Reviewed: October 7, 2005
Released: August 30, 2005
MotoGP 3: Ultimate Racing Technology is the latest installment in what is probably the only serious motorcycle racing game available for the Xbox. This is my third trip to the starting line on a variety of precision high-speed crotch-rockets, and Climax has really given this series a complete overhaul, streamlining the presentation and adding a whole new level of realism to the racing. Casual racers need not apply unless you are prepared to rethink your approach to the racing genre.
MotoGP 3 Features:
Previous installments in the MotoGP series have at least attempted to offer some gameplay modes for the casual weekend racer, but MotoGP 3 targets fans of the real-life sport and graduates of the first two titles. MotoGP 3 offers the definitive motorcycle racing experience for both single players and those seeking the ultimate online experience that now merges with your solo career.
The significance of the online element is made instantly apparent when you start the game and are prompted to log onto Xbox Live. From there you can choose a Quick Race, Time Trial, or start your lengthy Career. You might want to check out those Tutorials before trying any of these, as there are some new aspects of racing you will want to brush up on.
Quick Races allow you to jump right in and ride a vareity of bikes with a vareity 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.
With your racer created and customized you can take a few practice laps in the training lessons earning more points to further enhance your character. By the time you finish all of these lessons you and your rider will be more than ready to tackle the real thing.
The championship series includes 16 races on 16 authentic track recreations scattered across the globe. When you arrive at each location you are given a nice movie showing the culture and a brief history of the racing event and the track. Before the main race you can practice and then qualify to determine your location in the pack of riders. New for this version is the ability to actually race the career mode races online with real riders. Depending on the skill of the people you are playing against, this may or may not be easier than the computer AI, but it is certainly a very cool feature.
The AI in the solo racing is really good, yet oddly predictable. They are programmed to drive intelligently and follow the proper racing lines, which means that you can slip by them with some improper techniques of your own. The AI either can't see you or doesn't care because if you get in the way of their programmed driving line they will bump you or completely cut you off.
The RPG element is still strong in this series. Winning races gets you cash and racing points. Cash buys you new bikes and gear while racing points allows you to tweak the various skills of your rider such as cornering, braking, top speed, and acceleration. It's a nice system that hasn't really changed over the course of the series, but it's a nice way to allow your rider to improve along with your own personal abilities.
Unlike most racing games, MotoGP 3 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 3 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 an endo 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 B 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 black and white buttons leaving the Y button to cycle through numerous racing views including third and frightening first person modes.
For you crash junkies out there, MotoGP 3 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.
I find it surprising that the MotoGP runs rain or shine. Even IndyCar 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. If you are playing from a first person view or nose cam you get the traditional water droplet effect on your screen.
MotoGP 3 features an all-new online experience with scoreboards and a ranking system that scores you based on your competition with equal or higher ranked racers. Don't plan on rising up the ranks by playing beginners and padding those stats. The trouble I had and a lot of you will share is that this is a serious racing game and it can be very hard to find a group of serious racers. You will undoubtedly get those punks in your racing pack that will be out to ruin the experience.
Online play is limited to GP and Extreme tracks that you have already unlocked in solo mode, or tracks that the host has unlocked. The solid 60fps of the solo game does take a hit online and becomes more problematic as the number of human racers join in, especially those with poor connections. All of the Live features are supported included Voice, Scoreboards, and the Friends system making this one of the truly best online racing experiences you can play on two-wheels, especially with close friends or likeminded gamers.
The previous MotoGP games have always delivered some of the best graphics seen in any Xbox racing game and nothing has been lost in this year’s version. If anything, the graphics have gotten better, especially the crashes and rider animations as he flies through the air and skids across the bump mapped tarmac with limbs flailing.
The power of the Xbox 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.
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. There are also several races that take place in rain and the raindrops and spray from the other bikes realistically splatters the windscreen or the camera lens distorting your view.
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. Rain and spray hits the “virtual” lens in these modes as well, but it’s not nearly as obstructive as the first-person views. 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 3 is the generic and sometimes annoying techno tunes found in most racers. I tend to turn off the music after I have listened to it long enough to review it. As it is, you are generally overwhelmed by the whining of more than a dozen motorcycle engines. If a rockin’ soundtrack is important to you then you will be glad to know that MotoGP 3 fully supports custom song lists for any music you have recorded to your hard drive.
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.
Everything is presented in a 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. Engines are more muffled when playing from inside your helmet than when playing just above your exhaust pipe.
Career modes are relatively short with only 16 races, but you will play multiple seasons so that's not really a problem. Solo gamers will easily enjoy more than 50 hours of racing with the career and extreme racing modes, and online gamers can double or triple that estimate with some of the best multiplayer racing ever. The fact that you can go online at anytime during what is normally a solo career is an excellent idea.
Climax has really polished this franchise to near-perfection. MotoGP 3: Ultimate Racing Technology combines 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. The Extreme mode with the all-new city and country tracks are some of the most fun I have had this year in any racing title.
MotoGP 3 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 freaks or fans of the real MotoGP.