Unlockable content – it’s one of the more obscure and frustrating traits that make up a Capcom game, something we’ve become accustomed to since the early days of Street Fighter and something that continues to this day. Imagine, though, if the cover stars were locked from the beginning, if to play as Ken and Ryu you had to plunder through four to five hours of play. That’s the somewhat befuddling approach taken by Capcom’s MotoGP 09/10, the publisher’s newest attempt to replicate the thrills of the world’s premier motorbike racing series.
More’s the pity, as somewhere beneath a web of curious design decisions is a half decent game, and while it doesn’t come close to the series’ heyday when Climax Racing were at the helm it’s a significant step up from last year’s game. The arcade extremities that the Xbox’s MotoGP games established have been pushed even further by MotoGP 09/10 developer Monumental, a relatively new team that’s home to a number of ex-Climax Racing staff.
To its credit, MotoGP 09/10 is the most accessible take on the sport to date. Unlike the complex twin stick system of more recent MotoGP games, Monumental has crafted its game like a more traditional racing game, wherein the right trigger accelerates while the left controls the front brake, with the rear brake on the face buttons. Doubtless it loses some of the finesse of past games, and also is now arguably less of a simulation of the sport than before – though given our experience on two wheels is limited to pedalling to work on an old Raleigh we’re not in the best position to pass judgement – but it’s approachability is commendable.
Not that it’s an easy ride, and anyone making the jump from four wheels to two will still be in for a rude awakening. Bikes require a slavish dedication to the racing line and strict adherence to the early turning and braking points – and thankfully one of MotoGP 09/10′s brightest achievements is its dynamic racing line which is at once adaptive, flexible and utterly reliable. The lines of leaderboard leaders can be downloaded, providing a smart tool for dedicated learners in the time trial mode.
Bikes themselves feel sturdy, but perhaps a little too much so. Even the top tier 800cc models have a rigidity to their handling that’s disappointing, with none of the nervousness under braking and acceleration that you’d expect of a motorbike game. Instead they’re open to extreme levels of abuse, with the organic handling that made the Climax efforts such a joy completely absent. It’s due to the sacrifices made to the altar of accessibility, but once the thrill of actually being able to play the thing without scoffing gravel every few metres subsides it proves a little underwhelming.
It’s handsome if not spectacular, though it’s framerate is consistently slick.
The dreary handling is offset somewhat by the brilliance of the racing. It’s the one aspect of the real-life MotoGP spectacle that’s been captured with the greatest fidelity, with close pack skirmishes a regular feature across all the game modes. Thanks to some smart rubber banding, there’s always a keen sense of competition, whether it’s in the midfield or at the sharp end of the field, and when the action gets heated the other riders behave with the right mix of courteousness and aggression.
It’s a good job that the racing’s good, because there’s an awful lot of it to get through before the likes of Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner are available to tinker with. Before the 800cc top tier class is available, it’s necessary to complete both a season in the spindly 125cc class and the slightly beefier 250cc bikes – no mean feat given both the length of a campaign and the fact that players must place in third or higher in the overall standings in order to progress.
Limiting access to the game’s core content is a mindless decision, likely to frustrate racing enthusiasts while completely alienating the more casual audience bought in through their love of the sport. The slightest of concessions has been made, allowing players to choose where they grind, be that the no-frills Championship Mode, the checkpoint-based Arcade Mode or the more in-depth Career Mode.
All of which would be enjoyable if the latter two weren’t mired by bugs and needless frustrations. Arcade Mode should be a straightforward affair, and by and large it is. Checkpoints refresh a ticking timer, as do other in-game feats such as sticking to the racing line, slipstreaming or a clean overtake. Unfortunately, such a simple and solid system is hampered by several issues.
The racing itself is one of MotoGP 09/10′s biggest triumphs.
The time limit can be exceedingly brutal – even on the gentlest difficulty levels, it’s possible to go into the last corner in second place and hanging on to the leader’s exhaust pipe with not enough time to cross the line, which in turn demands exacting precision in order to progress. Such demands would surely have been served well with something as basic as a restart button – a feature which is entirely absent. A rewind feature does its best to soothe the frustration, but it’s far from smooth in its implementation and isn’t enough to make MotoGP 09/10 any more enjoyable.
Career Mode inherits much of the mechanics from Arcade Mode, only here the timer’s replaced by Reputation Points, with the player’s race performance rewarded and rated. Success opens up development opportunities off the track, with engineers able to upgrade bike parts while press officers can bring in more sponsorship opportunities. A nice idea, but managing progress can be head-scratching and unsatisfactory due to a menu system that seems willingly obscure.
Such problems are not enough to detract from MotoGP 09/10’s successes, and there are enough of these to make it just about worthwhile for anyone desperately itching for some authentic action. There’s a generosity in this regard too, with the 2009 season content that’s on the disk to be joined by a free update that brings with it all of 2010’s new riders and tracks. It’s a refreshing strategy that merits applause, but it’s not enough to hide the fact that, as bike racing games go, this has been done and done so much better by this generations first wave of MotoGP games.