To be casual, or not to be casual: that is the question.
To the casual gamer, a racing sim can seem about as accessible as a brick wall—and even less interesting. But a well-designed racing sim can provide a rewarding experience to aficionados and amateurs alike. With each new iteration of a racing sim series, a developer has to re-strike the balance between hardcore elitism and casual ease-of-entry.
[image1]MotoGP 08, however, is a bit out of alignment. It makes a few half-hearted concessions to casual gamers but is designed by and large only for series diehards. It comes in three difficulty levels: arcade, advanced, and simulation. But they may as well be called “normal", “holy s*#@”, and “f*&% me!!” In addition, there are three bike classes: 125cc, 250cc, and MotoGP. And, as you might guess, those also correspond to the aforementioned expletive-laden varieties.
The surest point of accessibility for the uninitiated is the arcade difficulty setting. Once beyond that boundary, you’ll be faced with a technically demanding racer that requires enormous patience, lots of practice, and fast reflexes. Anyone who’s ever played a MotoGP or Superbike game before knows that these are among the most challenging and exacting racers in existence.
It should come as no surprise then that MotoGP 08 is for the obsessively dedicated. Those just wandering blindly into the game will be confronted by an incredibly steep learning curve with no one and nothing to help ease them in. Instead, beginners are doomed to spend an eternity in the kiddie pool, playing arcade difficulty over and over again. Making the jump to the higher difficulties doesn’t come quickly or easily, and even those who consider themselves racing sim fans will have a hard time learning the ropes.
Where other racing sims have found ways to bridge the gap between arcade and simulation by easing players gradually into the more technical aspects of racing, MotoGP 08 leaves beginners to fend for themselves. This is both the game's greatest payoff and its biggest fault. If you’re patient and willing, you’ll discover a faithful simulation of the MotoGP racing world. For everyone else, this game is not for you.
In the advanced and simulation difficulty settings, there’s no traction, steering, or brake assist. In an auto racing game, driving without these assists generally leads to over- or under-steering, but on a bike, this leads to spills. Lots of spills. Unlike auto racing, learning to negotiate steering, acceleration, and braking on a bike isn’t just a matter of finding the best line; it’s a matter of staying on the bike.
[image2]For the truly dedicated, MotoGP 08 offers faithful riding physics and a well-earned feeling of technical mastery. This latest entry in the series presents a solid—if basic—set of racing features, considerably fewer than prior releases. Career mode is straightforward, with very little freedom to select much of anything except for your racing team. Race locations are laid out in a linear progression with no sub-classes or specialty races of any kind.
There are a number of performance tweaks available, but unlike its predecessors there are no aftermarket parts to purchase or earn. Instead, you gain bonus points—a la Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater—that you can use to improve traction, acceleration, speed, and braking. This is a strange feature in a simulation-focused game and seems like an ill-designed attempt to make the game seem more beginner-friendly.
There are also the expected Quick Race, Time Attack, and Championship modes that let you choose your course and conditions. An added Challenge mode provides some deviation from the norm by giving you some Madden-style special circumstances to overcome such as starting in last place or beginning a race with limited brake life. Otherwise, this is a racing game that defines “standard”. No bells, whistles, extras, or surprises. Just racing, racing, and more racing.
It does, however, hit some distinctly low notes. MotoGP 08 includes an online mode, but my experience with it was more awkward than a high school kid at a college frat party. Lag, dropouts, mistaken position numbers, and a whole slew of other annoying online issues abound. Technically, you can race against up to eleven other players, but I very rarely found a group larger than five or six. There’s also no local multiplayer option, so your best bet is to go it alone and offline—hardly ideal for a racing game.
The most frustrating oversight, however, is that in the single-player modes, the name of the rider immediately in front of you appears in the absolute worst place possible: floating directly over the horizon of the track. This makes judging your turns much more difficult than it needs to be. It’s one thing to have a bike and rider in front of you blocking your view of the course, but it’s another thing entirely to have their name standing in your way like a big, white beehive hairdo. It isn’t constant, but it occurs often enough to be frustrating.
[image3]Despite some bafflingly arbitrary concessions to the casual crowd, MotoGP 08 still caters overwhelmingly to diehard racing sim fans. It’s a technically demanding racer that rarely lets you come up for air. It provides all the core basics of any good racing sim and offers commendably believable bike physics to boot. However, MotoGP 08 gives beginners very little footing and senselessly sacrifices some key simulation details in a futile attempt to win over casual gamers. Longtime series fans may be irked to discover that some features are absent—like aftermarket parts and telemetry data—and newer racers will be equally dismayed to see the slipshod online functionality.
As the inventor of chocolate-covered, mint-infused anchovy and applesauce pizza famously said: In trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.