Version tested: Xbox 360
The current generation of MotoGP games hasn't had the smoothest of rides in terms of consistency and quality. After MotoGP '08, fans were left wondering whether Milestone would reprise its role for the 2009 season, but the Italian company went back to the Superbike World Championship instead. So as an alternative, Capcom opted for Monumental Games - a studio founded by ex-Climax employees - for the new MotoGP developer. But the question is, after two years in development, will Monumental finally be the one to do MotoGP justice?
In terms of handling simulation, hardcore racing fans may be disappointed, because MotoGP 09/10 is once again in the realms of arcade physics. Players can set the racing difficulty to gentle, moderate, severe or insane - as well as tinkering with traction control and front and back ABS - but even on the highest difficulty the riding experience is beyond forgiving. You can ride the 800cc bikes almost flat out along the long straight at Mugello at sub-180mph speeds, only to drop perfectly into the corner after barely a second of heavy braking.
It's also very difficult to crash, because even grabbing the front while at full tilt only results in rapid deceleration and a slight wobble - rather than the inevitable lowside. Furthermore, there's no visible feedback for gunning the throttle while the bike isn't more or less upright, as this should stutter the movement and harm your acceleration. The rear brake can also be used liberally while in the sweeping corners for subtle power-sliding, which is certainly possible, but it's not something the MotoGP elite use in every corner.
So it seems Monumental has crafted a riding experience that is unrealistic both in terms of how quickly the bike transitions from one state of movement to another and in the noticeable lack of punishment. These are 200bhp machines that are ridden to the very edge of stability, and 09/10 barely communicates the fleeting nature of traction. A prime example of this realism deficiency also struck home when I set a lap time of 1:22.82 with Capirossi on Philip Island. Not bad for a first attempt when you consider the real-life record is 1:30.059 - set by Nicky Hayden in 2008.
But while MotoGP 09/10 isn't all there in terms of biking simulation, it's nonetheless an accomplished arcade racing game. It's worth noting that I love motorbikes and games equally, but I've never been a big fan of when the two mix. Motorbike control is a pursuit that requires full feedback between body, bike and road, and there are far too many variables involved for the process to be effectively replicated on a control pad. But what Monumental has done is to make MotoGP into a "game", and one that is both playable and enjoyable.
The first port of call for most players will be the Championship mode, where you pick a rider from one of the three MotoGP racing classes and then race in the 17 (or 16) track season. As the upper classes start out locked you first have to pick someone like Scott Redding in 125cc, and then take him to at least third by the season finish - unlocking 250cc. As you'd expect the 125cc division is the least demanding, and to help players develop a better understanding of corner apexes the game also superimposes the optimum riding line in a similar style to the Forza Motorsport series. It can be switched off if you find it distracting.
The AI does a fairly good job of forming a rider pack, and depending on the set difficulty the opposition will either plod along steadily or make overtaking a real effort. Players who dislike fixed camera angles will also appreciate the option of camera tilt, although it would have been more useful if you could adjust it. This also goes for individual control setups, as even though the game offers 11 different configurations the lack of custom mapping is a baffling oversight.
That said, the default setup doesn't feel obtrusive, and for the fast play style it works effectively. On the 360 pad the throttle is on the right trigger and the front brake is on the left, whereas the left analogue stick is used for leaning and X sorts out the rear brake. Three different camera positions can also be selected and range from behind the screen - which is mildly disconcerting as you can't see the rider's hands - to a more typical camera that follows the rider, providing a better overview of the track.
MotoGP 09/10 also introduces the idea of tucking in along the straights by holding down A, which increases your acceleration by reducing drag. This method feels more intuitive than the weight distribution feature that was used heavily in MotoGP '08, but it does feel a tad off when the rider can barely turn while tucked in, as although it would certainly restrict movement a little it doesn't feel natural when these beautiful machines suddenly go rigid.
And yes, although MotoGP 09/10 doesn't come close to the visual splendour of Forza 3, for a biking game it still has its virtues. Tracks like the fast Le Mans and the technical Estoril have all been replicated accurately and you get a good sense of speed as you blast down the long drop at Sachsenring. The game also uses a slightly washed out colour palette that gives the bikes and riders a very clean and bright look. Not quite cartoony, but it does verge close to it.
In terms of audio MotoGP 09/10 is a big disappointment. I went to Brands Hatch for the last round of the British Superbike Championship and I know what an Airwaves Ducati sounds like. MotoGP is supposed to be the F1 of motorcycle racing, and although it would be stupid to make a game that instantly blew the speakers on your expensive sound system, there's no excuse for making the V4-powered Ducati Desmosedici G9 sound like someone has just disturbed a wasp's nest. And as for the Scottish commentator who shouts, "hey, this isn't motocross," as you veer off onto the dirt, screw you buddy!
But despite some niggling flaws there's still a lot to like. The new Career mode plays out like the diet edition of Football Manager, only now it's MotoGP Manager. You start out by creating your own rider and racing team, and then picking your own colour scheme and selecting from two budget 125cc bikes - either a Haojue 125R or a KTM 125 FRR. You also have to employ press officers to net you better sponsorship deals and engineers to research bike upgrades.
Your staff won't work for free though, so you have to meet sponsorship targets like qualifying higher than 8th to earn better money. The Career mode also incorporates a Rider Reputation system that relates to your race performance. By doing positive manoeuvres like overtaking, showboating and slipstreaming - and avoiding negatives like collisions and crashes - you'll be given a Reputation bonus at the end of each race. The incentive is that a higher Reputation will provide access to better staff and bikes, and by level 30 you'll be able to ride the glorious Yamaha YZR-M1. This is also the point where it's best to challenge the online competition.
Sadly there was no one to play against at the time of review, but all the functionality seems to be in place with both Xbox Live Career and Arcade modes, as well as comprehensive leaderboards and the ability to down and upload ghost data. Monumental is also promising up to 20 riders racing at once. At least we can confirm that the two-player splits-screen works well with options for either a horizontal or vertical split.
As a package MotoGP 09/10 is a game that splits me straight down the middle. As a biker I'm disappointed that a racing game built around MotoGP doesn't do more to replicate how a motorbike feels, but as a gamer I can appreciate what it offers in terms of an enjoyable gameplay experience. If you give it a chance, and wait for the fast style to sink in, then you'll be blasting around Donnington and Assen at breakneck speeds, braking far later than you'd ever do in reality.
The jump up from 250cc to 800cc also makes a massive difference as you'll have far less time to think about what you're doing - and rightly so. Plus with Capcom promising free DLC that'll include the 2010 season livery data, the new 600cc Moto2 class and both the new Silverstone Arena and Balatonring, the scope for getting your knee down with new riders, tracks and bikes is very appealing.
So, if you're looking for the ultimate simulation experience then hold out to see whether Milestone does any better with SBK X. But if accurate racing physics isn't your thing - and you want an accessible racer that isn't one hundred per cent arcade - then 09/10 offers a solid and compelling MotoGP experience. Just be sure to turn the commentary off.
7 / 10