MotoGP, the mad sport of racing on insanely fast motorbikes, has just been revitalized and rejuvenated by Namco, who bring us the latest version of the popular series. Namco have been criticized in the past for releasing updates in this series with only minimal improvements on the last. So with the release of MotoGP4, have they fallen into that trap again?
On first impressions, it’s difficult to tell. MotoGP4 boasts all the bikes, riders and tracks from the 2004 MotoGP, as well as 125cc and 250cc classes (slightly slower bikes, but useful for new players to learn on). It certainly appears impressive, but the proof, of course, is in the playing.
The basic physics of riding the bike have been noticeably improved, producing a more realistic ride. The ability to shift weight on the bike forwards, backwards, left and right has been enhanced, adding to the overall realism, while also giving the player something to do - the long straights on the tracks can drag a bit.
Also, a nice new touch is the inclusion of a Helmet Cam, giving players a “rider’s-eye” view. This certainly increases the realism, especially when leaning round corners, just inches from the ground. Although these tweaks improve game play, the overall racing experience wasn’t great to begin with.
For example, in the 125cc and 250cc modes, it is almost impossible to crash, or fall off your bike - as essential part of any motorbike racing game. Despite my best efforts to smash into fellow riders, and even into barriers, my rider seemed to have better balance than an Olympic gymnast, and stayed glued steadfast to the bike. Because of this, the races quickly became boring - requiring not skill, but instead a great amount of endurance.
This said, the graphics and sound have been noticeably improved. Bikes and riders are nicely detailed, although the tracks can appear dull and bland at times. The sound produced by the bikes is fantastic - ranging from the rasping 125cc bikes, right up to the deep purr of the MotoGP class machines. The music, meanwhile, lets the game down - tinny electronic dance music that grates on ones nerves, like a fly buzzing in the room.
Perhaps the biggest change however comes in a new style season mode. Before you can ride the fastest MotoGP bikes, you must rise up through the classes, beginning with 125cc, and unlock better bikes as you progress. This may be a huge inconvenience to MotoGP veterans who have to trudge through the slower classes to reach the MotoGP bikes, but it acts as a nice way of training new players while also competing. For those true novices though, there is now a training mode that teaches the basics of a bike. Outside of the season mode though, MotoGP bikes are available to for use in all modes immediately.
For fans of the sport or of the previous titles, MotoGP 4 will come as a great new motorbike racing experience. It certainly improves on MotoGP 3, adding a new element of realism.
Unfortunately it still lacks the x-factor which draws the masses to four-wheeled racing games. Ultimately, the game is probably one of the best motorbike racing games on PS2 - but regrettably that isn’t saying much about motorbike racing games on the PS2.