When Worlds Collide

I watched in abject horror as Dani Pedrosa weaved violently from side to side of the track, at the rear of the field as the rest of the competitors disappeared from his view. Pedrosa was travelling dangerously fast for the next corner and way off the racing line. The bike slowed imperceptibly as though the brakes had air in the lines. In an act of pure desperation, he pitched the bike over on its right side in a vain attempt to make the corner. That the bike would run wide and off the track was a given. What wasn’t so expected was the fact that with in excess of fifty degrees of lean angle and still heavily on the front brakes the bike didn’t “wash-out”. Rather, it merely acted as though the grass was covered in sticky glue, retarding the bikes momentum far more effectively than the brakes had.

Of course, I was Dani Pedrosa and this was the demo version of the game “MotoGP 10/11”. I must admit I enjoy a good racing simulator and as a motorcyclist was desperate to like this game. You can’t expect an X-Box controller to map accurately to the controls of a motorbike, so “realism” in such a game is always going to be a subjective term. The demo version of the game starts with all the usual assists you can expect in a modern racing simulator, including a “racing line” indicator that both indicates where you should be and how fast you should be travelling by its colour.

If you were to paint a line on a racetrack and ask me to travel at whatever speed I felt was appropriate but to stay close to the line, I reckon I could do a reasonable job. Asking me to do so in the game proved close to impossible! I think the largest problem with motorcycle games and a controller is judging a lean angle via the thumb-stick. Maybe I am just a n00b, but it seems difficult to use the thumb-stick and push it to an exact angle that is not at its extremity. Minor corrections are an impossibility as the only steering mechanism you have acts as a giant inverted pendulum. Dani gradually leans from one side to the other, meaning all direction changes need to be planned well in advance.

If I was allowed to call the shots for future development of the game, I would love to have a custom controller that mimicked handlebars and utilise the Kinect sensor to allow for body positioning on the bike. That way, body movements could provide minor line corrections, similar to what happens in real life. A less ambitious idea would be to use the second thumb-stick to provide this line-correcting behaviour. This presumably would have the advantage of being easier to port to the other game platforms.

On the positive side, the game is gorgeous to look at. The visuals are stylised rather than attempting and failing at photo-realism. The result is stunning. Screen shots look like an oil painting. Playing it makes it look like err… a moving oil painting! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the demo only allows access to what must be the most picturesque circuit on the current MotoGP circuit – Mugello. Although it is even more absurdly difficult to play in “first-person” view, this really does bring out an excellent feeling of realism as your view is buffeted about by the wind rushing past you.

Strangely enough, you don’t hear the wind though. Mind you, this is not a bad deviation from reality, as you are missing out on 90+ dB of white noise blaring out of your television… The noise the bikes make is probably a fair approximation of a MotoGP bike. It certainly is not awful enough to be detracting from the game.

As for an overall verdict based on the demo version, well the jury is still out. I enjoy a challenge in a game and if I had “won” the very first race I attempted, it would not have been a game that appealed to me. However, there comes a point where wobbling around behind the rest of the field loses its appeal. Do I have the persistence to keep playing until I reach the point where I can challenge Alvaro Bautista and Mika Kallio for fifteenth and sixteenth place? I can tell you that unless that happens soon, I might have to just consign this game to the “too-hard” basket and wait for a revolutionary Kinect enhanced version of a motorcycle racing simulation.