ENJOYABLE
Sound Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control and Gameplay Rating: VERY GOOD
Replayability Rating: GREAT
Balance Rating: DECENT
Originality Rating: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness Rating: GREAT
Appeal Factor Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous Rating: MEDIOCRE
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
MotoGP 09/10 is not a perfect game, but it does not have to be. It is a little odd and a little hard to get into. Strange design decisions abound. The soundtrack will drive you a little bit crazy. No matter how many holes I poke in it, though, I still find myself wanting to play MotoGP 09/10. Like hearing a pop song in a language you do not speak, MotoGP 09/10 is addictive, fun, and a little alien. This game is seriously arcade-like and deceptively addictive. Is it for everyone? No, but I am happy that it does not have to be. For those seeking a good motorcycle racing game and those who want to recreate the excitement of the MotoGP series, this game is a no-brainer. For the casual race fan, I definitely think it is worth at least a rent or a playthrough of the demo.