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MotoGP 08 (Playstation 3)

Capcom's MotoGP 08 brings the excitement of professional open-wheel motorcycle racing to the PS3 in fine form. Featuring 18 licensed tracks including Laguna Seca and LeMans, players will find plenty of realistic challenges in the game's authentically rendered courses. There's also a large contingent of actual motorcycle riders, many modes of play including single races, career and online components. Players can also customize their bikes in MotoGP's garage mode to create their own unique ride. It's definitely geared towards the hardcore player, and its difficulty level is very high, which requires a great deal of skill, practice and persistence on your part. Look inside and discover that while MotoGP 08 offers a challenging experience, that's worth the effort.

Capcom's MotoGP 08 is the only officially licensed game for the racing series this year. Luckily, it delivers a solid racing experience with plenty of options and a surprising amount of depth. Players begin by selecting which racing mode they want to race. You can start with a Quick Race that allows you to get right on the track and begin racing immediately. This is good for practicing and learning track layouts without too much pressure. In these races, you can set the parameters including engine class, course and rival AI. Almost everything is available here, but you can't really unlock anything. It's good for pickup games and allows you to see courses available later on in the career mode. Once you're over that initial hump, you can choose to race a full career through multiple seasons. This is where you can create and race your own unique driver through multiple seasons of racing, earning extras and unlocking additional items such as bike parts as you go along. MotoGP also gives you a chance to race against the clock in its time attack, which allows you to go for the fastest time on a track without any rivals. MotoGP 08 also lets you race through a complete season in order in a special Season mode, where the races come in the same sequence as they will in real life. If you really want to build up your driving skills, you can play through Moto GP's challenge mode, where you can race through difficult mini-games in order to unlock additional items. These basic modes are complimented by an extensive online mode where you can compete against other players and earn ranks on leaderboards through a variety of modes.

The game's basic modes offer pretty much what you'd expect from a racing title, but when you go under the hood, you'll be able to tweak a number of other options included your bike's handling and parts, basic design and controls. This gives you an impressive array of customization options that can significantly affect your performance and position during a race. Many of these can be changed in between races in the Career and Season modes, so you can add parts or change your bike's configuration for each track. Once you've got all of these adjustments completed, you can then choose which of the three engine classes to use. These include 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP classes. There are significant differences between them in terms of difficulty and complexity, so you can't rush right in. At the slower speeds, you'll find cornering is much easier with more forgiving controls, but you still might find yourself sliding off the track from time to time. It's a little bit difficult at first, but going through the included tutorial and racing a few laps should make things a bit easier for novice gamers. Once you get to the more advanced classes, there's much less room for error, so you'll need to race almost flawlessly if you want any chance of finishing at the top. This can be frustrating, but our advice is to start slow and build up your skills before attempting these classes. MotoGP 08's racing is quite challenging in this aspect, since you need to anticipate what's coming around the next curve to a much greater degree than you normally would. It's bike physics demand a different skill set than most ordinary driving titles, and you need to take into account the bike's angle and height as well. This makes for a much more challenging game than you'd expect, but you can mitigate the difficulty to some degree by setting the opponent AI a bit lower. This makes for a modest improvement in the outcome of some races, but it can make all the difference on some courses.

From a visual standpoint, it's easy to see the quality and effort that's gone into the game. Each course has been faithfully reproduced this time around and the sense of realism is astonishing. MotoGP allows players to select from several different camera angles, ranging from first-person to trailing behind viewpoints. We found a middle ground in camera placement worked best, since the far angles made the experience feel disconnected while the close-in angles made it difficult to see far enough ahead to avoid crashing frequently. The game moves at a smooth and intense frame rate throughout and its animations and rendering allows for some quite intense action. It's courses look really good throughout, with attention paid to trackside objects giving each track a unique feel. The addition of night racing in this installment adds a lot of dramatic flair while also giving the game more variety. Animation of the other vehicles is also impressive, which lends the game more intensity. While it doesn't push the boundaries of HD visuals, it's still a solid looking game that delivers some intense racing action. Overall, this is polished looking title with above-average graphics that brings you right into the action without becoming overwhelming.

Players accustomed to the accessible controls of traditional four-wheel racing titles such as Nascar or Need for Speed will probably find MotoGP 08's advanced physics and challenging AI daunting. There's definitely a steep learning curve, which can be frustrating at times, especially early on when you're learning techniques. Despite the ability to change the opponent AI, there's still a steep challenge to overcome. Even the arcade control configuration takes some getting used to, while the more advanced Simulation controls and physics will challenge the skills of even the best racing games. Learning when to turn, what angle to use and how long in advance you need to break takes a lot of practice, it definitely makes for that rare racing title where the rewards feel earned. MotoGP 08 certainly isn't one of those games that you can sit down and master immediately. However, the authenticity and intensity of the racing itself makes for a strong sense of satisfaction when you finally get the hang of the basics. It's definitely not aimed at the casual gamer, but for those looking to put in the effort, MotoGP 08's sense of realism and sophistication is definitely worth the time.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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