There are two kinds of racing game: the kind that comes to you, and the kind that makes you work to get to know them. The first kind starts you out in a pedal car, on a track with no corners, and you'll be halfway through the game before you even have to use the brake. It introduces sophisticated cornering and handling so slowly and gingerly you barely notice, but hurries to pile on the speed and the spectacle, throwing glorious vistas in your face faster than you can gawp at them. The quick-to-master racer encourages you to flaunt the laws of physics, to jump higher and skid further than any other vehicle. It may even give you a rocket launcher to blow stuff up with, in case you get bored.
And then there's the other kind. The type that, after a curt 'Hello', hands you the keys to one of the fastest machines ever created by human science, plonks you on a narrow, tortuously twisted ribbon of tarmac that top-flight sportsmen spend years mastering, and tells you to come back to it when you can get round a single corner - just one - without crashing. MotoGP 06 - the fourth in the Brighton-built Xbox series licensed by the top international motorbike racing formula, and the first on Xbox 360 - is that kind of racing game.
When you do get round that corner, after a few laps of frustrating and humiliating scenic tours of the sand-traps, you'll feel an intense wave of satisfaction that rivals the buzz you get pulling off 300-foot powerslides in other racers. And in the long run, the sense of becoming at one with your machine is matchless.
Of course, in MotoGP's case, a lot of that initial difficulty depends on your familiarity with bike racing. This is a radically different discipline from four-wheeled motorsport that no amount of Forza or PGR can prepare you for, with different braking distances,
turning-in points and cornering speeds, and it requires a lot of restraint and precision. The brilliance of Xbox MotoGP has always been to reflect that - with radically different controls to match. For aerodynamics, bike control, and to perform cool stunts like wheelies, you can shift the rider's weight forwards and backwards as well as steer with the Left thumbstick, while you throttle and brake with the Right thumbstick. You can even use the triggers for independent front and rear braking. The controls are exquisitely sensitive, and once you pick it up, the feeling of balancing rather than steering your bike through corners with subtle adjustments to throttle and lean is totally convincing, and utterly thrilling. Handling-wise, this is still the best bike game around, hands-down.
Another thing that makes MotoGP 06 a serious challenge are the tracks themselves. The MotoGP season is a mammoth, 17-stop tour of some of the most technically demanding racetracks in the world, from the weird, wide spirals and terrifying high-speed straights of the new sci-fi stadia in China and Malaysia to the tight, bumpy thrills and spills of old Europe - Estoril, Mugello, Le Mans, and the cruel joke that is Holland's Assen. Some, like Donington, are fairly easily mastered. Others contain corner sequences that, if you're new to MotoGP, will have you still puzzling over racing lines on your third run through the championship. Again, though, the rewarding depth of these legendary real-world circuits is more than enough compensation for their initial difficulty and occasionally drab, windswept looks.
But before you start to suspect that you're actually going to have to channel the ghost of Barry Sheene to get anywhere with this game, don't worry. They may be dropping you in the deep end, but the developers at Climax have chucked several life-savers after you, and are shouting encouragement in your ear. Firstly, the skill and speed of the computer riders in the easy Rookie mode - and to some extent, the standard Pro mode too - is pitched quite low. You can fall off the track (or your bike) a few times and still have an exciting race. If you choose to qualify for races, you can get a good position just by concentrating on reducing your off-track penalty time rather than having to nail every corner, and pole is just a matter of staying on the road the whole way round. There's always a sense of achievement and an incentive to improve.