This week I was given the privilege of blasting a brand new Yamaha R1 around the Stowe circuit at Silverstone. Although it was on a cold morning where I couldn't get any heat into the tyres, for those brief 20 minutes of amateur riding I was reminded of all the reasons I love biking.
It's that feeling of smugness as you filter through a quarter-mile queue of traffic. It's that rush of adrenaline as you shift up into second and gun the throttle. It's that split second of contemplation as you brake late, lean in and accelerate smoothly through a well rehearsed apex. The reasons are countless.
But in terms of replicating the riding experience onto a control pad, developers aiming for a simulation experience invariably run into problems. Although cars have a quantifiable number of human-controlled variables used for movement - i.e. steering, clutch, accelerator, brakes, etc. - motorcycles in comparison aren't nearly as easy to replicate through an analogue controller.
I should also stress this is far beyond the subtleties of front and rear braking. Any serious motorcyclist understands the significance of leaning and counter-steering, and how they work on an often subconscious level.
Perhaps this is why I've always taken games like Road Rash over the technically brilliant Tourist Trophy. While controlling throttle, brakes, gears, lean and weight distribution simultaneously may be what biking is about on the road, achieving the same level of aptitude on a pad feels unintuitive and, dare I say it, boring.
However, as a racing fan I was determined to get on board with MotoGP 08 with a view to bagging James Toseland an unfathomable first year win for Yamaha Tech 3. Unfortunately, I lost interest in a lacklustre game and the real James has now been relegated back to WSBK.
For MotoGP 09/10 it seems Capcom, along with new developer Monumental, has taken the basic template from MotoGP 08 and built an actual game around it. The most noticeable way in which it has achieved this is with the new super-imposed racing line that expands across each of the 17 GP circuits. The line pinpoints the optimum place to brake and accelerate through trickier corners, and if you start to place a better lap time by riding a line that's slightly faster, the on-screen line will adjust itself mid-race to better suit your riding style.
Hardcore racing types may see this nurturing mechanic as being cheap, and Monumental will almost certainly give racing purists the option to turn it off. But for those of us who don't know Le Mans and Assen like the back of our hand, the riding line helps to keep MotoGP fun without straying into arcade racing.
Because at its heart MotoGP 09/10 seems to be trying to stay more simulation orientated, while giving new players a shot at placing a healthy lap time that won't instantly be ridiculed. Even the control system has been reworked so as to be more intuitive.
The most significant change is the introduction of a new tuck-in control, which replaces the weight-shifting mechanic from the previous game. The new system is simple to understand and easy to implement, as at its basic "tucking in" makes the rider more aerodynamic, allowing for faster acceleration on the straights - while at the same time limiting how quick you can turn.
Its effectiveness is highlighted by the fact I'm only allowed to race in the 125cc division during this hands-on, with tucking-in maxing out the light bikes to around 140mph - about a 20mph increase - on the straight at Mugello.
I'm also given a demonstration of the solid new career mode, which in terms of functionality looks set to vastly improve upon the rushed attempt that was in MotoGP 08. As well as dealing with the actual racing itself, players will now get the opportunity to hire and fire their own engineers, team managers and press officers while aiming for MotoGP glory.
This off-the-track element seems to be more about statistics - and unfortunately it doesn't look like you can level-up the loyal pit-crew who got you through those first races - but it'll be interesting to see how this extra layer adds to the finished game.
The other new mechanic introduced in MotoGP 09/10 is the Rider Reputation system, which anyone who's played Project Gotham will see as a direct rip of the Kudos system. Players are given a point score at the end of each race with positives given for actions like showboating, slipstreaming and overtaking and negatives given for crashing and colliding with other bikes. It seems this score is more than just superficial as a high Rider Reputation will net you better sponsorship deals and contracts with more esteemed racing teams, whereas a lower score will have the opposite effect.
Furthermore your accumulated Rider Reputation points can also be used to upgrade your bike, with areas ranging from the frame to engine and suspension. I'm not sure how exhaustive this process will be, but if Monumental can strike a good balance between risk and reward - especially with pros for showboating - then it could help to keep those mid-season races interesting as you strive to get better upgrades for those final tracks.
Plus, who can resist pulling off a wheelie as you head towards the finish line, with the slight possibility of flipping the bike completely over for a hilarious blunder.
The scope for these kinds of antics will only increase online, as players try and race to their limits without low-siding from aggressive cornering. It also seems Monumental is aiming for something big, because in addition to lobbies and mid-race voice chat it's working to get a maximum of 20 virtual riders hooning around a circuit at once. If it can achieve this with stable netcode, then the online future could be very competitive, with online leaderboards seeing seconds shaved off the lap times till the best possible time is reached.
With MotoGP 09/10 now being very late into development the near-finished product is looking like an improvement upon MotoGP 08 in all areas. Even the graphics are a significant step up with the rider animation looking very authentic and the race tracks now appearing far less static. Each race is also introduced with a skippable start-up scene between the rider and his line crew, which is handled in a strangely opaque colour scheme. Suffice to say that players can also look forward to more professional menu systems and an overall feeling of movement and speed.
But the most poignant thing I get from Monumental's interpretation of the MotoGP licence is of a game that aims towards biking simulation but without losing inventive gameplay elements that make for a fun experience. Playing MotoGP 09/10 may not be 100 per cent like riding a bike, but by not obsessing over perfect physics Monumental seems to be striking a three-way balance between simulation, gaming and accessibility.
If MotoGP 08 was the barebones beta, then MotoGP 09/10 is looking like the finished product, but it remains to be seen whether Milestone can craft the better world-class racing game with SBK X. Either way, this race is far from over.
MotoGP 09/10 is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 12th March.