Reviewed: April 1, 2003
Released: March 18, 2003
I’ve been riding motorcycles since 1981 and playing motorcycle games since 1991. The day a new motorcycle game hits the shelves my “Spidy sense” tingles and I start looking for my racing gloves. Imagine my surprise when Namco sneaked MotoGP3 past me – at least for a few days before my review copy arrived. And what a pleasant surprise it was…
Based on Dorna’s FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix, MotoGP is the pinnacle of two-wheeled sports with a 50-year history and over 1.4 million trackside spectators. MotoGP3 offers gamers the latest in biking technology with 15 official circuits and 20 fantasy tracks and renowned riders from all over the world.
MotoGP3 is fully licensed so you have all the real bikes and riders from the current racing season. There are also 12 sponsors (or teams) you can join, each with their own class of bike. As you rise through the ranking you may get invitations to join better teams with faster bikes. There are multiple game modes to offer you a customized racing experience ranging from fun arcade action to a realistic racing simulation with various levels in-between.
Racing games often seem to come out of the same mold regardless of whether your are racing cars, motorcycles, boats, or airplanes. It’s easy to get jaded when another racer hits the shelves, but after a few days with one of these crotch-rockets between your legs you will quickly discover just how deep MotoGP3 actually is.
MotoGP3 comes in two flavors – fun arcade racer and serious simulation. There are many gameplay modes to choose from including Arcade, Season, Time Trial, Challenge, Legends, and the multiplayer modes for 2-4 racers. The Legends mode will be of particular interest for dedicated fans of the sport as this allows you to race against four legendary riders.
You have plenty of other options such as limiting the laps – a full 21-lap race may be a bit too grueling for casual racers but this is the only way you get to explore the aspects of fuel management and tire wear. You can pick your bike by choosing a team and you can select dry, wet or random weather. Your final choices involve an automatic or manual transmission and if you want to activate the Simulation mode.
Simulation mode is not to be taken lightly. With a casual toggle of this setting the game gets exponentially harder. If you don’t believe me try a few laps with it off then try those same laps with it on and see just how bad a rider you really are and how much pavement and dirt you will be picking out of your teeth.
Physics become “painfully” realistic when you play the sim-version of this racer. You can control your balance by shifting your weight around using the analog stick and you have the option for independent front and rear braking, which is definitely worth the time to master if you hope to remain competitive. Combining proper weight distribution and braking will get you in and out of corners in record times.
Simulation mode also requires you to qualify prior to each race, which can drag the gameplay out several minutes per race but might earn you a better starting position. Of course the downside is that you could conceivably crash so many times that you are simply disqualified from the race and move on without any points.
You don’t have the option to upgrade your bike with parts, but you can get better bikes by getting recruited by better teams with better equipment. You do have the option to tweak several settings between races such as the gear ratio, braking, engine performance, tires, etc. for each of the forty-some bike available in the game.
There are also skill levels you can choose and while Easy is probably too easy (auto-braking just takes all the fun and danger out of the game), and Hard is probably too hard, Normal seems to be just right.
Rider AI is very challenging but not “perfect”, and you will see the occasional biker dump his ride on a tight turn. But MotoGP3 is no pushover. There is no “rubber band” effect that slows the rest of the pack down when you fall behind, so you will have to earn every victory. This can be difficult in the shorter 5-lap races where a single crash will put you in dead last with almost no hope of regaining the lead.
MotoGP3 is a great looking racer, perhaps the best looking one of the PS2 to date. Even with a full pack of 21 racers the framerate never dips below a silky-smooth 60fps and the bike and rider models are exceptionally well modeled and painstakingly detailed with incredible textures. When you combine all this with some of the best camera angles and replay system available you have something that can easily be mistaken for an ESPN broadcast.
Normally I skip over replays in games like this but the presentation in MotoGP3 is just so good I was looking forward to finishing the race just to see it all over again. The camera views range from your normal racing cameras to several television cameras including trackside cams put right down on the asphalt that vibrate when the bikes streak past. Very cool stuff!
Veterans of the previous MotoGP games will be drooling over the new cockpit cam that puts you quite literally in the driver’s seat. If you pop a wheelie you see nothing but sky and the sensation of speed is unparalleled in this view. Trackside objects and hopefully other riders will streak past your narrow peripheral vision in a blinding blur of color and be forgotten. If it happens to be raining your vision will be impaired with a water sheeting effect that is much more realistic than the droplet effect seen in so many other games of late.
Weather effects are excellent even if they only consist of rain or shine. Wet tracks are as reflective as they are dangerous and other bikes kick up blinding plumes of water. The sky is dark and hazy and your overall visibility is several hampered. Conversely, sunny days offer a bright racing experience with the expected lens flares and occasional whiteouts when you race into the sun.
The tracks themselves are accurately modeled after their real-world counterparts and the fantasy tracks are equally as creative and fun to drive on, but there is a distinct lack of overall detail to flesh out these environments and really make them convincing. The crowds aren’t animated, but at 200mph who has time to notice. The asphalt, grass, sand, and other textures are merely adequate when seen from a stopped position, but once again, at 200mph it’s all blurs into something that is more than acceptable.
MotoGP3 has a weak soundtrack, not so much in content, but one that is simply drowned out by a pack of 21 high-performance racing bikes. The opening music and menu tunes are your typical rock and synth tunes you expect from a modern racer. Racing purists will probably opt to turn off the music and concentrate on the sounds of racing.
Despite the lack of a Dolby Pro Logic II mix Namco did a surprisingly good job of creating a 3D soundscape that gives you a good idea of when a bike is approaching and on which side.
The season mode alone will keep you racing for 20+ hours, and the deep Challenge mode will keep you busy for just as long with more than 100 separate challenges. These range from simple things like beating a certain rider or racing a track under a specified time limit and you can earn three possible medals for improved performance on each challenge. The more challenges you win the more secrets and bonus content you can unlock, including new racers and a photo archive.
The multiplayer racing is also quite good whether you want to go head-to-head or use a multitap for up to four racers. MotoGP3 might not become your next party game favorite but it’s a definitely blast to play with some friends.
Motorcycle racing is admittedly a unique niche in a very popular genre. These crotch-rockets certainly don’t handle like a 4-wheeled racer and you have to adopt a whole new mindset when you tackle a game like this. Thankfully, Namco has given you plenty of options for both difficulty and realism that allows you to fine-tune this game to almost anyone’s personal preference.
MotoGP3 is easily the best motorcycle racing game currently available for the PS2 and is probably one of the top 5 games in the entire racing genre at this time. The visuals are nearly flawless and the presentation is network quality. The game is fully loaded with bikes, racers, tracks, and enough gameplay modes, challenges, and secrets to keep you playing for months to come.