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Submitted by Gwynne Dixon on March 18 2011 - 23:20

Capcom's MotoGP series returns to the tracks with grazed knee-pads and audacious wheelies aplenty...

Not many iterative sports series offer you two seasons for the price of one. In fact, none do apart from Capcom and Monumental Games’ MotoGP series. It ships with the riders, teams, and tracks from the previous year’s season and then subsequently adds the current season’s line-up via free DLC in the months following release. This model was introduced with last year’s MotoGP game and is in stark contrast to traditional release windows for licensed motor-sport games, which usually launch in the mid-to-late summer. Still, with the season update for MotoGP 09/10 not arriving until July last year (when the game released in March originally), it seems a lot like six of one and half a dozen of the other really. Yes, you get to play the new game just in time for the new season (which starts this weekend in Qatar), but you’ll also be playing it with outdated liveries, teams, riders, and tracks.

This then puts the onus on Monumental Games to  offer some new and invigorating gameplay features over last year's instalment, otherwise why wouldn't you just sit tight until the free DLC comes out and buy the game when it's been knocked down in price by retailers? By paying full price at release, surely you'll just be paying extra for a game that's practically the same as the end-product that Capcom distributed last year. So, this begs the question: exactly what is new for MotoGP 10/11? Well, in short, a wider range of options in the riding assists, promises of an updated handling system through improved physics, and split-screen co-op in the career mode. It's hardly the stuff of legends now is it? I've read tenancy agreements that are more exciting.

Still, that's not to say that it isn't a good game. On the contrary, it's a very decent recreation of the sport with a few features that are genuinely innovative for the racing genre in general, let alone motorcycle racing titles. The best of last year's features, the Career mode, is back in full effect and it's still just as much of a joy to play through. Starting from a lowly 125cc rider at the back of the pack, working your way up through Moto2 and ultimately onto MotoGP super-stardom packs together a massive block of potential gameplay hours. Hiring PR managers along the way to haul in lucrative advertising deals, engineers to research and build upgrades to improve your bike, and trying to achieve good results so that you can build a reputation and get a better ride in faster bikes does add a heaped portion of sumptuous meta-gaming to chow down on as well.

But it's how you build this reputation through performance that's so well balanced. It's not as easy as just qualifying 1st and finishing 1st, although that obviously helps considerably. Instead, it's also to do with a rank you receive at the end of each race that ranges from A to E (there had to be a touch of Capcom in there somewhere) and can be built up with positive actions, such as nailing the racing line through a corner or showboating, just as easily as it can be brought back down by colliding with opponents or crashing and using the time-rewind function to undo it. Potentially then, you can  win a race but still receive a B or C rank because you were riding sloppily the whole time. Other racing games like Need For Speed: Shift offer a similar system, but not one that ties itself into your career progression quite as authentically as MotoGP's and for that reason alone it's a genuinely appealing mode.

Monumental then teases that same system out into the Challenge mode (formerly Arcade mode in 09/10), which has you riding against a countdown timer with the simple aim of completing races. Positive actions add crucial seconds to the timer while negative actions take time away, encouraging you to pull wheelies down the straights while riding cleanly to keep yourself in the game. It's a decent enough mode that certainly adds sizeable content through both a full championship mode – where time has to be conserved persistently between each race – and a single race option for more immediate pick-up-and-play sessions. Our one criticism is of the countdown timer which, while solidly implemented, doesn't quite have the arcade-style immediacy that we were hoping for. Having one continue per lap and three per race (with each finished lap acting as a kind of checkpoint) leaves the lasting impression of an abundance of time – when you do finally run out, it feels like a bit of a pathetic whimper rather than a desperate dash for the next checkpoint. Even though that's a bit of a missed opportunity, the mode certainly remains challenging enough (depending on the riding assists and difficulty settings) and online leaderboards also help to prolong that challenge.

Speaking of the riding assists, this is one area where MotoGP has expanded this year – just don't expect anything revolutionary. What you'll find is a fairly standard set of 'on/off' options, from ABS on both front and rear brakes to traction control, anti-wheelie to auto-weight distribution, and auto-braking to auto-'tuck-in'. With everything set to on, the experience is as arcadey as they get – the bike will go like an arrow and even the most novice of players will be able to handle it. To really get a feel for the impressive new handling system though, you've got to set everything to off. Only then will you get that little bit of wheel wiggle when you come out of corners a touch unbalanced, or a rear-wheel slide when you introduce the back brake mid-corner. A pretty good sense of inertia and weight is always present for cornering, regardless of how many assists your using, but the finer points of motorcycle handling are only really available when you turn all the on-board computers off. Difficulty can also be tweaked across four over-arching levels, from 'Gentle' to 'Severe', and you'll receive bonus modifiers in your ranking score for taking on higher levels. As it's possible to tweak which assists you want to use across each difficulty level, they essentially act as AI modifiers more than anything else. Again, both novices and veterans of the series will be able to find a balance that suits them throughout the various levels.

Beyond that, there's the standard World Championship and Single Race modes, online multiplayer for up to 20 riders at a time (as well as split-screen locally), a Time-trial mode that does the obvious really, and a split-screen co-op option in the Career mode where a second player can drop-in at any time and adopt the role of team-mate.  It's well stocked for content, there's no denying that, but you really do have to ask yourself whether it's worth the £39.99 RRP at launch when the game doesn't offer that much more than last year's game at this stage. Until the free DLC launches, it really is just MotoGP 09/10 with a couple of extra bells and whistles, so it may be worth your while waiting to see how long it is before that DLC releases. If it isn't until the summer, then you might just get a bargain in the shops for MotoGP 10/11 by that point.

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  • Graphics: 78%
  • Sound: 84%
  • Gameplay: 79%
  • Originality: 69%
  • Longevity: 74%
Overall Score: 7/10
It's a thoroughly decent representation of the sport with a good range of modes and some fairly neat ideas, particularly in the career. That said, it's dangerously close to being the same package that last year's game was and, until the free 2011 season update arrives as DLC, it's hard to find a reason why gamers should pick this one up over a discounted copy of MotoGP 09/10.

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