MotoGP 09/10 Review
The vast majority of individuals would not be able to handle a motorcycle at insane speeds, which is why a true MotoGP simulator would be nigh-on impossible unless you really decide to dedicate yourself to the experience. In the past, these games have sort of combined simulated elements with arcade-style accessibility; the most recent, by newcomer Monumental Games, goes for even more accessibility. Even so, this leaves us with a strange blend that feels uneven rather than satisfying, and the technical aspects are barely average. The problem lies in the presentation and difficulty, which is either good or terribly lacking, depending on the race and situation. After playing for a few hours, you’ll realize that you bounce back and forth between frustration and elation and unfortunately, for me, the former began to outweigh the latter. I accept the fact that the science of moto-racing is a complicated one, but the fun factor just doesn’t seem high enough to warrant a full $60 purchase.
The graphics are a bit of letdown, even though the designers made a decent effort to enhance the backdrops and surroundings of racetracks. That added some vibrancy and detail to a game that desperately needed more of both, and the character and bike design is unremarkable. The effects aren’t anything to write home about, either, as one would’ve expected more in the way of dirt and sand sprays, and I’ve been wondering when developers would implement bike break-up visuals. When a bike smacks a barrier or there’s a collision on the course, those things typically lose some parts. Furthermore, the frame rate really tends to stutter a bit when going super-fast on the straightaways, and for some reason, the graphics always appeared darker than anticipated. Overall, the visuals are a lot like the gameplay: uneven with glimpses of goodness but suffering from overriding mediocrity.
The sound takes a big hit due to terrible effects; the bikes don’t sound right at all and the balancing can really suffer. There were times when the high and whiney engine almost completely dropped out and became muted; it sounded as if it were running in a bucket of water. Collisions lack any sort of clarity and urgency and riding on sand or dirt doesn’t fit at all. All of the effects just seem quite unprofessional on the development side of things, but at least the licensed music in the soundtrack helps. Taking the step to input recognizable and fitting tracks was a good one, as it takes our attention away from the subpar effects. Then there’s the narrator, who is apparently Scottish (or is that Irish?) and while his advice can be helpful, I really didn’t like the fact that he essentially yelled every selection I made on the menu screens. I know they weren’t going for the ultimate in terms of authenticity, but Monumental really should’ve paid closer attention to those effects; they drag the whole production down.
If you’re at all familiar with past installments in the series, you’ll remember the somewhat awkward and complicated control mechanic that featured both analog sticks. Using them both on the racetrack was supposed to be intuitive but it never really resonated with me, which is why I liked the multiple control options offered in MotoGP 09/10. The default sets the accelerator to the R2 button and the brake to the L2 button, but if you want to go old-school, you can use the X button as the accelerator and the Square button as the brake. Whichever option you choose, the problem won’t be wrapping your brain around the button setup; it’ll be gaining a firm grasp of how a bike handles. It’s a whole lot different than driving a vehicle with four wheels, as the physics really are entirely different, and you have to anticipate even more often. Therefore, just because you’re a master at Gran Turismo, that doesn’t necessarily translate to MotoGP superiority.
You can choose to practice with the Arcade mode if you like, but that won’t really prepare you for the real thing as the realism is much higher in Career mode. Now we get to the pluses and negatives: on the plus side, the race line is extremely helpful (even if it isn’t always clear; you can often lose it when coming into a particularly trick turn at top speed), the game will appropriately punish you for sticking a wheel into the sand or grass, and the physics when leaning, tucking, accelerating, and braking seem about right. You will also find a fair amount of leniency concerning collisions with other racers. As one might expect, even nicking an opponent in real life can easily result in absolute disaster; so of course, Monumental couldn’t make it 100% authentic. However, they went a little above and beyond, as most little collisions won’t cause much of a problem at all. Then there’s the unique “rewind” feature that is all about unrealistic arcade-y fun: basically, if you screw up a turn, you can simply rewind and give it another shot. How cool is that?
Lastly, you get a real thrill when it comes to racing with a large pack, and great satisfaction goes along with a meticulously executed pass. And because the sensation of speed is good, you always feel as if you’re just on the edge of oblivion, which is exactly how the professionals ride. Sadly, things sort of go downhill from here. First of all, the control feels a little loose as it’s often very easy for a wheel to wander off the track, and secondly, it takes a while before you can start to toy around with the big boys. You have to conquer the 125cc and 250cc classes first, well before arriving at the 800cc class, which is borderline impossible on certain tracks. And because it can take a while to work your way through the Career campaign, you had best be ready to invest a great deal of time. You should also have a ton of patience, because stringing clean turns together on a routine basis will definitely require practice. You don’t have to win to advance but a top 3 finish can indeed be an intimidating prospect, especially in the higher classes.
The bike is stable (perhaps even too stable and even rigid) but I never really felt as if I had a firm hold on my crotch rocket. On top of which, the rubber-band AI seems great when you’re just starting out – you can easily catch back up to the pack – but when you get better, racers you apparently left behind come flying back in seconds. This is only fair, of course, but really, I could’ve done without this old-fashioned arcade-style AI. I would rather have been rewarded in the end than coddled in the beginning. Factor in the less-than-impressive visuals, the screwy sound effects, the length of time required to reach the top, the iffy control, and the overall uneven presentation, and MotoGP 09/10 misses the mark. I suppose it’s good for big fans of the sport, and it does include data for both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but otherwise, I don’t see regular gamers getting much out of this one.
4/26/2010 Ben Dutka