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MotoGP '07

Biking back.

More than five years after the first Climax-developed game in the series was released, a new MotoGP title is on the way this September. Once again, you can expect all the bikes, tracks, riders and liveries from the real life MotoGP season, and once again there are season, quick race, time trial and extreme modes. In other words, fans will find plenty here that's familiar.

But what if you're not a fan? What if you've been put off by the unforgiving driving mechanics and steep learning curve that the series is known for - even more so following last year's instalment? Well, you're not alone, as the game's creative manager, Craig McCracken, explains.

"MotoGP has historically been as quite a simulation-heavy title, and we've sought to bring it more mainstream a little bit this year," he says.

"This game is about easy access for people who are new to the series - people like me, actually, because I came from a background of working on four-wheeled racers and I was new to it when I started on this one. MotoGP '06 was a great game, but like a lot of people, personally I found it quite hard. You had to invest a lot of time and effort to get rewards. So I thought it was quite important for us to improve the entry point a little bit, to make it a bit easier to get into."

Although the changes to the game mechanics aren't fundamental, McCracken says, they are significant. The development team has been working on the handling of the bikes in particular; for example, turning circles are quicker and you get more opportunities to pull off powerslides.

Then there's the cornering, always a tricky one in MotoGP. Now, you get more feedback from the bike - so as you brake heavily into corners, the bike will fishtail under pressure, and as you move out and accelerate away, it will wheelie. You can use this feedback to gauge whether you're at risk of losing control, and decide whether to push on through or ease off.

"MotoGP '06 was quite digital. You were on the bike going quick into a corner and then you were off it, but you didn't see quite where that point was that you went from one state to the other," McCracken says.

"But I think the feedback through the bike this time will allow you to have a sense of what's going on and make your judgments accordingly."

However, MotoGP does have a hardcore fanbase made up of players who enjoy the steep difficulty curve and the challenge of mastering the cornering system. So isn't McCracken worried that this new, "more accessible" style might end up alienating them?

"Good or bad, a lot of people play games these days and probably like me, they've got a shorter attention span than they once had. There has to be a sense of immediacy about it, and I think that's what we've pursued with MotoGP '07," he explains.

"We're trying to balance it. We're still keeping depth. There's a hardcore group of people who've always loved the handling, and we're not seeking to alienate those people. Without necessarily changing the dynamics massively, but improving the feedback that comes to the user, we're trying to straddle both worlds; hopefully quite successfully."

It's not just the bike handling which has changed in MotoGP '07. They've ramped up the customisation options in Extreme mode, and you'll be able to race for pink slips online. There's also a new track, Misano ("They're still building it in real life. It's not actually been signed off, so we're actually building it almost in real time.").

Then there's the new theme for this latest instalment in the series. "The key thing we've sought to develop this year is what we call spectacle. It's basically about trying to put as much life, innovation, vivacity, colour and excitement into a MotoGP race around the track as you have on it," says McCracken.

"A lot of the tracks aren't particularly interesting in real life. They're just ribbons of concrete set out in fields in the middle of nowhere, and that manifests itself in-game. So we've tried to make sure that there's loads of stuff happening off-track as well, to give the sense that it's more of an event."

Which means you can now expect up to 100,000 crowd members around each track, who will wave flags, fire off flares and cheer you on if you're zooming round in first place. You'll also see marshalls riding round the tracks on mopeds, and there will be hot air balloons and helicopters visible in the skies above. In short, "It's really about catching the essence of the MotoGP occasion."

But when it comes down to it, "Obviously the fundamentals don't really change. It's a bike racing game, it's set on licensed tracks, it's similar," says McCracken. So if the MotoGP series has never held any appeal for you, it doesn't look like there's going to be a great deal here which will change your mind.

However, it will certainly be interesting to see how the new handling system works, and just how much more accessible the game will be compared to previous instalments. And, of course, whether the serious fans will welcome the changes or resent the more immediate aspect of the gameplay. At this stage it's too early to tell, but rest assured we'll be keeping an eye on this one.

MotoGP 07 will be released on Xbox 360 this summer from THQ.