It’s the circle of life; and it moves through us all. From comebacks for Blur and Suede, to the return of Thatcherism, it seems that, if you live long enough, the more cycles you begin to notice. In the case of long-forgotten PlayStation bike-’em-up Moto Racer, it too returns with a new instalment in 2016. It’s a cycle which, in this case, contains literal cycles. Motorcycles.
You’d be forgiven for not remembering Moto Racer 1 through 3, given that there hasn’t been an entry in the core franchise since the third game appeared in 2001. There have been spinoffs in the shape of Moto Racer DS, but even that is a little long in the tooth considering that it was release back in 2008. So, after such a protracted absence, can Moto Racer 4 convince players that it deserves an audience in 2016?
For starters, Moto Racer 4 is in the hands of a new developer, which is understandable considering that previous studio Delphine Software went defunct in 2004. It is now developed and published by Anuman and Microïds, respectively, and utilizes the Unreal 4 engine, bringing it bang up to date in that regard.
Appearance-wise, while the environments aren’t amazingly detailed, the engine does a decent job in holding its own in single player modes. Decent draw distances show off sprawling canyons, adding to the immersion as you whip by the scenery. It is difficult to take in the landscape as you fly past at a reasonable clip, but it certainly isn’t unpleasant to look at.
In gameplay terms, Moto Racer 4 feels like a half-step between an arcade racing game and a more serious simulation such as Ride. The game features wide, drifting tracks that allow for plenty of movement, giving you a generous amount of room to slide around corners. One particular track in the demo also featured moving traffic, but it was fairly easy to avoid a collision by simply sticking to the side of the wide lanes. The pace of the bikes gives a decent sensation of speed in single player, while most bends could be navigated at full throttle, allowing you to really cane it around corners. This velocity is further heightened by the unique mechanic of pulling off wheelies to get extra speed. As a tactic, this should only be deployed on straights as the bike will quickly seem unwieldy if you need to adjust your position. Popping a wheelie around a corner is like signing your own death warrant, and you’ll find yourself hurtling down a canyon faster than Wile E. Coyote on laxatives. Otherwise, it’s an interesting idea that cements its arcade credentials.
For those that like a little strategy, you can choose a variety of different riders who all have different attributes, depending on how you intend to race. When you select your rider, you can see their Max Speed, Handling, Acceleration and Turbo stats. As a bonus, the game also throws in some abstract quotes for each rider, such as blue rider Mitch “Bolt” Taylor, who treats us to such pearls of wisdom as “Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”. A bizarre addition to say the least, but at least it lends a little personality to a game replete with leather-clad Daft Punk cosplayers.
All in all, the single player seems quite promising in that, during our demo, it appeared like a fun, frenetic racer. But racing alone against the AI is only part of the story. How does the game handle in multiplayer?
Unfortunately, Moto Racer 4 really seems to struggle with local multiplayer. The frame rate tanks to the point of distraction, which really hampers your ability to play the game. When in split-screen, the pace is as jarring as watching two different zoetropes while drinking a bottle of Domestos. The resolution also seems to take a hit. The difference is as stark as that between the single and multiplayer offerings on Sonic 2. During our three lap race, I knew of an upcoming corner over the crest of a hill, but could never see it coming; soon finding myself splattered all over the road like a hedgehog’s picnic on the M25. This wasn’t the kind of performance you’d expect from a game running on a PS4, and certainly not the kind of experience you’re likely to seek out in 2016. Whether the PC version runs at an optimised rate is unknown at the point, but given that the optimal experience for a game such as this would be sat next to a friend on a couch, Moto Racer 4 commits a cardinal sin by offering an almost unplayable local multiplayer offering.
Another thing to mention is just how buggy the multiplayer aspect was. On a three-lap race we completed at least four laps without our lap counter even moving. On a machine next to us, a bike with no rider trundled down the road as if ridden by a ghost. Clear shortcuts that were even marked on the mini-map would count as riding out of bounds, thus resetting us back on the main track. Elements such as these just made the game feel a little more than unfinished, and it certainly didn’t feel like a stable enough build to show off the game.
Granted, the version we tested was just a demo build, and Moto Racer 4 will undoubtedly experience some fine-tuning before release. However, given that the game is slated to release in less than a month’s time (November 3, 2016), the developers are quickly running out of time to solve this issue. The game has already seen a slight delay by a month, but I personally wouldn’t be shocked to hear of any further delays to get this section of the title right.
Moto Racer 4 is a game of two halves. As a solo rider you’re likely to find a solid, enjoyable arcade bike racer. At this stage, though, don’t expect this game to enter your regular playlist if you tend to play with friends.