The MotoGP series has always strained for realism, and while it's fallen just shy of Gran Turismo-esque standards, the games have remained consistently entertaining. Still, motorcycle fanatics everywhere keep waiting for that wonderfully simulated street bike racer, and this year, they pinned their hopes on Polyphony's Tourist Trophy and Namco's MotoGP 4. Tourist Trophy set the standard in April, but can Namco step it up and take it to another level? Does MotoGP finally break through to simulation nirvana?
Well, for the sake of early brevity, the answer is "no." But to be fair and accurate, you probably require some elaboration, huh?
The game kicks off with an invigorating intro designed to get your juices flowing; we've got the movie highlight reel of high-speed skids, outrageously angled turns, and crazy crashes. But the blandness of the menu setups and general presentation ruin the slickness of that solid first impression, and you find yourself taken out of the action almost immediately. It doesn't help when you enter the first race or training mission, only to find some very lackluster visuals.
They put a great deal of detail into the bikes, and to some extent, the riders, but that's about where the meticulous attention ends. There's a significant graininess to the track and your surroundings, with some seriously out-of-whack textures and lack of clarity in the background. But there is good news. Namco has included many true-to-life tracks, faithfully recreated and likely to satisfy all you racing fanatics. However, on the whole, the graphical palette is pretty underwhelming.
The key to a great simulator is control, both in terms of player control and customization. And while there are upgrades for your bikes in MotoGP 4, the freedom is essentially cut out of the equation. Instead of earning money and purchasing parts – the traditional way – your crew chief simply announces when a new piece has come in, and lets you test it out on the track. However, and here's the kicker- if you don't pass the challenge on the track with that new part, you lose the part . Not only does it not make any sense, it's an extraordinarily lame idea.
It doesn't get much better when we take bike modification into account. You can change things like the gearing for acceleration via a slider, but there's only about a half-dozen alterations available. On the plus side, you will instantly notice any significant changes you might make, even though the bikes usually feel the same, no matter what. And when you get out there on the track, the game finally has a chance to shine…for at least a while.
As I mentioned earlier, the MotoGP games are generally fun to play. And if I weren't so caught up with the genre label of "Racing Simulation," the fun factor would've been even higher. You get out there, lean into your first corner, and immediately start to feel better about the game. You can choose between a third-person, first-person, or realistic helmet view, and even though the latter two feel somewhat herky-jerky, you'll always be right there in the action. You can even ramp up the difficulty by switching on full simulation, which of course makes the game borderline impossible.
The bottom line- if it weren't for the glaring flaws in Namco's attempt at a simulator , MotoGP 4 would be much better than it is. You can fall back on the online play, which can be a blast, or you can deal with the somewhat mundane setup of a Full Season in single player mode. You can race 2, 5, or the full number of laps, you can make a few enhancements and changes here and there, you can undertake over 100 challenges, and you'll likely be sucked into the races. All of these are good things. But the bad is just too prevalent: poor upgrade system, mediocre graphics and sound, and in general, it just feels like an arcade game trying to be a simulator.
All this being said, even though it falls well short of its goal, MotoGP 4 somehow remains entertaining. But for now, it appears that Tourist Trophy is still your best bet, ‘cycle racing aficionados.