Since 2000, THQ and Namco have been producing similarly titled motorcycle racing games based on the MotoGrandPrix series, a seasonal racing series for motorcycles similar to Formula 1 or NASCAR. THQ's MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 3 looks to put some distance between itself and the competition by offering a slew of new features, as well as a more distinguishable name.
Most notable of the new features is the "Extreme" mode of play. Inspired by "TT-style" street racing, this mode includes 16 new city and suburban tracks based on real race locations from all over the world. Players may choose to tear tarmac down the Day-Glo-lit streets of Japan, or spray dirt in the competition's face while racing down the country back roads of Donington, UK.
Along with the new race locations comes a selection of new bikes. Modeled after real-world motorcycles, these latest additions range in power from 600cc "sprinters" to 1200cc "superbikes." Other modes of play include "Quick Race," "Grand Prix," "Time Trial," "Training," and "Multiplayer," which supports split-screen action for up to four players.
Other new features include advancements made to online gameplay that allow for up to 16 online players in the same race. Three new online modes have been added -- "Embedded," "Spectator," and "Commentator." Embedded play is designed to allow players to slip seamlessly from single-player to online action, by simply being connected to Xbox Live or via broadband on the PC. Embedded gameplay also features a seeding system designed to create a more competitive online environment by discouraging experienced players from racing against beginners.
Spectator mode allows players to watch as the race unfolds instead of sitting idly by in the lobby, while Commentator mode allows the host of an online session to choose a spectating player to comment on the racing action.
For a Real Man, having a massive throbbing engine between your legs is the most important thing in life. For those of us not real men, this may well be the next best thing - sitting alone in our living rooms, whilst a small plastic box make vroom-vroom noises and we pretend that we're actually there. And this it achieves magnificently; it is an excellent artifice.
Control issues aside, the game handles beautifully. It has possibly the best biking physics engine yet committed to bits. The bikes corner silkily, and the thrill of a knees-on-tarmac hairpin at 200 mph feels about as gusset-rippingly terrifying as you would hope for.
There are an decent series of tutorials included, which will take you through throttling, leaning, braking (which helpfully mentions to you that braking is 'often neglected' in MotoGP, implying that real men know that only frilly-cuff wearing dandies brake in this game, thanks very much), cornering, sliding (there is something mind-numbingly stupid about power-sliding on a two-wheeled vehicle at 140mph. That's why I did it at every opportunity), hairpins, racing lines and what-may-you.
Once you're through the very forgiving tutorials, you're onto the Industry Standard Career/Tour/Championship mode. This plays much the same as this mode always does in racing games: realistic renditions of MotoGP tracks around the world (in as far as being able to drive at a wall head-first at 200mph and walk away unscathed can be considered realism) you can play in a maudlin mope, thinking of how much other people get paid for doing that for a living. And it's fine if you like that sort of thing. Done well, even. The tracks are carefully modeled and come with a fine learning curve. But, if you've played previous MotoGP games, this bit's more of the same.
But there is something new, which makes it a compelling new purchase. The "big thing" which is the new addition to the current incarnation the series is the Extreme mode, which allows you to participate in a number of (fictional) city and landscape street races, weaving through narrow streets, hairpins nestled high above mountainous cliffs, foreboding forests in tropical rainstorms - the usual suspects are all present and correct. Yet the tracks for these are so incredible in their scope, detail and beauty, that they rise to a state of anything but ordinary.
In Extreme mode, you can practice a track by yourself for as long as you like, and then when you feel confident of leaning into even its most absurd chicanery, you run in a qualifier. Qualify within a certain percentage of the leader, get your position on the grid, hop on to your two-wheeled-genital-enhancement and throatily roar your way to victory. This gets you money, which you can use to spend on upgrading your bike's stats. If you're lucky, your bike might just avoid dying of Corrupt Blood it got from an infected realm.
All told, it's a rather neat little package. Good handling, beautiful landscapes, varied tracks, variety of modes and well-aimed tutorials make this probably the finest in its class, possibly the finest biking game of its generation. It is, however, not without a couple of flaws. First, there's the voice of the Man Who Likes Motorbikes Who Used To Be On Top Gear. He has an awful voice. Minor quibble.
The second flaw stems from a minor genre confusion that has started to creep in to this series. When MotoGP was released, it was a Biking Sim. Yet, with later incarnations, the games started taking on an arcade feel to them, which has left a few of the more sim-like controls a trifle complex for the game at hand. In keeping with the (wise) move towards arcade fun, a simpler, more automatic set of controls should have been provided as a default option.
Of course, it's only really on the PC that the unnecessarily complex controls are even a problem, which highlights the only serious problem with this game. It is a pity, for it is a would-be 'great' game, and on the Xbox would be reasonably scored as such. But, on a PC, the complexity of the default controls and the horrors of the PC keyboard for this kind of thing force the mark down to a mere 'very good'.
People who downloaded MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 3 have also downloaded:
MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology, MotoGP 2, Moto Racer 3: Gold Edition, Top Spin 2, Need for Speed: V-Rally 2, Cross Racing Championship 2005, F1 2002, Moto Racer
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