More disappointingly, the much touted attempts to recreate the razzle dazzle of a MotoGP event are fairly naff. Introductory animations show poorly rendered mechanics and umbrella girls milling around the track, often using the same animation loops and passing through each other. You'll be skipping past these to get to the action in no time. Once on the track, the larger and supposedly more dynamic crowds barely register. They cheer as you race past. Sometimes someone lets off a smoke flare. A helicopter might buzz overhead. That's about it. Nothing that hasn't been seen in, ooh, every racing game ever made.
The popular Extreme mode is still present and correct, offering marginally grittier street races around the cities hosting each official event, but the handling isn't distinct enough to make it anything more than a less formal appetizer to the main event. A more worthy addition can be found in the online section, where you can now gamble your hard-earned (and painstakingly customised) bikes in pink slip races. Lose the race, lose your bike. MotoGP has always had a robust multiplayer component and community and this idea serves both well.
In terms of accuracy, the game does a better job of making you believe you're racing against actual MotoGP riders than ever before. Current trophy hogs Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi almost always lead the pack and, as you progress up to Legend difficulty, you start to suspect it might be easier to catch them in real life. Improvements to the AI are more like tweaks than radical overhauls, but the way the riders bunch around the track feels a lot more fluid - and it changes from skill level to skill level as well.
The hike between Rookie and Pro mode is more pronounced than ever, another indicator that talk of making the game more welcoming to newcomers hasn't quite borne fruit. And, of course, the game now features the Misano, newly added to the MotoGP roster and making its real life debut this very week. Taken along with all the other refinements, and the fun pink slip mode, the addition of a long awaited new track is more than enough to make this a worthy update for fans of both franchise and sport.
Whether or not it's accessible enough for the sought-after mainstream gamer is harder to answer. The game has never really been that hard, just misunderstood, but it can still seem off-putting. It's obvious that Climax is aware the handling scares people, yet the training mode is as cold and useless as ever. Rather than using comforting words to explain exactly how to ride a bike, how to approach corners, how to master the sharp braking and bursts of speed required for victory, it simply dumps you in a series of coned areas and leaves you to work the handling out for yourself through trial and error. Big whoop. It can be mastered, obviously, but it's a curiously aloof teaching method in a game supposedly chasing new fans.
Even the Achievements seem designed to keep the uninitiated at arms length, grudgingly doling out tiny plaudits after hours of ferocious concentration. Clearly this is fine for the hardcore player, who'll be in it for the long haul regardless, but it can leave everyone else feeling inadequate and unrewarded. To put it in perspective, if you win a racing season at every difficulty level - a feat which requires over 70 races and phenomenal skill - you'll still only have earned a measly 100 Gamerpoints, half of what MotoGP 06 handed out. It's not that Achievements should be given out like candy, but they can be a great way to draw noobs in without compromising the difficulty of the actual game, and to be so miserly with them while allegedly trying to attract new players feels counter-productive.
And so it goes. MotoGP has always been a series on the cusp of greatness, an 8/10 niche franchise that, with a little more thought, could easily be a 9/10 breakout hit. This entry, the last from original developer Climax, could have been the one to finally make that breakthrough. A triumphant, genre-defining swansong. Instead it's a safe and solid continuation of what's worked in the past. Existing fans can therefore rejoice, but all those fabled mainstream gamers may still find it a snarling pitbull of a game and back slowly away. Their loss.
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