Forgive me, MotoGP opponents. After scouring the track for chain-whips, baseball bats, and crowbars, I got frustrated. I got impatient. Even if the way you ragdolled against the pavement was pretty cool, I didn't mean to rear-end your ride at 180 mph, really. My last bike-based game was Road Rash! I don't know any better. I'm sorry.
If you'll excuse the apology, let's talk a little bit about MotoGP 07. As the series' second entry on the Xbox 360, MotoGP 07 remains a simple, clean two-wheel racing game. It's thick with options and modes, including multiplayer, bike customization, and a create-a-rider. And even if you're more fond of four-wheelers, this content is accessible thanks to controls that encourage a balance of tight, challenging play. At the same time, MotoGP doesn't do much to pull ahead of the pack. Its gameplay, visuals, and multiplayer modes are solid, but maybe a little bland compared to the polished, deep offerings of other well-known racing franchises. Still, if you're in the market for a motorcycle game, MotoGP 07 is worth a look.
Like last season, the title's main draws are its Grand Prix and "Extreme" modes (the latter is unlocked after completing the former). In Grand Prix you'll find flexible bike and rider customization across dozens of events, working your way through the calendar (and across continents) to get to the top. Extreme mode is a tad more specialized and arcadey, offering street races, powerslide-friendly handling, and some token challenges to complete. In between, there's token tuning and rider tweaks: drop a decal there, change the helmet's color, switch your exhaust system, or pony up for some new tires. Fun, but merely meat and potatoes to most racing titles nowadays.
The real substance, and what makes both modes worthwhile, are the 18 tracks that throw unique turns at the player. Some sharp and shallow, some light and winding, but as a group the circuits reiterate the franchise's reputation for high-difficulty, sim-like play. It's not so technically-focused to turn away newcomers, but it's fair to say MotoGP 07's learning curve will send you helmet-first into the tarmac for a dozen or so races before you're feeling comfortable. Getting into the groove of braking well in advance takes some patience, and MotoGP's judgmental tracks will punish you the more you try to muscle your way around them.
For this, you'll want to acquaint yourself with the game's good, if unforgiving control template. Leaning forward or backward (wheelies!) on the bike is done through the left analog, with gear shifting assigned to the bumpers (don't even think about running automatic on "Legendary" difficulty). The A button's acceleration (or alternatively, the right analog), with other face buttons, like B, used to peek over your shoulder. When it's running full-throttle the scheme feels great: downshifting, leaning and braking mean there's a lot more to manage than just gassing at a turn and jamming the triggers to swing around it. Do so, and you'll slide off the beaten pavement path, incurring time penalties for every moment you're out of bounds. At higher difficulties, there's little space to make these mistakes, mostly thanks to competitors that don't relent.
You could say MotoGP's AI is good, yep - in that ace riders like Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi are tough to beat. Still, they aren't necessarily fun to race against: opponent AI simply lacks some personality to make it special. Sure, we appreciate their finesse, smart braking, and knowledge of the tracks, but sans subtle moments where you feel outsmarted, it's simply a matter of riding with more precision than your computer competitors. Which is, of course: very hard. But in this way, it's the game's tracks that delight time after time. Newcomers, again, will be prone to driving their bikes like freewheeling, stable drift cars. But once you've figured out braking (the triggers control the front and rear brakes independently), and that you can't powerslide through every corner you please, MotoGP becomes a patient, rewarding experience you'll enjoy doing laps with.
Presentation-wise, 07 serves up a few fixes from last season. The framerate now flows smoothly over turns, and added HDR lighting brings tracks up to near-par with other racing titles. Some intricacies improve the overall excitement, too: individually-rendered crowd participants, helicopters that hover about the environment, cloud shadows that glide over the racing surface, and some solid ragdolling to tumble racer models into the track. The music gets a pass, too - some good, if generic rock tracks keep you company down the road.
Unfortunately, Moto's multiplayer remains basic. There's good fun to be had with 16 players, and the "stunt," "pink slip," and "tag" modes offer some diversity, but otherwise it's just a regurgitation of the single-player modes, with grand prix and extreme up for grabs. Some fresher menus and a cleaner lobby system would improve things here.
MotoGP 07 continues to be what it should: a solid, if simple cycle racer that delivers good value for two-wheel enthusiasts. The single-player modes are deep enough to wring at least a dozen hours out of, and you'll catch onto the title's challenging control mechanics if you're willing to eat some pavement for the first few. MotoGP's a niche title that plays it safe, but likewise remains a safe buy for crotch rocketeers looking to blast off.