Two wheels good, four wheels bad.
After wracking my brains for several days, trying to figure out which other game MotoGP 07's supposedly intimidating difficulty curve resembles, I've finally worked it out.
It's not a Formula One game, although that would appear to be the obvious comparison. After all, both skew more towards accurate simulation than arcade thrills and both tend to send gamers unfamiliar with the difference screaming into the darkness. Nor is it Gran Turismo, or any of the other more realistic racers out there. While MotoGP features a line-up of state of the art real world bikes with far-reaching opportunities for technical tinkering, it's always been a series more in love with the adrenalin of the race than the aesthetics of the ride. For all its attention to technical detail, this isn't auto-porn.
No, the game that crept into the back of my mind while playing MotoGP 07 was, somewhat bizarrely, Guitar Hero. Think about it. Both look really cool when in the hands of an expert, both seem incredibly hard if you play using a mindset that works in other games, and yet both reward patience and practice with a rush of pure gaming joy when you realise you've cracked something that once seemed impossible.
To be honest, I've never really understood why people find MotoGP so daunting. If I had a custard slice for every time I've heard someone complain that they fly off the track at every corner, I'd have - well, enough custard slices to make me a very fat boy indeed. So let's get this out of the way right now. It's very possible - and actually rather simple - to get round a MotoGP track without leaving face scrapings across the tarmac at every bend. Are you ready? Here's the big secret: YOU HAVE TO SLOW DOWN.
I mean, really slow down. Motorbikes aren't cars and, in a game with such painstakingly balanced physics as this, trying to hurl them into hairpins at 200mph just isn't going to work. So, yes, you slow down. Right down. And then once you've entered the bend at a non-fatal angle, you can hammer the accelerator on the way out. That's how the sport works, and a huge part of the appeal is knowing how to squeeze those extra few mph around each corner to take pole position without muffing it all up. It's common sense really, and the game even boasts a multitude of features to help you get your head around the concept. Independent braking for front and back wheels means that you can adjust your slide with precision even while cornering. You can also alter the wheelbase and other mechanical bits to improve your braking and turning circle. Even the icons that appear to let you know which way the track is going to bend next flash red if your approach is too fast or at an unfavourable angle.
So let's have no more of this "MotoGP is too hard" silliness. What it is, is challenging. This is a game that makes you work before you see any evidence of progress and this, coupled with the misunderstood handling, is probably why it has such a hardcore reputation. In Ellie's preview earlier this year, the game's creative manager, Craig McCracken (no relation to Zak) was quite adamant that this year's update would be more accessible, with words like "mainstream", "immediacy" and "spectacle" being bandied about like so much cheap funfair bunting. Fans who feared this meant the series was going casual can breathe a sigh of relief - the concessions are minimal, to be honest. The handling is slightly less unforgiving than before, but we're still a long way from Enduro Racer.
The number one question in the mind of fans is "Have they addressed the visual flaws from last year?" and the answer is "Yes, they have. Thanks for asking. Help yourself to some peanuts". The frame rate on corners in MotoGP 06 was cause for concern, bringing with it some ugly v-sync tearing, but that seems to be a thing of the past. There's still the occasional stumble, but nothing to compare with what came before. The bike handling, meanwhile, is much as it ever was, and newcomers will still need to practice on the numerous track challenges before they can start clocking up clean laps. The addition of visual cues, such as juddering wheels, are actually of more benefit to those familiar with the series and its control. To a novice, it's just a wobbly wheel. To someone more steeped in MotoGP lore, it's an obvious indicator that your speed and trajectory need tweaking.