The MotoGP series of games has been a staple game during the existence of Xbox Live. Back in 2002 all the beta testers were treated to the first MotoGP title in their Beta Testing Kits and I think just about every tester fell in love with the game. Many hours and hours were spent playing the game even though it was a demo at the time. The game was released and many folks were immediate fans of the series. It had the perfect balance of arcade and simulation style racing that one could just pick up and play. The graphics were ahead of their time with bike models and the track landscapes as well.
So now we skip ahead to the year 2008. Climax and THQ are no longer at the helm of this elite flagship series and Capcom has now taken the rights completely of MotoGP. Many of the things that Climax incorporated into the game are present, but in all honestly, while MotoGP 08 is a great motorcycle racing game it does seem to have a regressed feeling in the series but it does show promise and signs of greatness. One thing to keep in mind is that the new MotoGP games on the Xbox Platform do not have anything in common with Climax's previous iterations other than licensing rights. Capcom was the sole licensee for the Sony machines and now holds the sole license for the entire MotoGP series allowing it to bring its own rendition of the sport to the 360. Many things are similar and will be familiar but thats only due to the common ground of the sports itself.
So lets start off with the graphical nature of the game. There are some great things in the game and some not so flashy things. I think the track environments have some what regressed graphically. Don't get me wrong, they look good, but they just aren't where they were with last year's title and one's before that. The bike models are solid, and the attention to detail on the riders as well as the textured leathers is quite appealing. Probably the most standout graphical accomplishment in the game is the rainy races. The spray of rain hits the camera as it did in last years game but with a bit more intensity and it actually looks even better. At times it makes it almost difficult to see turns due to the rolling drips and drop splatters on the camera lens that distorts and disguises the track. The menu systems are crisp and clean and well done, so its easy to navigate to the things you want to do.
The only other graphical aspect that I saw a bit of a decline was in the replays. While again, it looks good, it just isn't to the quality that it had been previously. I would expect a TV quality broadcast of the replay, but alas that just isn't the case. I honestly think that the downgrade in track graphics is really what detracts from the quality of the video. At least the sky look great whether its sunny or stormy. And a few of the chase camera angles are extremely well detailed, but I really didn't enjoy the angle as you are basically staring at the rider's rear end and nothing else. Not something that's up my alley.
The sounds seem to be pretty much what has become the norm for the game although the 125cc series has some peculiar sounds to say the least. The first time I hit top speed on my 125cc I noticed an all to familiar sound that didn't fit into this game at all. As a matter of fact, it's a sound straight out of the Star Wars sage. When you engine is red lining you'll hear it make almost a Pod Racer style of noise. You know the sound I am talking about and when you hear it the first time, it'll be the first and only thing you will think of. Now I am not well versed in motorbikes red lining and the sound it should make, so this may in fact be the actual sound but it really does sound odd.
Other than that, all the sounds fit perfectly in the game. The bikes rolling in the distance or the other side of the track as you race down a straightaway are echoing and sound great. During rain storms you will hear rumbles of thunder that really add to the realism of the rain effect. The games soundtrack has some great rock and roll tunes that fit perfectly into the attitude of MotoGP, and when they play during replays it makes the graphical nature of the replay less dull.
Controls in the game have somewhat regressed as well. There are 3 levels of control to choose from Arcade, Simulation and Advanced. With the arcade mode you'll be able to zip in and out of turns without much effort or skill required other than a bit of braking and timely acceleration at the apex of the turn. Most casual gamers will stick with this control scheme as it really does make the game and enjoyable racer no matter your skill level or familiarity with the MotoGP Series. The simulation and advanced controls are much more in depth and what a seasoned veteran of the game may come to expect when hopping on their virtual bike. No matter what control scheme you choose, they all seem work well with the game and gives players of all skill levels something to enjoy when playing the game.
The street racing that had come to fruition with the last few MotoGP titles on the 360 is replaced by the 125cc Series and the 250cc Series. Of course you have the standard MotoGP Series as well that houses all the names you'll recognize easily if you watch the sport at all. You'll get a the entire track selection from the MotoGP circuit, most of which you will be very familiar with after riding one or two laps around if you have played this or any MotoGP title in the past.
When it comes to game modes you get the standard Career mode. As you progress through the career mode starting out in the 124cc class, you'll unlock new teams in the 250cc and MotoGP classes which will allow you to compete at those levels. Its all based upon how many points you earn each race with the Ducati Team being the last team to unlock after almost full completion of all 3 series. As you progress through each race you'll also unlock new helmets and upgrade points. The upgrade points can be used to build up you stats in Max Speed, Acceleration, Braking and Traction.
You'll also be happy to know that you can customize the bike's setup to you liking. This includes changing the the compound of your tires, suspension, turning speed and your gear ratio. Each track is different so trying out different setups can be very useful in finding your fastest combination. Again, it really all depends on how you ride the bike yourself in the end. The perfect setup for a track may not be the perfect setup for you personally as a rider.
Each race in the career mode allows you to practice, qualify and race the scheduled track. You'll be able to practice to find your perfect setup, then take it to qualifying where you'll be given a set amount of time to record your fastest lap. Once the qualifying period is over then your fastest lap is taken at that point and you are placed onto the starting grid according to that time. You'll see the weather conditions during qualifying and get a feel for what race day will be like. Also from the main career menu you can view standings, the teams you have available to ride for, and helmet selection.
Career mode is pretty basic and straight forward. Nothing to in depth or complicated about the mode and you can honestly dive in as much as you like if you are into the whole custom bike settings and upgrades. The different levels of difficulty range from very easy to extremely challenging on the highest difficulty of Champion. You'll have to be virtually mistake free to win at the highest difficulty and some knowledge in custom bike settings doesn't hurt either.
Other game modes include Quick race, Time attack, Championship, Challenges and of course Xbox Live Multiplayer. Multiplayer includes up to 12 riders per session and it can be quite fun. Lag does not seem to be an issue from the time I was playing online and this honestly brings back the good ole memories of Xbox Live Beta testing where I spent several nights online racing until 3 or 4 in the morning. You can joined ranked or player matches as well as just race with friends in a private player match. Race options include the number of laps you can set, the weather including night racing on some tracks, the game style, collision on or off, and of course track selection as well as the bike class.
Overall Capcom has done a great job with MotoGP 08 and while some diehards of the series may grumble a bit at the changing of the guard from Climax and THQ to Capcom. The title shows a lot of promise for the future and I truly hope that after several years of just doing the MotoGP series on the Sony machines that Capcom takes full advantage of the Xbox 360 and takes this game to new heights. If you are looking for a good motorcycle racing game then this should be your title as the different level of difficulties and control schemes allow for anyone to pick it up and play.
Suggestions: Its time to take this game to the next gen level Capcom. The graphics in this game really could run well on the original Xbox so some limits need to be pushed now that you are in the next generation of systems. I would like to see a bit more depth to the upgrading. Also I would love to see the total racers online get bumped up from 12 to more like 20. That would be ideal.