• Moto GP Online Review - Microsoft Xbox

    "Must get a good start, must get a good start", you repeat over and over like a mantra. The first corner is all important, get a good one and it opens you up nicely near the front of the pack, get a bad one and you are racing with the also-rans at the back. Your pulse is pounding as you wait for the lights to flash off and the race to start. Just how long can 1 second take...

    The lights flash and you press down quickly on the accelerator. All the impatient racers are wheel spinning like crazy on the line, but you timed it just right and now you're quickly heading towards that dreaded first corner. You slow down at just the right spot and start drifting perfectly around the bend. You breathe a sigh of relief, you have made it through and now your race can begin properly...
    Next thing you know, you are sliding along the grass towards a crash barrier. Someone has nudged your rear wheel and sent you flying. You utter a string of expletives which is met by a degrading laugh from the culprit. The red mist descends and now its personal. "I am coming for you – you hear me chump", you scream down the microphone. "Bwahahaha" is the only answer...
    2 laps later and you are still behind the culprit. You have kept up a steady stream of abuse throughout the race, to which a robotic voice has responded with abuse of its own: "Is my arse looking big in front of you?" being one of the regular responses every time you get close going into a corner. You decide on a silent assassin approach to the last lap, not uttering a word and concentrating to the highest of your mental ability.

    The gap closes... 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 2... it's now down to 0.48 seconds and every corner you are getting closer and closer to sweeping past him. There is still a torrent of robotic abuse, but it's getting weaker and weaker with no replies from you. Two corners remain for you to pass him, it's now or never...

    You brake late going into the corner and cut straight in front of him. If you can stay from going onto the grass verge then you have taken him. You tap the front brake rapidly and just hold it all together. "You dirty bast..." the robot screams. "Bwahahaha" is your reply...

    Last corner, and he's getting close to your back wheel. "Please don't touch, please don't touch" revolves silently around and around your head. You brake heading into the corner and he out brakes you... but he's overdone it and he's on the grass. As you scream towards the finish line, 'Metal Mickey has crashed' appears on your screen. 12th place is finally yours.

    That's the sheer beauty of Moto GP online. No matter where you are positioned in the race rankings, you will always have a rivalry with racers close to you, and with the advent of 'Voice Online', these rivalries have never been as closely contested. Hearing someone laugh at you when they force you into a collision is probably one of the funniest, and yet gut wrenchingly annoying experiences yet available via online gaming, easily beating the insults people can type up when playing FPS online via PCs.

    Moto GP was released in May 2002 to critical acclaim. Coming out of nowhere, it rapidly grew a cult following as the premier motor bike racing game on console and also as one of the finest games on the Xbox. The original has already been reviewed by NTSC-uk (http://www.ntsc-uk.com/MainContent/X...oGP/MotoGP.htm) and the basic gameplay mechanics remain unaltered from that iteration of the game.

    The demo for Moto GP Online is included with the Xbox Live Starter Kit. Whilst it only includes 3 tracks (Jerez, Mugello and Sachsenring), the other 8 tracks are available if you have them already unlocked and saved on your Xbox HDD from playing the full version of the game. You can also use any custom bikes and riders which you might have saved to your HDD. If you haven't already got the original version of Moto GP, then you can still play any of the 8 tracks included in the demo, but you will appear as a ghost during the race and also you won't place a ranking position. One thing which does annoy from the demo is that there is constant pop-ups telling you to buy the full version of the game; is this sort of blatant advertising we can expect from our Xbox Live experience? This reviewer hopes not, but it's probably likely.

    Connecting to a game could not be easier. When you start the game you are asked which account you wish to join the servers with, this could be your main account for Xbox Live or as a guest for the main account holder. Up to 4 people can play at any one time, the main account holder and 3 guests. It takes a few seconds to connect to the servers, where you then have the option to Race Live, check if friends are online, check scoreboards (Moto GP Online has a very good world ranking system, details to follow) and Time Trial.

    Choosing 'Play Live' gives you a further 3 options: Quick Race – which will let you join any lobby with available spaces and a race soon to begin, Optimatch – which gives you a list of 25 available games on the servers, and Host game. Hosting a game means you select which tracks and conditions are on offer, ranging from number of players (a maximum of 16) to weather effects, though to host any tracks except the 3 available on the demo means you need to have them unlocked on the your HDD via the full game.

    Climax have done an astounding job with the implementation of the lobby system. As soon as you join any available race you can speak to any of the 16 people waiting in that games lobby, as long as they aren't already racing, which means you can expect to spend a number of minutes alone in the lobby. Next to each racer's name is a number which represents how many points they have won in that particular session and also a speaker which lights up when people speak so, that you can see who is saying what. There is also a symbol which changes according to three different situations; a spinning cog means that they are in the options, a crash helmet means they are in a race and a thumbs up means they are in the lobby prepared to race. The host can start the game at any time, but it's considered etiquette to wait until everyone has finished racing in this reviewer’s opinion. An annoying aspect of the lobby system is that there is sometimes lag between refreshing the servers and them actually filling up with racers; the lobby might show a game as having a spare space for you to join when in actual fact that space is already filled. It just means that you go further down the list until you find a game to join though, which takes a few seconds more.

    Racing online is as smooth as the offline experience. A zero lag environment is something which I wasn't expecting, especially when racing against gamers on the other side of the Atlantic, but Climax have pulled it off perfectly. To ensure that voice communication is also lag free during racing, you can only listen to and talk to two other racers at any one time, the one directly in front of you and the one directly behind you. This makes the rivalry aspect even more intriguing, since it allows you to keep a running commentary battle going between someone who is the same skill set as yourself. A problem does occasionally occur, where your connection to Xbox Live will drop, resulting in being kicked from both game and Xbox Live servers, but a quick assessment of the troubleshooting guide which pops up automatically when any drop outs occur normally results in being connected back to the Xbox Live servers immediately.

    Every time you place a fastest lap, it is automatically saved to the Moto GP servers. World ranking positions are placed via lap times rather than how many games you have won or lost. This works perfectly, as it means to get to Number 1 in the World rankings then you are definitely the fastest Moto GP racer in the world. A particularly nice addition to the rankings is that you can choose to only see where you are in position to people on your friends list, claiming a position above your friends is extremely pleasing.

    Not everything is rosy in the Moto GP Online garden, however. In some races, you will get idiots who think it's amusing to go around the track the wrong way, crashing into other people racing and totally destroying any good lap times they might have achieved. You can, however, kick them from the lobby, and there is also an option to report any gamers guilty of this infraction to Microsoft. A simple way to ensure that a race will be as enjoyable as possible without any chance of people spoiling it is to race with people you know, but this will detract from the overall experience of what Xbox Live is about. Another annoying thing, is the use of shortcuts during races: people cutting corners and going across grass verges to gain quicker lap times or a few places in the race rankings. However, you can set off-road simulation to 100%, meaning that any off-road shenanigans results in instant crashes. Also, the use of some shortcuts results in a lap time being reset, which will hopefully mean that the best in the world rankings are in fact people who race "correctly".

    THQ, Climax and Microsoft should be highly praised for updating servers to make the online experience as enjoyable as possible. They have already updated the game, via a small download (about 10 seconds download time); the analogue triggers are now programmed into the online game, and they have added the resetting of lap times for cheats to the servers. They even have some tournaments planned for the future, which means that Moto GP online will be an ongoing thing for some time to come.

    As the Xbox launched with a killer app in the shape of Halo, Xbox Live has launched with a killer app in the shape of Moto GP online. The fact that it comes free in demo form when you purchase a Xbox Live Starter Kit, and that the extra tracks are available if you already own the original Moto GP are extra added bonuses. Even if you dislike motor bike racing, you should still own and play this game online and experience the joys of online racing. Moto GP Online could be classed as a defining moment for console gamers, it shows the competition just how an online racing game can, and should, be done. The highest compliment this game can achieve is that it is good that you get it free with your Xbox Live Starter Kit since it is the must-have game for any discernable gamer who owns Xbox Live.

    A review by John Beaulieu
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