Monday 23 October 2006
For all PSP's racers, the console is lacking a brilliant racing simulation. We're still waiting for Gran Turismo 4 Mobile to appear but, until it does, this could well offer the precision and quality you're looking for.
Offering the full line-up of bikes, tracks and riders from the 2005 and 2006 MotoGP seasons, this is a comprehensive product of the series. You'll start with a decent selection of teams to race for, although the best will only offer you a contract once you've earned a seat by getting good results.
But if that fills you with dread, fear not. This isn't as cumbersome as Formula One 06's career mode and it's not like the whole game's locked away when you start. Basically, you're given a position to beat in the championship standings and as soon as you start doing well, it's all there waiting for you.
Surprisingly, considering its realism, the game is incredibly accessible. The default difficulty is perfectly tuned, offering you some stability assistance but thankfully not auto-braking for you (although you can switch it on).
And while you'll be able to finish in around eighth place from a pack of 21 without much trouble, actually finishing first takes some doing.
Also adding to its pick-up-and-play value is the short burst of racing it offers. With three laps to qualify for a two- or five-lap race, you can finish a whole season in just over an hour. Of course, you'll then want something to spice things up. You could ramp up the simulation until just staying on the bike is near-impossible, just as with the game's PS2 brothers.
However, PSP only has one analogue input (the nub) which is used for steering so avoiding wheelspin under acceleration is practically impossible on the X button. You're either fully on the throttle or you're not, so unless you're into sadomasochism, this isn't really a viable mode.
Above: Pull back on the nub and you can execute a wheelie. It feels great
Fortunately, there's also a separate difficulty setting that makes your opponents more cunning and proficient. This means you can still make things harder without your biggest obstacle being the bike itself. It's a very sensible inclusion and the game benefits immensely from accepting that PSP's controls aren't as precise as a DuelShock.
Even though control is user-friendly, this isn't a game for those who never use the brakes. Every corner offers a new problem to overcome. Racing lines and hundredths of a second are your enemies and rewards. The time attack mode cements this - racing against an image of yourself with the brilliant ghost mode offers infinite lifespan. But the game also sets you times to beat in this mode to unlock bronze, silver or gold achievements, which translates to various prizes to enjoy.
The game's biggest draw must be the graphics, which are just sublime, with massive draw-distances that lurk over the brows of hills and let you gawp at the track sprawling before you. It's smooth, too, running at 60 frames per second for the most-part with only brief lapses in busy areas. The textures are good, the bikes throw realistic shadows and the physics are spot-on. The kerbs even throw up light which flickers over your rider's body. In short, it's beautiful.
Above: In simulation mode you can make the back step out, but you'll fall off if you push too hard
Crashing your bike (which happens less than you'd imagine if you're playing it right) results in a brilliant spectacle with your bike flipping through the sand-trap. The CPU riders are also fallible, sometimes misjudging their acceleration and flipping over their handlebars, which will make you feel sorry for them.
It's hard not to use the word 'challenge' a hundred times when dissecting MotoGP. It's a game that works best when it's played right. Respect the bike and the track and ride properly and you'll start to see your replays look more realistic. No-one looks cool when they're the only rider flapping about like a moron.
MotoGP on PSP is exciting and addictive, tough yet perfectly balanced and immediately accessible. Considering PS2's brilliant rain effects we would have liked to have seen some wet weather racing but the sunshine makes up for it. We just wish there were two more wheels on the vehicles. But remember - MotoGP on PS2 ruled the racing roost for a while before Gran Turismo 3 came out. Here's hoping history repeats itself.