Version tested: Xbox 360
The Superbike World Championship season is already underway and MotoGP is set to follow this weekend. It's time to see if our 2011 predictions turn out to be insightful musings or wishful thinking. Will Rossi secure his seventh MotoGP Championship on a Ducati? Does Cal Crutchlow have what it takes to run with the best? Win, lose or crash, the stage is set for a very interesting season.
But while the racing elite knacker their sliders on the world's most prestigious circuits, some of us have to make do with motorcycle games. Last year two games vied for our attention – Milestone's SBK X, a game worthy of the sim accolade, and Monumental's MotoGP 09/10, a racer that claimed a sim label without much justification. It's a criticism Monumental has clearly taken on board.
The most striking change is the revamped visuals. Many people hated the brightly pronounced appearance of MotoGP 09/10, and the new style is more photogenic and realistic. It's not entirely lifelike, as there's still a veneer that crisps everything up, but with a consistent frame-rate that never skips a beat this is arguably the best-looking motorcycle racer ever.
It also sounds fantastic. While the bikes in MotoGP 09/10 conveyed a believable sense of speed, the sounds emitted from their 200bhp engines were paradoxically flat and lacked signature grunt. MotoGP 10/11 rectifies this with YZR-M1s and RC212Vs that bellow the full thunderous range, while the 125cc and new Moto2 bikes also sound pleasingly authentic. Better still, the abrasive shouting of the agro Scotsman has been replaced by insightful commentary from Steve Parrish.
The returning World Championship mode is the first port of call if you want to play through a standard season, with all riders unlocked from the offset. All the tracks from the 2009 season make a return with the exception of Donington, which has been replaced by Silverstone.
The other new track is the highly technical MotorLand Aragon, which features sweeping bends, hairpins and a sharp twist that's reminiscent of Laguna Seca's infamous corkscrew. All 18 circuits look authentic, with every bend offering an accurate reconstruction of its real-world counterpart, and just to give proceedings an extra bit of variety you can choose to race in sunny or wet conditions.
The obligatory Time Trial returns for those who wish to immortalise their name on the online leaderboards, and with Red Time now incurred whenever you veer off the track, only a flawless lap counts. Last year's Arcade mode is replaced by Challenge mode, but when the objective is to reach the checkpoint before the clock runs out – with time bonuses awarded for overtaking, slipstreaming and showboating – it's clear that the change is mostly in name.
However, the bulk of the offline experience is in the updated Career mode. As before, you start out in the 125cc division with a nonexistent Rider Reputation and have to prove your capability against AI opponents who range from a flock of bumbling sheep who cruise with a complete disregard for immediacy to a pack of hungry wolves who take advantage of every mistake.
Monumental has also brought back the management course, albeit with minor changes. You hire PR Managers to get better sponsorship deals and then use your earnings to employ better engineers who improve your bike. Better parts are researched in four key areas rather than five, and there's a new upgrade system where you have to fork out extra cash for a new set of forks rather than have them applied automatically.
It's nothing more than a number-crunching distraction, but as a means to pace the player between races, it's light and unobtrusive. Another new feature allows a Co-Rider to dip in and out of Career mode at will, and for those of us who high- and low-side with alarming regularity, a new Second Chance mechanic allows you to rewind the action midrace to take another shot at a tricky corner, although if you rely on it too much your Rider Reputation suffers.
That pretty much covers all the optional extras, but why haven't I mentioned the new riding physics? Well, if I'm being totally honest, it's taken many hours to make up my mind on a dramatically different riding model, because when I first took The Doctor's Yamaha out for a spin I thought the game was defective.
In MotoGP 09/10, we were given brake callipers from the year 2050, apparently designed to prevent shuttles re-entering the atmosphere – the stopping times were unrealistic, and like the rest of the riding model it was arcade-centric. For MotoGP 10/11, Monumental has ditched the space-age technology for a braking system that demands your undivided attention.
The first time I applied the front at Mugello, I was still doing 100mph as I cascaded onto the gravel. Then after a confused smile and a quick restart, the same thing happened again. Realising that I must be doing something wrong, I tried applying the brake well before the superimposed Riding Line went red. I then completed my first turn of the season. Get in!
Unfortunately the rest of the lap went far from smoothly as I struggled to adjust to much stiffer leaning, which led to constant oversteer – and this was with the braking, weight transfer and traction control assists turned on.
But I persevered, and as I gradually acclimatised and turned off a few assists, I began to appreciate MotoGP 10/11 a lot more. Like most racing sims, it isn't a game that gives you like-for-like control of the motorcycle. (If it did, then every time you grabbed the front mid-corner your rider would be leaving the track in an ambulance.) Instead, Monumental wants you to focus on riding the best lap you can, and as your skills gradually improve so will your respect for the riding model.
There's also a tangible distinction between classes. The 125cc bikes are characterised by their extreme flickability, while the new Moto2 motorcycles are a more natural compromise between power and weight, and the presiding GP machines steal the show with a look, sound and feel that exudes authenticity.
The days when MotoGP stood for a confused sim with arcade tendencies are over, because MotoGP 10/11 has made the jump to hardcore sim. Many will argue that the braking distances have gone from one extreme to the next, but in terms of precise motorcycle physics – where the bike reacts to a multitude of invisible forces – this is perhaps the most accurate two-wheeled simulation ever.
I'd say that SBK X conveys a better sense of feedback between bike and road, whereas MotoGP 10/11 has the edge in terms of comprehensive physics. If pushed, I'd probably go for SBK X, but it's a decision that's now down to personal preference rather than one game being better than the other. Whether SBK 2011 can change this remains to be seen.
Fancy physics wouldn't mean anything if the online functionality wasn't up to standard, and although I only found one biker to race against at the time of writing, the connection stability suggests Monumental has this base covered. With a number of important little touch-ups – like not having to close a 20-player lobby just to change the racing class – it's clear Monumental has listened to player feedback.
MotoGP 10/11 marks the series' evolution into a simulation with depth. It's a game with a steep learning curve and there are no shortcuts to mastery – much like motorbikes themselves – but with patience and perseverance the rewards for dedication are great. So whether you're a gamer, biker or both, MotoGP 10/11 complements the new season in style.
8 / 10