After snagging the official MotoGP license from THQ in 2007, Capcom released MotoGP 07 on the PlayStation 2; a promising, if far too difficult, rebirth of a game license that had previously thrived in the hands of developer Climax and publisher THQ. With this year's MotoGP 08, Capcom and developer Milestone have brought the series to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. While the game likely won't create a new generation of virtual racing fans, those who have some two-wheeled gaming experience will find a demanding driving model and plenty of stiff competition to keep them busy.
Hard-charging AI, three different handling settings, and multiple weather options are combined for true test of skill in MotoGP 08.
There aren't any surprises in MotoGP 08's list of game modes--you've got the standard list of single-player modes you'd expect from a racing game: Single Race, Time Trial, Championship, Challenge mode, and so on. The highlight on the single-player menu is the Career mode, which gives you a chance to create a rider from scratch and work your way up through three bike racing series (125cc, 250cc, and, the pinnacle, MotoGP). As you enter races, any points you score by placing high enough in the final results will earn you attribute upgrade points you can apply to one of four aspects of your particular bike: top speed, acceleration, braking, and traction. You can then take your souped-up bike online and enter the competition in online racing events against up to 11 other online riders.
While Career mode is certainly the best single-player mode in the game, it has its quirks. First of all, your career ends after five years regardless of how many series championships you've won. Second, once you've selected from the game's various AI and handling difficulty levels, you can't change them for the entirety of your career. This is especially frustrating once you've maxed out your bike and can basically smoke the easy or medium-level AI opponents. It would have been more user-friendly to give players the chance to tweak options in between seasons to keep up the challenge.
This lack of career option flexibility is a shame because MotoGP 08 is all about the challenge. While the learning curve is a bit gentler this time around, even an experienced MotoGP vet will find some challenge at the default difficulty level. If you bump that up to hard or champion level, you'll face cunning, hard-charging AI opponents that won't give you an inch; you'll be fighting for every position and loving every minute of it (except when you're cursing out loud at your own lack of skill).
Fans of motorcycle racing games will relish the game's bike physics, which are excellent. There are three handling settings to choose from: easy, advanced, and simulation. With a little track time, MotoGP vets will likely be able to settle in at the advanced handling level with little trouble, but throughout every race you run in the game, the emphasis on the racing line and careful acceleration out of corners is a hallmark of the game. The advanced handling setting is touchy enough; when riding in the simulation setting, even the slightest error on the throttle while deep in a turn will result in a spill. When running against the upper-tier AI opponents, any mistake you make is magnified by their unyielding aggression, and you'll find yourself in yo-yo battles for position at nearly every corner on the track.