Make no mistake about it, this is a cracker of a bike racing game. In fact, if it was Christmas, this would be one of those deluxe twelve packs of silver-plated crackers with not just party hats, but real presents like watches inside of them. And jokes that are actually funny. MotoGP 06 is damned good, for a number of reasons. However, here comes the ‘but’: it’s not for everyone.
Why, we hear you whine like a 1,000cc engine being thrashed down the back straight at Donington? Simply because it’s a realistic bike game and, therefore, not an easy drive. A motorcycle’s controls are more twitchy than a car’s. It isn’t just a matter of taking the correct racing line; you have to be very conscious of how much you’re leaning with the analogue stick, both going into and coming out of corners.
The learning curve here is a substantial one, and you’ll be paying a considerable number of visits to Mister Gravel and his track-side garden of gritty delights. This might lead to frustration, particularly for more casual race gamers, but persevere with the handling and there’s a highly polished triumph of a game here.
The central career mode features all authentic riders, bikes and tracks from the 2006 Grand Prix season. Each race is set up in typical format, with practice and qualifying sessions before the main event. There are also several challenges for each track, which serve to introduce you to the harder sections of the course. Completion of these earns rider credits, which can be used to improve your biker’s stats, so you can make him a speed demon or cornering expert.
As well as rider customisation, it’s also possible to adjust basic settings on your bike, such as the gears and suspension. Commendably, this section is easy to understand and meaningful changes can be made without consulting a Haynes motorbike manual.
Alongside the Grand Prix competition there’s an extreme biking career mode, which is essentially legalised street racing where power-sliding around corners is the art to be mastered. This is a little different in that you’re racing in leagues for money, rather than championship points, and the dough can be spent purchasing upgrades or an entirely new motorbike.
Visually, MotoGP is very tasty, particularly when hooked up to a high definition display, where the bikes look superb and the track-side environments are varied and reasonably detailed. Most importantly, the game captures a real sense of speed when hammering down a straight with the throttle fully opened.
Perhaps the only graphical weakness is the track surfaces, which seem overly shiny, as if some overzealous pit janitor has been out buffing them up with Mr Sheen on race day mornings (although that might account for our many close-up views of the advertising hoardings).
The Live multiplayer mode is well featured too, with support for 16-player races and some novel modes of play such as tag, in which players grab ownership of corners by achieving the fastest time through them (capture the corner, if you will). There’s also a stunt mode in which you can show off the slides, wheelies and tricks you can pull, and messing around here underlines just how accurate the bike physics feel.
Chuck in the usual pile of unlockables, such as bikes, riders, courses and easter eggs, custom designed leathers, paint jobs and so forth, and you’ve got yourself one Hell of a two-wheeled, petrol-powered experience.
There are some minor points of contention: make sure you turn the in-game music off, as “bleeding awful” doesn’t begin to cover it. And the computer riders suffer from slightly bland AI, as they follow a robotic racing line, rarely making mistakes. Finally, those who own last year’s MotoGP for the Xbox will have seen a great deal of this content already, but even then it’s worth grabbing the X360 version if only for the high definition graphics and extra tracks and tweaks (particularly with the online play) that it provides.