Developer: Monumental Games / Publisher: Capcom / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors] / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $39.99
The heightened sense of speed. The buzz of leaning perilously into corners. The snappy response of a lightweight machine flicking side-to-side through chicanes. The thrill of the danger inherent in the lack of a surrounding frame.
These are just some of the undeniable feelings that set biking apart from climbing into the comparatively sheltered cockpit of a car. It’s like the ultimate rollercoaster. Yet, that’s not how playing MotoGP 10/11 makes us feel. Something’s not right here.
Before I do burnouts on the game’s metaphorical face, let’s talk content. Offline, you’re treated to a selection of modes that’ll keep you busy for a good few hours.
Career mode lets you start your own team, create a rider, and set out to become a champion. You start at the bottom on little 125CC bikes, winning races and earning a rep for yourself based on points earned during races. Think Project Gotham – overtaking, slipstreaming, taking clean corners and ‘showboating’ earns you more rep. Crashing, losing or being overtaken does the opposite.
In-race challenges earn you bonus kudos – such as hitting a specified average speed between two checkpoints.
Races in this mode are fairly linear, laid out as a calendar with each race weekend allowing you practice, qualifying, and race sessions. Move up the ranks, get your butt on bigger bikes, customize the look and feel of your rides, hire and fire sponsors and all that malarkey, and it’s a suitably rewarding, if not particularly inspiring conquest.
For those that can’t be bothered with all that ‘rise of the rookie’ stuff, there’s a World Championship mode that lets you play through your own MotoGP season, with the promise of free DLC updates that’ll keep the game up to date as the 2011 season unfolds. That’s nice of them. A ‘Challenge mode’ has you charging around courses in a race against the clock, earning time extensions for performing good racing techniques such as clean cornering, slipstreaming, overtaking or hitting your top speed.
Definitely the most highlighted feature is the completely overhauled handling. Last year’s game handled worse than a unicycle with a flat tire. This year’s game is a stark improvement.
Upon first boot-up you’re greeted with a handling difficulty setting; the usual stuff – a casual setting for noobs with so many assists switched on that your pet Chihuahua could do flying laps like Valentino Rossi, along with gradually more realistic settings up to the ball-busting simulation mode that won’t let you fart without throwing you off the bike.
These settings are completely customizable too, from your racing line and traction control to your anti-wheelie modes, auto-weight shifting, and braking assists all independently selectable, so you can tweak the experience to be just the race you like.
It’s a solid ride, then. Passable, you could say. But, despite the improvement it’s still not quite good enough. The game pitches itself as a simulation, yet the bikes feel slow to respond to your commands – sluggish even.
Steering is especially docile. You can’t flick these bikes from one side to another like you see those Moto mentalists do so aggressively in the real life sport – it’s like there’s a tired old koala under those racing stripped leathers. Top Gear’s The Stig, he’s most certainly not.
The acceleration of the faster bikes catapults you to 100MPH in seconds – and the feeling of speed is pretty sweet – but shaving off that speed feels like it takes ages. It’s like someone swapped your brake discs with those of a child’s tricycle.
The racing line doesn’t help much either. It’s all lies. You slam the brakes at the exact point the line turns from green to red – the point at which you’d assume it’s suggesting you should begin deceleration — and still end up in the dirt. Not even slightly. Like, way out there.
Needless to say, it takes some getting used to – multiple laps of zigzagging on and off the course as you battle with its slow-motion steering, and respawning back on the grey stuff as the jelly braking sees us taking cross-country detours at the end of every straight.
Once you get used to it, it’s a decent racer but it’s just not as thrilling as carving up the course on a superbike should be. You don’t feel planted, maneuverable, or nimble. It’s a battle against physics, like shoving around a shopping cart full of bottled water.
The visuals are no better. I appreciate that there are some 20 bikes on the course, and it handles those with a slick frame rate, but everything just looks so low-budget.
Look at a car in Gran Turismo 5 – those things are supremely detailed, it’s almost mesmerizing to car lovers such as myself. And cars are, I would imagine, far more intense 3D models to create than bikes. Yet the bikes and riders in this game look like they were plucked straight out of 2004, lacking any modern-day detail or polish. The engines sound tinny too, like lawnmowers, not rubber-shredding superbikes.
I know that real life race tracks are open, mostly empty expanses of grey and green land, but there’s a distinct lack of life to this game. There’s absolutely no smoke from tires even if you burnout on the spot. The grass is a flat texture. The sand is no different. The crowd is made of cardboard and the stands from giant LEGO. The crashes are lame and the sparks from the bike as it skids along the tarmac are laughable. It’s like my PS3’s usually fire-breathing Cell processor had gone to sleep.
Braving the online mode with my still work-in-progress handling abilities was a short-lived ordeal. The game can chuck 20 real players on the course at once, which sounds cool. The list of options, however, isn’t.
There’s basically one option – race – with or without AI. That could still be fun, but I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t find anyone online to play with. No joke. This was at 8pm a few days after the game’s release – surely prime time for online gaming. But there wasn’t a player in sight.
The game suggested I create a server myself. And then what, sit there like a loner twiddling my floppy one as I wait for some other loner to stroll by? No thanks.
There’s also a drop-in/drop-out co-op ‘co-driver’ option that applies to the game’s otherwise single-player modes. That’s a pretty neat idea if you’ve got a friend with the game. Not if you haven’t.
The age old dispute of superiority between bike riders and car drivers is eternal and without conclusion. But when it comes to video games, racing sims of the four-wheel variety clearly dominate the podium by a country mile and MotoGP 10/11 does nothing to change that.
It’s better than last year’s abysmal effort, that’s for sure. But it’s still not the supreme racer the biking scene deserves. The single-player modes are decent but not particularly groundbreaking, the multiplayer is limited and extremely lonely, the handling has improved but lacks excitement and responsiveness, and the visuals are way below par for a 2011 game. It defines the word ‘average’.
It’s such a shame for bikers, whose favorite sport just doesn’t get the same triple-A treatment as their four-wheel counterparts (GT5, Forza, Dirt… etc.), which are just superior in every way. Except at chucking mean 500-meter wheelies.
Yeah, I got that Trophy.