MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology was used by Microsoft to demo their Xbox Live service. After a successful offline version of the game was released, a demo was included with all Xbox Live kits that contained a small number of tracks and bikes. Owners of the full game could unlock all the tracks in the demo so they could be raced online. The game set a benchmark for the online service, combining a great lobby system, with relatively lag free gameplay. The success of the series has meant that THQ and Climax are now onto their third game. Does it bring anything new to the track, or is it just another yearly update?
MotoGP: URT 3 is essentially split into two different games: Grand Prix and Extreme mode. Grand Prix takes you through a full licensed 2004 MotoGP season, and lets you build up your bike's stats, do some simple tuning to your bike and generally race as if you were in the championship for real. 16 real-life courses are included, as are the best riders in the world. Your performance in each race will earn you points, which go towards an overall total, used to determine the season winner. It's just as you'd expect from the game.
Extreme mode on the other hand is a very different experience. The licensed tracks are gone, replaced by 16 fictional courses. These street races are a huge departure from the full licensed tracks found in the Grand Prix mode, and the way you progress is also rather different. Whether racing in 600cc 2-stroke, 1000cc and 1200cc 4-stroke classes, you earn money for each race you take part in. This can be spent on new bikes, tuning or new parts. New parts come in a number of stages, with the better parts only available once the lower specced parts have been bought. As with the Grand Prix mode, some tuning can be carried out on your bike, but it's basic stuff.
The fictional courses are based on real locations, so you've got courses in locations such as Barcelona and Tokyo, and they're set at various times of day. Some take place within complex city environments, with huge buildings towering over the street, while others run through rural towns, giving the player a nice taste of the countryside. Whichever track you race on, the experience is a thrilling one. The fictional courses seem tailored towards the more casual player, possessing less harsh corners, resulting in less of a need to apply the brakes, and more continuous speed. You'll have to break when racing with the fastest bikes, but the lowest class can tear around without too much difficulty.
Each user profile has a seed attached to it. This is ranking out of 100, the lower the better. Your seeding will improve for winning difficult races, and this applies to both online and offline races. Online races (which support up to 16 players in Grand Prix and 10 in Extreme mode) can be customised so you only race against similar opponents. This works well, but there'll always be an odd couple of races where a skilled racer from previous games joins the group due to his low ranking, only to obliterate the entire field. There are a multitude of options available when setting up online games, and the experience is just as good as it was in the previous games in the series.
The racing itself seems a little more forgiving than in previous games, but it's still very much one for hardcore racing fans - you won't find any arcade style powerslides here. There's a good amount of depth to the racing, with the road surface really affecting the way the bikes handle, and the large number of courses available make the game hard to master. The AI riders are good, but you'll easily become annoyed by the way collisions are handled. Slight bumps into other riders will see you skidding violently across the tarmac, while the AI riders will continue un-phased.
The previous games have been presented really well, and this is no exception. Bikes and riders are nicely modelled and the tracks look great. Lighting is excellent and the frame rate holds steady, and apart from some rough looking roadside trees and shrubs, this is one of the better looking games on the system. It could be argued that the motion blur used to show high speeds is a little over done, with the blur becoming a real hindrance, but it'll be down to personal preference. Music is used sparingly, but sound effects all sound authentic (not that I've ever been on a bike before) and should please enthusiasts.
As an upgrade over the previous game, MotoGP: URT 3 is more of an improvement than URT 2 was to the original. The inclusion of the Extreme mode and the courses that come with it is a great move by Climax, not only giving the fans something extra to sink their teeth into, but also opening the game up to more casual players. With an online mode that offers even more depth than the last game and plenty to do offline, this ranks among the best racers on the Xbox.