Motorcycles are awesome, right? Of course they are. By definition, a game involving motorcycles should be awesome as well. Clearly my trickle-down theory doesn’t work, because MotoGP on PSP blows. The fundamental flaw of MotoGP is unfortunately its selling point. It advertises an intense, realistic racing game complete with real bikes, riders, and tracks. Here’s the problem- realistic isn’t always fun. Driving a vehicle capable of going 200mph at about 50mph so you don’t fall off is boring. Braking halfway down a straightaway so you don’t plow into the wall is frustrating. Watching your rider fly off his bike after barely touching someone else is cringe-inducing. Playing MotoGP is like attaching a carrot on a stick above your own head - the game dangles the opportunity for a good time in the form of wheels and competition but sets so many limits on itself it’s impossible to reach.
There are two main modes to play in MotoGP- Arcade and Season. Arcade lets you choose a bike, a rider, and a track for a single race. Season is a simulation of a real motor racing season, complete with points, teams, and tuning. Here’s the problem- you have no incentive to play either. Everything, besides a few photos (yippee) and bikes, is unlocked right from the get go. This means that there’s really no point in trudging through the season mode, and since the game is so ridiculously hell-bent on making you drive like a pro, playing the Arcade mode simply isn’t entertaining. Strangely enough, Season is the only mode that lets you tweak the options for realism and difficulty. Shouldn’t that be under Arcade? It really doesn’t matter, to be honest, since no matter what you do the game will still end up being thrown against the wall due in a fit of boredom-induced rage. Basically, the difference between the two modes is this: One mode lets you choose tracks to race on, and the other one tells you which tracks to race on, and shows you lots of useless numbers in between them.
Because it claims to be a simulation, MotoGP forces a horrible control scheme onto the player that squeezes the fun out of racing. Complex, sim-style controls do not work on a tiny handheld, and MotoGP proves this by squishing all of the functions of a superbike into “brake” and “accelerate” but still insisting on pretending to be realistic. The steering is horribly wonky, since if you turn too far while going fast, nothing will happen, and if you turn while driving slowly, you’ll fall off. The braking seems to be hit and miss, and I sometimes wondered if my square button was broken- but no, the brake apparently is supposed to be useless sometimes. If you don’t get the hang of, or simply hate, this form of play, the Season mode offers a braking assist option. This basically turns the game into a movie, since it doesn’t just assist you in braking, it does it all for you. So, that leaves you holding down the throttle button (the braking assist overrides the throttle when going around corners) and occasionally moving the analog stick to turn. Exhilarating. While all of the bikes give a decent sense of speed, you’ll never really get to experience it because all of the tracks included with the game are narrow, winding paths that practically require you to hold off of the throttle. It just isn’t fun.
It’s a shame, because MotoGP is a good-looking game. Even with 20-odd racers on the screen, the framerate manages to stay stable, and everything is rendered in a decent amount of detail. In particular, the bikes and riders are extremely impressive, with nice textures and lighting effects detailing them. Unfortunately, the environments are a little bland, especially if you slow down to take a look. Grass and dirt are horribly pixelated messes of green and brown, and the trees are… uh… flatalicious. Still, it’s obvious these concessions were made to make the game fit onto the PSP, so it’s justified that the visuals aren’t as mind-blowing as the Xbox 360 or PS2 versions. Unfortunately, compared to the impressive visuals, the audio is atrocious. After five minutes with the game, I had already turned off the music. For some reason, the developers decided that bad late-90’s synth music was the way to go, effectively crippling the game’s sound design. Motorcycles, by default, sound great while revving up, but it’s a bit annoying that the engine sound effects aren’t a bit beefier- these are superbikes, after all. Apart from replays there is no crowd noise, which manages to downgrade screaming past the finish line at 150mph from “badass” to “pedestrian.” The most glaring issue, however, is the lack of commentary- there isn’t even a bubbly announcer who yells “GREAT JOB!” when you pass someone. It’s not a racing game if no one criticizes you for driving backwards.
All in all, MotoGP is a bitter disappointment. It’s a soulless, miserable outing that manages to make zooming around on crotch-rockets dull and frustrating. The steering and braking are nigh impossible to master, and even if you did master them, you wouldn’t have any fun with the game you get to play with them. Sure, it’s realistic- but people don’t play video games to experience real life (especially on a handheld. Come on.) - games are played for a caricature of realism. The shoddy controls, limp audio, and lack of entertainment make MotoGP one of the worst excuses for a ‘game’ on the PSP, and that includes those crappy poker games that are being released every five minutes. With the state the PSP’s gaming library is in right now (ports of console games and rubbish), MotoGP really shouldn’t have been released. Don’t be lured in by the attractive screenshots- it may be pretty, but there is no excitement to be had here.
Four out of ten