I certainly wasn’t expecting much going into my first sit-down with MotoGP 08 last night. THQ no longer had the reins in the series, and Capcom had taken over as the developer of the only MotoGP title on the market. After a long string of fun races in the THQ titles, the little I knew about the Capcom product on PS2 was that it was generally considered less than stellar.
I popped the disc in last night and for a good three hours just sat near my TV zipping around the track in the various modes. I hadn't played a MotoGP title that long in a single sitting since MotoGP 2.
For whatever reason, the MotoGP titles failed to engage me with each new version. I’d get a sense of déjà vu almost immediately after starting up my first race, barely able to find a reason to keep plugging along. I could recognize that THQ had polished the gameplay, but it wasn’t enough to make the game feel drastically different from its predecessors, which I had played to death already.
Enter Capcom’s MotoGP 08.
I immediately switched the handling model to “Simulation” and took to a quick five-lap race around Qatar. Out of a 35 rider field, I expected a typical 5th to 10th place finish on my first run -- that’s what usually happens when I fire up a MotoGP game for the first time. But that’s not what happened last night.
I found myself actually being challenged. Not just challenged, but beaten like a red-headed stepchild who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I didn’t even set the A.I. to “Champion” out of the gates, instead opting to just duke it out with the riders set to Hard.
I qualified 35th out of 35 riders. Through a five-lap event, I managed to move up through the field to about 10th, but lost the front end under heavy braking on a quick set of 90-degree right-handers, and dropped back to the rear of the field again. I ended up finishing 30th.
How poorly I did was really a breath of fresh air, but something else really stuck out to me as I ran around the track with the A.I. riders: They actually behaved as if they recognized I was actually next to them. Even in the incredible THQ games, I had many frustrating moments of watching the A.I. riders act as if they couldn’t hear my bike turning 14,000 RPM right next to them. They’d cut right into me, usually sending me into a horrific crash while they continued on smoothly.
I didn’t see any instances of that here, which was mental note number one.
I was able to really get into dueling back and forth with some of my fellow back markers. I never really lost the pack entirely, but I did fall back a full straight on a few occasions where I’d bobble and have to collect myself.
The early returns for MotoGP 08 are favorable.
I was able to cut under a rider, and watch him take a higher line around the corner, carrying a better exit speed than me out, beating me down the straight. I took that high line and we engaged in a few scissor moves through technical sections, each one setting up for the next corner based on where the other rider was.
I can’t say how pleasantly surprised I was. I spent several hours just having a blast getting my ass kicked. Watching the rider A.I. behave like you actually had every right to the piece of track you were currently occupying was a breath of fresh air that I didn’t think I’d get. The game is obviously going to have to stack up over the long haul before I post a review on it, but the early returns are very favorable.
The handling model was another thing that I was leery of. I heard the Capcom PS2 games had decent enough handling models, but what I played last night was better than “decent.” Capcom maps the throttle to the right trigger, and the front brake to the left trigger. Your rear brake is the "A" button, which takes a bit of getting used to.
Handling and control are easy to get into and are believable.
If you’re not dual braking, see this piece that I wrote about riding technique. It may help you understand why you want to do it as soon as possible.
While easily doable in the THQ games with a control re-map, I never thought of actually putting the front brake (the major stopping power on a bike) on a trigger while using a button for the rear brake. I decided to just roll with how Capcom had it (pun intended) and figured I’d switch back to my comfortable brakes-on-triggers configuration in a race or two.
I never did.
Having just the front brake on the left trigger and the throttle on the right was actually quite intuitive. When I needed to really decelerate, I could squeeze the LT and press the "A" button at the same time, and then slowly release the trigger as I neared my target speed. I could use taps on the "A" button to make fine adjustments mid-corner, which seemed to work very well.
I could still grab a finger full of left trigger if I really overcooked a corner, but for the most part I hit my marks and found it to be a somewhat smooth ride (as smooth as can be expected from a 30th place finish).
The bottom line is that the handling model and control scheme were very easy to get into and believe. I think the Simulation model can be quite unforgiving, but that’s how the simulation riders want it. If you miss your throttle percentage by the smallest amount, it’s incredibly easy to spin the rear tire, sending you into a low-side mishap. If you grab too much brake and try to adjust mid-corner, you’re definitely eating kitty litter -- usually face first.
But within the first hour, I wasn’t worrying so much about the handling model anymore; I was focusing on actually racing, which is a testament to how the game managed to achieve the goal of immersing me in the racing environment, and not did not force me to struggle with an unpredictable handling model.
The Career mode was a nice change, as well. If you’re going to hop straight onto the simulation handling model, starting on a 125cc bike is an excellent thing to do. You induce less wheel spin and can pitch it around a bit without losing control.
Overall, my first impressions are quite positive. There are some strange things like not being able to gear my bike tall enough to avoid redlining and tach-ing out on the long straight of Qatar in the 125cc cycles in Career mode, and the overall “whininess” that you hear with motorcycle racing games. Those aren’t really enough to dampen my desire to go back and duke it out some more for last place, though.
And I have to be honest. After my last couple of runs in the MotoGP arena, I wasn’t expecting to want to go back. I’m definitely not ready to chalk this one up as a winner, but the early returns are favorable.