Sunday, August 20, 2006

Moto GP 06 review

Here it is, the 7th and final part of my week dedicated to Xbox 360 reviews. This time I'm taking a look at Moto GP 06.

Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Climax
Genre: Motorbike simulation
Region: NTSC (Game is region free!)
Price: PAL version £50 - NTSC for as low as £22
First off, I want to say that I will try my hardest to be unbiased while writing this review. You see, one of my oldest friends Kim Burrows, was a programmer on the game. He even put my name in the credits in the Special Thanks section just after his newborn baby boy. As such I have more of a vested interest in this game than most, even though under normal circumstances I probably wouldn't have bought it, as motorbikes aren't really my thing.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The visuals in Moto GP 06 fall somewhere in between those of PGR3 and Ridge Racer 6. It isn't quite as insanely detailed as Bizarre's game, but is definitely a step up from Namco's racer. The sense of speed, especially when you are in the first-person view, is really quite phenomenal. Thoccasionalal bit of texture tearing is evident but it's nowhere near as noticeable as GamesTM magazine would have you believe.

The Grand Prix tracks all look pretty much as they should - beinmodeleded on real life locations, but some of them are rather sparse. This isn't really the developers fault - they're merely representing the tracks as they appear in real life. The other half of the game, the Extreme mode, features much more lavish tracks which are full of background details such as fountains and rides which you will just about get a glance of as you go hurtling past at breakneck speed. Each of the Extreme races take place at sunset as well so there's some nice lighting effects on show. Really, the GP tracks do exactly as they should - they give die hard fans of the Moto GP season accurate representations of the course they've seen on TV or visited in real life, whereas the Extreme tracks are really an opportunity for the designers and artists at Climax to show off.

When you get this many real life racers going through the same corner, expect there to be casualties.

Sound and Music: 6 out of 10
The sound effects, much like the graphics in the GP mode, accurately represent real life bikes and are well done. Personally, I thought the music was alright, but not spectacular. One major downside of them music though is that the particular tune chosen for a race will repeat over and over instead of another tune being selected, which can begin to grate on longer races. I usually find myself making use of the custom soundtracks option in this case and streaming something from my PC (I recommend the Pirates of thCaribbeanan soundtrack - strangely it works!). So, the sound isn't horrible, just not as good as it could have been.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Moto GP 06 is split into two distinct halves - the Grand Prix mode and the Extreme mode. Within the Grand Prix mode you will find a full simulation of both the 2005 and 2006 Moto GP seasons, with all the real life tracks (17 of them) and riders you would expect. The learning curve is actually quite smooth, because there are four difficulty settings, a decent tutorial mode, and a variety of challenges geared around helping you learn the toughest parts of each circuit.
At first you will probably fall off your bike at regular intervals, but as you slowly a) get used to the game and b) improve you statistics blevelingng up your rider this should become less frequent and you will start to enjoy the game. You can either choose a quick race or a full-on season comprising of 17 races each with Challenge, Practice, Qualifying and Race options. The number of laps can also be adjusted from 1 up to a full length race for those who take they're racing really seriously.

On the other side of the coin is the Extreme mode, which is much features handling which is much more forgiving (almost, but not quite arcade style), and 17 fantasy tracks based around locations around the globe. As well as the same four difficulty settings as the Grand Prix mode, Extreme mode also features 600cc, 1000cc and 1200 bikes. In order to race in the faster leagues you will first have to earn enough money to buy one of the bikes. This mode also allows you to buy upgrades for your bike, and so gives a bit more freedom and depth than the Grand Prix races.

One thing I wasn't that keen on was having to race a full Grand Prix season before I could try the Extreme mode, as I wanted to try that first. To be fair though, this was probably a stipulation that the Moto GP association made, as after all it is an officially licensed product. Really, Climax didn't have to include an Extreme mode at all, and it's a really nice extra for those who wan't a break from the more serious Grand Prix races or prefer they're driving a bit more on the forgiving side. Look at Namco's Moto GP series on the PlayStation 2 - they didn't offer anything like an Extreme mode in that, did they?
Then there is the Xbox Live mode, which lets you do everything you could do in single player but up against real life opponents. It really works very well and as yet I haven't encountered any problems with lag or slowdown. The online mode also has two extra modes - Stunt and Tag, which are fun asides from the pure racing if you're in the mood for something a bit different.
You start off with a seed of 100, and everytime you beat people who are seeded higher than you (either online or off) this will go up. At first this will improve quite quickly, but when you get to around seed 70 it will start to slow down.
The achievements include things like racing a certain number of times, reaching a certain seed, and completing the challenges. Some are quite easy to complete, others will take quite a bit of work - which is the ideal balance, in my opinion.
Innovation & Cleverness: 4 out 10
Because this is the fourth iteration of the Moto GP series, and nothing much has really changed since Moto GP 3 on the original Xbox (other than glossier presentation and some new tracks), I'm afraid I have to give the game a fairly low score in this category. It is a very solid game and has plenty to offer newcomers - however if you already own a previous version of the game you may want to think twice before buying it again.
Value & Replayability: 9 out of 10
Moto GP 06 scores very highly in this department, because of the sheer amount of stuff for you to do. There are two very distinct modes with 17 tracks and 4 difficulty settings in each, many different options to play with and challenges. Add the Xbox Live mode which in theory you can keep playing for as long as you want, and it will take you a fair old while to experience everything that Moto GP 06 has to offer. Next, I'll let you in on a little secret that you may not know. Moto GP 06 is region free, and Play-Asia currently has it for sale for £22, which is where I got my copy. Now, I'm not so sure I would have paid out £40-£50 on this game seeing as I'm not a big fan of bikes in the first place, but for £22 it's a bargain.

The replays are packed with detail.

Overall: 8 out 10
Moto GP 06 will initially take a bit of getting used to, but once you do adjust to the correct way to drive a bike your level of enjoyment will rise immensely. Playing through the various seasons in single player is good fun, but nothing beats driving with a bunch of real life friends or rivals on Xbox Live. The extra muscle that the Xbox 360 gives just about justifies this 2006 update to the series, but I can't really see that there's much further to go.
Finally, don't confuse this game with the Moto GP series on the PS2 - they are completely separate entities developed by different teams. For the record, the Xbox games by Climax are better by far - they look nicer, are more enjoyable, have better controls and feature more to do.

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