You'd be easily forgiven for not knowing about the Moto Racer series as titles have been few and far between over the years, to say the least. In fact, you have to cast your mind all the way back to 2001 for the last main offering in a series which dates back to 1997.
The first three titles were developed by the now defunct Delphine Software International. The very latest fourth title sees the French development team Artefacts Studio take over the reigns. With so many motorbike racing sims flooding the market in recent years, it comes as a breath of fresh air to see an old-school fast-paced arcade motorbike racer such as Moto Racer 4. However the question is, can it live up to the similar and recent old-school arcade offerings of Mantis Burn Racing, Table Top Racing: World Tour and Riptide GP: Renegade, or is it a series that is best left dormant?
Moto Racer 4 is all about racing as fast as you possibly can, taking turns at seemingly impossible speeds. To help you tear up the tracks you'll need to utilise the wheelie function which is the main game mechanic in Moto Racer 4. At the touch of a button, your character will initiate a wheelie granting you a temporary speed burst. Once initiated, you'll need to wait for the gold bar to replenish, which takes a matter of seconds, before you can unleash it again. Wheelies charge at the same rate every time regardless of whether you are performing tricks or not. It's strange, then, that you don't earn your boost as found in other racing titles - clearly, the developers wanted to keep the action ticking along at a rapid pace.
The fourth game in the series continues the long Moto Racer tradition of arcade motorbike racing, once again taking place on both roads and on the slightly messier world of dirt. On roads, you'll be expected to weave through occasional traffic as you negotiate high-speed sections making the most of your wheelie function, whereas on dirt you have ample opportunity to take to the air to perform tricks. Whichever the case, the action, despite the many game types on offer, feels uninspiring thanks to largely repetitive gameplay and a general lack of polish throughout.
Bikes whisk from side to side with minimal steering inputs which takes time to get your head around. However once you've mastered the twitchy handling and upgraded your bikes the game becomes more satisfying. Unfortunately, all of the bikes sound whiny and puny - so much so, in fact, I whacked up the background music to drown out the bike audio which made the experience more tolerable.
The physics in Moto Racer 4 are a mixed bag with often unpredictable results. The racing action feels very tense as a result, but not in a good way as you end up preparing yourself for the next time the game will throw a hiccup at you. Crashing into objects will often send you flying through the air triggering a re-spawn. However, insignificant crashes into track-side objects doesn't always trigger this re-spawn, so you have to awkwardly maneuver around the object losing valuable time in the process. A manual re-spawn button would have been a welcome addition to avoid these infuriating moments. Knocking opponents off their bikes is often akin to a lottery and can lead to a physics meltdown sending you hurtling through the air as often as your opponent. It felt so broken in fact, that I steered clear of knocking opponents off their bikes in case it caused me to suffer an impromptu flying lesson.
Moto Racer 4 has a total of 14 environments with an equal number representing the road and dirt tracks. Environments look very generic, with the usual desert, forest and mountainous offerings which sadly lack any personality or life and are generally devoid of polish and look unfinished by modern standards. In terms of visuals, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Moto Racer 4 has a very last generation look. The title has some texture pop-in upon loading an environment, the frame rate is not as smooth as it should be, there's a slight pause after you've finished a race just before the classification screen appears, and the game crashed on me a few times to boot.
The ugliest star
The career mode format is standard fare in Moto Racer 4 where you succeed in one event to move on to the next. Several events are contained in tiles which are locked out until you achieve the requisite number of stars with a total of 10 tiles to play through. Each tile has a number of races and championship events and playing through them will enable you to unlock module upgrades for your bikes along with new tricks and additional characters complete with their bikes.
Each event offers different difficulty ratings represented by between one - three stars. Rather than earn one star for placing third and three for winning, Moto Racer 4 differentiates itself from other racers by asking you to select how many stars you want to aim for.
For example, you may decide to err on the side of caution and select one star. To achieve this you need to finish in the top three places against slower AI opponents. If you feel brave enough and opt for three stars, the game requires you to win the event against much faster opponents. Whichever the case, if you fail to achieve your goals Moto Racer 4 is particularly brutal in that it actually takes away those stars from your total. In order to overthrow this deficit, you'll need to compete in the event once more and make sure you are successful. I can understand the development team trying to shake up the traditional racing game career mode formula but it feels unnecessarily complicated and frustrating and adds no value to the game.
Early on progression is relatively simple, but around half way through the career mode hikes up the number of stars needed to continue. To satisfy this requirement, you'll most likely need to backtrack and play old events to extract additional stars from them. Often you'll find earning two and particularly three stars from events especially difficult and frustrating. Of course, you can improve your bike with upgrades and new rider techniques (which are essential for success), but the game still feels too difficult. Hardcore racers will possibly find the difficulty very challenging and satisfying to beat, but the majority of players will no doubt find it frustrating. Besides the career mode, Moto Racer 4 also has the usual array of quick race and time attack modes but also comes with hot lap, championship and split screen game types.
You could argue that Moto Racer 4's biggest selling point is its PlayStation VR compatibility. Sadly, even this area of the game doesn't live up to expectations as you only have a paltry two modes that utliise the feature. If that wasn't bad enough, both these modes see you racing on your own. To compound this further, you are also limited to road tracks – there's no off-roading VR action to be had at all. In fairness, developer Artefacts Studios has stated that more modes will be compatible with the PSVR in the future, so we'll just have to exercise some patience in the meantime then.
Moto Racer 4 tries its best to reanimate the long lost Moto Racer series. Ultimately, however, the game feels unfinished, bug-ridden and has a few gameplay elements that will leave you scratching your head. The career mode includes a decent variety of game modes but as the action feels too similar, (using wheelie after wheelie to succeed) coupled with generic locations, it becomes a repetitive and uninspired experience which is punctured by the occasional moment of satisfaction.
Moto Racer 4 would have benefited from another six to twelve months extra development time to iron out the graphical glitches, stuttering frame rate, improve bike audio, and add polish to the environments. The title would have been a better experience had the difficulty been lowered a little, the upgrade points made more plentiful and if the development team had done away with the unnecessarily complicated and ultimately frustrating star system. If you are looking for an old-school arcade racer I would recommend the three titles mentioned at the beginning of the review.