Officially licensed racing sims must be a mixed blessing to work on. On one hand you know, quite clearly what needs to be done, given that you've got quite strict guidelines to work within, yet on the other, trying to do anything above and beyond what people expect, and to therefore get noticed, can't be easy. This is what faced developer Monumental Games when it was handed the reins of MotoGP 09/10. So what did it do to make MotoGP 09/10 stand out? Well, it's essentially given you two years worth of MotoGP games in one.
You see, that title isn't just because Capcom couldn't settle on a year to slap on the end. MotoGP 09/10 comes complete with all the season content from the 2009 championship, and will offer free downloadable content from the 2010 season as it happens. This means, strangely on the part of publisher Capcom, that there'll be no need to hope for another version of the game next year. You'll have all the officially licensed content you need in just the one game. It's certainly great for gamers and MotoGP fans alike, and something quite rare in today's DLC-centric gaming world.
This aside, there are decent, albeit expected strides taken in the core game. Key to the whole package is the career mode, in which you create a rider and manage the team you ride for. The management side of things is fairly slight (this isn't MotoGP Manager 2010), but by building up rep as a rider you can attract new staff members that will handle various aspects of the team's business, with press officers, engineers and team managers all wanting to work with you as time moves on. Of course, these staff members will need paying, and this is where your performance on the track comes in.
Your overall goal is to win the championship, starting with lowly 125cc bikes, then 250cc and finally the mega powerful 800cc monsters from the proper MotoGP series. Your career mode menu includes basic team management, but also your event calendar. Each event in the championship season includes a practice session, qualifying and the final race, and while only the race is compulsory, the two former options are essential if you want to build up your rider's reputation and gain a good spot on the starting grid.
Reputation is the lifeblood of your rider. With it you can become more attractive to sponsors and manufacturers, in turn earning you more money and better bikes. On the track this is done through your riding ability. All good actions are rewarded with rep points, while bad ones deduct points. At the end of each session you'll see all these tallied up, in what at first is a hugely demoralising sequence of events. The on-screen meter will fill up thanks to plenty of slip streaming, overtaking and showboating, but then they'll be wiped away due to the times you were overtaken and caused collisions.
If you're a bike novice, it'll take a long time to get to grips with the handling model. It's not the game's fault, with Monumental putting together what is actually a fairly forgiving recreation of the sport rather than a full-on sim, but it's still not easy to learn. It's all about learning the racing line, with bikes simply not being able to adjust as easily as cars. The game includes a helpful coloured racing line option, complete with braking zones and ideal line markers, so it's perfectly possible to learn how to take each corner, but for some players it'll still be a bit too much.
The career mode, and MotoGP 09/10 in general suffers from being a bit bland. There's a real lack of spark here, and it's not until you unlock the lighting fast 800cc series that things really start to take off. Initially the sense of speed on the track isn't that great, and the out of race menus (not helped by a terrible voice over) are dull in the extreme. The game just lacks the cool quality of games like Forza 3, GRID and DIRT 2, and doesn't have the involving, thrilling racing of Need for Speed: Shift. This is somewhat alleviated once you're screaming around Donington, holding onto your controller for dear life, but there's no denying the game needed something more to make it less po-faced.
What we have here is a game that ticks the right boxes, but doesn't add any new ones. The second chance, rewind and try that corner again feature is present and correct, but the implementation here isn't anything we haven't seen before. Mid-race on the fly objectives might seem a neat addition, but don't add as much to the experience as you might think, especially when you're already focussed 100 per cent on making your way through the pack.
The Arcade mode, which returns to the classic time counting down mechanic seen in the likes of Ridge Racer and SEGA Rally, is by far the best extra feature the game has to offer. Here you're challenged you to finish races while earning extra time for impressive riding, but it's not a mode that will appeal to anyone who doesn't already like the standard career mode. It's a fun alternative, but not something that will bring in casual bike fans. Had the arcade mode featured a selection of fantasy tracks (similar to what the THQ/Climax series included), the entire package would have suddenly had a much broader appeal.
Elsewhere there's the expected time trial mode, compete with downloadable ghost laps for the best riders, online leaderboards so you can see how well you're doing compared to the best in the world, and multiplayer support via two-player split-screen and online. Online races, playable in both standard and arcade varieties, can handle up to 20 players, which is pretty impressive. I wasn't able to get online, but if 20-player online racing is lag-free, bike fans have something to be excited about. Assuming you can get together a similar group of players there's no reason MotoGP 09/10 couldn't be great fun online, and if you're worried about griefers, collisions can be turned off.
In-game visuals are pretty solid, but the lighting gives the game a washed out appearance at times, and collisions and crashes aren't at all believable. It all runs at a smooth frame rate though, the sense of speed is great in the 800cc bikes, and the weather effects are fairly impressive. There's just nothing to get all that excited about. Bikes sound a bit underpowered, and the soundtrack is suitably adrenaline pumping with some recognisable tunes, but no one's going to spot you playing MotoGP 09/10 and hang around to watch for a while.
If you don't have a big interest in bikes or MotoGP, this isn't for you. There's nothing here for casual bike fans or anyone who might be on the look out for something accessible in the bike racing genre. It's an incredibly solid package, though, and one that fans will get a lot out of. The career mode is perfectly functional and offers more than just racing for championship points, while the online functionality allows for mammoth 20-player races. And remember, you're getting next season's data too, which Capcom deserves a pat on the back for.