When it comes to racing games, I’m of the firm belief that if it manages to nail the overwhelming thrill of having the wind blow through your hair as if you were actually driving such powerful vehicles in real life, then it’s – quite literally – on the right track.
Now, the Moto Racer franchise has been resurrected from the mediocre game graveyard from whence it came, hoping to deliver this exhilarating rush to a new generation of players. Unfortunately, it falls short, managing to be little more than an okay but unpolished package.
Unlike the very technical and serious take on motorcycle racing that the MotoGP series tries to deliver, Moto Racer 4’s attempt to fuel-inject fun back into the overcrowded genre should, in theory, be something I can really get behind. Like many, I’ve been waiting for a racing game that truly encapsulates the wild spirit of the likes of Burnout Paradise to again come along, but unsurprisingly, after playing Moto Racer 4, I’m still left waiting.
Moto Racer 4, like the entries that have come before it, at least makes some attempt at offering players a fair level of depth, but it just all falls rather flat. Those familiar with the franchise can expect to be once again welcomed with the choice of taking your wheelies, pops and skids both on- or off-road, but the amount of motorcycles is pretty limited – especially when you consider that most have to be unlocked through the course of the game before you can use them.
Whether barrelling your way through the game’s vanilla career mode or killing some time in a quick race, the all-round lack of decent presentation and visual flair sadly disappoints in Moto Racer 4. Bikes feel little more than carbon copies of each other; at best they may feel a little lighter or heavier than the previous one you took to the tracks, but the only real tactile change comes from the difference between racing a dirt bike or on-road motorcycle. A simple upgrade system lets you boost either your turbo, acceleration, handling or speed attributes as you progress after each career race, but their effects are minor at best.
While track layouts, locations and visual presentation leave you wanting more from a pure design perspective, some originality does at least rear its head in a unique risk/reward star system found in the game’s novel, if a little brief, career mode.
You see, prior to each race, survival challenge or time attack trial, you’re given the option to gamble on how well you’re going to do. Think you can reach first place on a particular track, or fancy your chances at beating out your AI opponents in survival? Prove it, and you’ll be rated out of three stars for your efforts. Fail however, and you’re looking at minus three. Stars are needed to progress further and even unlock new racers, so learning to place faith in your own driving ability will be something you’ll have to become quickly acclimatised to.
In its favour, the actual act of driving in Moto Racer 4 is pretty good. Boosting feels satisfying, handling feels fair and I never felt that I had a lack of control. It’s just a shame that your surrounding environments feel unpolished and very uninspired. One moment you’ll be driving through the obligatory ‘beach’ track before eventually rushing through the ‘forest’ track, yet none of the courses have any identity or feel particularly memorable.
A lot of these tracks (especially the on-road ones) constantly find themselves littered with AI vehicles, and in this way Moto Racer 4 simply presents too many obstacles in the way of your enjoyment – literally and figuratively. Too many times while boosting did I find myself getting a bit too close and personal with the front face of a semi-truck or rogue sports car. This weird choice in game design, though true to life, forces you to not only fight against the layout and challenge of the track, but the large amounts of unnecessary traffic on it also. It’s not so much challenging as it is increasingly annoying.
If anything, I wish Moto Racer 4 leaned more heavily on the few goofy arcade racing mechanics it presents, such as engaging turbo by popping a wheelie, awarding style points by near-missing AI traffic and dedicating a button to shoving adjacent motorcycle racers. Instead of fully committing to these welcome arcade sensibilities however, Moto Racer 4 relies too much on attempting to cater for all – a factor made evident by the game’s bland presentation and sterile courses.
Even with fairly decent driving gameplay and a somewhat unique career progression system, Moto Racer 4 simply doesn’t do enough to wow veteran racing game fans or woo in newcomers who might be tempted to put pedal to the metal. Almost every aspect of the game prompted me to utter the phrase “just not good enough”; Moto Racer 4 simply feels unfinished, and despite its few decent elements, it’s just not enough to warrant a purchase.