Reviewed: July 1, 2006
Released: June 12, 2006
Motorcycle racing seems to be on the comeback. The PS2 recently got Tourist Trophy, or what I like to call “Gran Turismo on two wheels” and now THQ and Climax continue their award-winning Xbox crotch rocket racing series, only this time the game is on the Xbox 360 and racing has never been this real.
MotoGP 06 is quite easily the most definitive racing title currently available on the 360. As the only officially licensed game dealing with the real MotoGP, Climax had quite the responsibility, but their past track record left no cause for alarm. I’ve played all the previous games and have reviewed the last two on the Xbox, each receiving high scores and awards, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience with this next-gen sequel.
As before, this is a very serious racing game, not for rookies and not for arcade fans. Casual racers need not apply unless you are prepared to rethink your approach to the racing genre. And unlike Tourist Trophy, you don’t have dozens of licensing tests to ease you into the ultra-realistic physics and bike handling. You have a few quick tutorials that are all but worthless and then you find yourself in the thick of insane racing action.
MotoGP 06 offers all the expected modes and then some. You have MotoGP Mode that features the new 2006 season bikes, riders and tracks, as well as the full 2005 season. Race on 17 meticulously recreated GP tracks, including the new Shanghai, Laguna Seca, and Istanbul circuits.
When you are ready for a real challenge you can tackle the Extreme Mode and race on 17 street tracks, including the new Monterey Costal Highway. Veterans of MotoGP 3 will appreciate the redesigned Extreme mode tracks that allow for higher speeds and improve handling and racing.
Xbox Live and multiplayer racing is fully supported with up to 16 riders per online race as well as a new Spectator Mode and Commentator Mode. And all of this has been totally tweaked with next-gen audio and visuals that will fool anyone (including yourself) than you are watching an actual race on ESPN. Just check out the unaltered screenshots.
I've been playing this series since the very first MotoGP and my skills have slowly increased with the rise in difficulty as the series has evolved. MotoGP 3 marked a huge ramp up in difficulty so saddling up on the 360 wasn’t a shocking as it might be for the uninitiated.
You’ll quickly need to learn and master the precise, yet intuitive analog controls used for steering, braking, and shifting your body weight, as well as mastering the use of independent front and rear brakes and a sensitive clutch. If you can master this game you are probably ready for the real thing. Bikes range from 600cc and 1000cc to the powerful 1200cc rockets.
Early installments in the MotoGP series have at least attempted to offer some gameplay modes for the casual weekend racer, but MotoGP 06 targets fans of the real-life sport and graduates of the Xbox titles. MotoGP 06 offers the definitive motorcycle racing experience for both single players and those seeking the ultimate online experience that now merges with your solo career.
Quick Races allow you to jump right in and ride a variety of bikes with a variety of riders on a large selection of tracks that can all be customized with various difficulty settings. For those looking to master their techniques, you can opt for the Time Trials where you are racing only the lock and a ghost rider of your previous best time.
Both 2005 and 2006 Seasons are available in the Career mode and you’ll need to finish a GP season in order to unlock the exhilarating Extreme mode. Extreme tracks are much more fun (and interesting) than the drab GP tracks and the back handling seems a bit more forgiving, but don’t think the game goes into “arcade” mode on your – it is still very real and very dangerous. Still, it would have been nice to have access to this more “friendly” mode from the start.
MotoGP 06 uses a new Seed system that starts you off at 100 and encourages you to advance up to the #1 seed. To improve your seed you need to be racing rivals who are better than you and placing in top positions. The championship series includes 17 races on 17 authentic track recreations scattered across the globe. If you have played any other MotoGP game or a lot of other racing games that use official GP tracks you’ll instantly recognize a lot of these courses.
The RPG element is still strong in this series and the power to customize has never been greater. Your rider assumes the name of your Xbox Live profile, but you can name your team and design logos, helmet designs, bike designs, leathers, and choose your number and nationality. When you start you get 18 points to spread across several rider skills like cornering, braking, top speed, and acceleration.
Winning races gets you cash and racing points. Cash buys you new bikes and parts (in Extreme mode only) while racing points allows you to improve the various skills of your rider. It's a nice system that hasn't really changed much over the course of the series, and it's a nice way to allow your rider to improve along with your own personal abilities.
Unlike most racing games, MotoGP 06 is a pure simulation with real physics and real handling. I’ve ridden these crotch rockets before, but I’ve never raced one and the fastest I’ve ever gone was 140mph on a long straight desert highway. Playing MotoGP 06 is more about finessing the controls than learning how a bike really handles. You need to learn how to tweak the front and rear brakes just when you need them to corner effectively. You need to stay tucked down behind that tiny windscreen to reduce wind resistance, and you need to learn how to work the rest of the pack to your advantage. But most of all you need to memorize every stretch of every track so you know what lies ahead and how to respond to it in a variety of conditions.
Control is flawless with the left stick steering your bike and the right stick controlling gas and reverse. You can also accelerate with the A button. Brakes are assigned to the analog triggers not only giving you independent control over each brake but also a wide range of variable brake pressure due to the travel distance of these triggers. Mash then feather that right trigger and you’ll pop-up for a stopie much to the delight of the pit groupies, or stomp on the left trigger to skid around those tight turns. If this is too complicated you can always use the X button which combines both brakes – not nearly as effective but functional nonetheless. Sim purists will want to shift those gears themselves and this is done with the bumpers leaving the Y button to cycle through numerous racing views including third and frightening first person modes.
For you crash junkies out there, MotoGP 06 has all new and very painful crash animations that will have you (and anyone else in the room) groaning as your rider slides across asphalt and rock. As much fun as these are to watch crashing is not conducive to racing so it’s best to stay on the road. Leaving the track whether it be grass or a sand or gravel pit will either slow you down or throw you from your bike. Even worse, there is a hefty time penalty for leaving the track.
I find it surprising that the MotoGP runs rain or shine. Even Indy Car races will stop if the rain gets bad enough but these daredevils will race even in the most torrential of thunderstorms. Not only does your handling go down the storm sewer, your visibility is greatly reduced with a thick fog and rooster tails erupting from the rear tires of the bikes ahead of you.
MotoGP 06 features a substantial online experience with scoreboards and a ranking system that makes excellent use of your gamer profile and your current seed to accurately match you up with other online racers. You can play in ranked and unranked matches, track best times for yourself, your friends, and the top racers in the world.
The previous MotoGP games have always delivered some of the best graphics seen in any Xbox racing game and the 360 takes this level of excellence and achieves some sort of uber-reality that is hard to explain. Even the gorgeous screenshots don’t do this game the justice it deserves. My only singular complaint is that the GP courses are just plain boring to look at, but you really can't fault the game for accurately recreating real locations.
The power of the Xbox 360 is fully utilized to bring you realistic bump mapped textures, real-time lighting, and highly detailed bike and rider models fully articulated with stunning animation, all blurring by at 60fps. The skies are gorgeous photo-quality backdrops with white puffy clouds in a sea of blue or brilliant shades of sunset red and orange. During rain races the sky gets dark and sinister with flashes of lightning and rumbling thunderclaps. And we can’t forget those amazing crashes and rider animations as he flies through the air and skids across the bump mapped tarmac with limbs flailing
The lighting effects are where this game really shines. There are the traditional lens flare effects, which surprisingly don’t seem “forced”. Your view washes out when driving into the sun and darkens when you pass through shaded parts of the track. Every bike and rider casts a real-time shadow that stretches appropriately based on the angle of the sun. It just doesn’t get any more real than this.
You can pick from several camera modes during the race including three chase views and two first-person views. Each type of view includes two zoom levels. The first-person mode puts you behind the windscreen and handlebars while the nose-cam view puts you on your headlight. While both of these views offer some very exciting perspectives and an amazing sensation of speed, they are quite unplayable. You simply don’t have enough “look ahead” or time to make informed turning decisions.
The chase views are a more forgiving, but even the close chase view can become difficult at times. I ultimately opted for the far chase view, which gave me the best vantage point to remain competitive in what was already a very challenging game. Regardless of which view you choose, they are all totally realistic and offer their own unique challenges.
There is a fabulous replay system that gives you a full VCR interface for ultimate control over the playback. You can view the action from 14 exciting cameras including traditional TV camera views and some other more unconventional angles. The replays are where you can really appreciate all the subtle details that went into this title – something you don’t have time to enjoy when you are screaming down the backstretch at 160mph.
The music in MotoGP 06 is the same generic and forgettable techno tunes found in most racers. It keeps itself pretty much confined to the menus allowing you to revel in the exquisite harmony of more than a dozen powerful bikes. If a rockin’ soundtrack is important to your racing style then you can always opt for the custom soundtrack feature of the Xbox 360.
Sound effects are excellent. The engines all sound quite realistic and are deafening when all the bikes are clustered together at the start of a race. Tires squeal when you burn out or spin around in a tight 180. There are even the cheers of the crowd as you race down through the grandstand area. The sound of leather sliding across gravel is as painful to hear as it is to watch.
Everything is presented in a crisp 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix giving everything a very spatial quality. You can actually locate bikes coming up behind you by their sound placement in your surround speaker setup. Sound is subtly altered by camera views including a nice Doppler effect on the drive-bys.
Career modes are relatively short but you’ll likely have to replay at least a few races to improve your standings. Solo gamers will easily enjoy more than 50 hours of racing with the career and then the extreme racing mode once you unlock it. The online gamers can double or triple that estimate with some of the best multiplayer racing you can play on the 360 on two or four wheels.
There are 50 Challenges that will provide some additional gameplay value and those looking to boost their gaming score can work on 24 Achievements that range from rising through the seed ranks to collecting all the bikes and completing all the challenges.
Climax has taken an already near-perfect racer and polished it to a level of realism I didn’t expect this early in the 360 lifespan. I just don’t know how much more real these games can look, but MotoGP 06 has set the bar to extreme heights for any other racers that dare challenge its supremacy.
Combine those fantastic visuals with ultra-realistic physics and a dynamic career mode that allows you and your rider to grow and develop together in skills and abilities and an Extreme mode with exhilarating city and country tracks, this is the most fun I have had on my 360 in a long time and one of my top three racing games of all time.
MotoGP 06 is the closest thing you can get to saddling up on a hundred thousand dollar racing machine and challenging the best of the best from all over the world - a definite must-have title for motorcycle enthusiasts or fans of the real MotoGP.