While the feel of the bikes in MotoGP 08 is just right, the riding model is not without its problems. The developers have chosen to downplay the consequences of contact between riders. While it is possible to be knocked off your bike by an opponent (and only slightly more difficult to dismount him with some dirty driving), more often than not, you can run into a rider ahead of you with little consequence. In fact, once you've gotten used it, you can actually use this to your advantage by using a rider ahead of you as some extra braking when approaching a corner too fast. The tracks, too, have their quirks. For example, in some corners, the game will penalize you for cutting corners by instantly slowing your bike down to a crawl. It's a fine idea in theory, but its implementation is inconsistent; with enough experience, you'll know exactly which corners you can take advantage of and which you'll need to play straight.
As with the console game, up to 12 players can hop online to race in the PC version of MotoGP 08. Actually getting online is confusing, and neither the game manual nor the game itself does a particularly good job of explaining the process (you need to fill out a form on the game's loading menu). Still, once you're online, network performance is decent--even if the lack of features leave you wanting. You can only run races one at a time--there's no option for virtual championships where players can run multiple races for points--and can only bring your Career mode bike into a race if the host allows it. Even when using custom bikes, however, there's not much in the way of customization; you're stuck with the actual team leathers and bike paint schemes, as well as a series of unique helmets from which you can choose. In an era of customization in such games as Forza 2 and Midnight Club: Los Angeles, next year's MotoGP game simply must have more options for making your rider appear unique.
A fine sense of speed will have you tightly gripping your controller (or keyboard). Wait, can you grip a keyboard?
The game's system requirements are modest, and on the Intel 2.13 GHz machine we ran the game on, the frame rate was solid throughout. That said, the game has its graphical high and low points. Best of all is a thrilling sense of speed (especially on such long, straights tracks as Shanghai and Mugello) that really puts you in the seat of the rider. Unfortunately, decent speed doesn't make up for certain tracks that are simply a bore--with plain backgrounds and sometimes grainy asphalt textures that aren't impressive. New details, such as the night race at Losail, and the brand new Indianapolis GP track set at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway are great additions to the game. The hardcore fans will also find a lot to like with the game's audio presentation; not only is there a big difference among the 125cc, 250cc, and MotoGP bike engines, but individual constructor bikes have an engine sound all their own.
A slightly more approachable learning curve coupled with a great deal of challenge means that MotoGP 08 provides enough to keep you busy for months to come while not being as punishing on new players as the previous game in the series. Now that the series has moved to the next-gen consoles and the PC, the real work begins. Next year's game must primarily make sure that it has the same suite of offline and online features that players have come to expect from modern racing games. There's a lot to like in MotoGP 08's meat-and-potatoes approach to two-wheeled racing; here's hoping that next year's game offers a more extended menu.