When it comes to disrupting world motorsport events, the pandemic hasn’t discriminated between four and two-wheeled forms of motorsport.
Thankfully, Italian developers Milestone are here to help give Moto GP fans and racing game enthusiasts in general something to break the boredom with the release of this year’s officially licensed Moto GP game for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch and Google Stadia.
As regular RaceFans readers will know, we specialise in four-wheeled motorsport, so this is a rare venture onto two wheels for us. But with so many motorsport fans locked down at home with little to do – and this year’s Moto GP game arriving earlier than ever before – it seems the perfect time to try out a different flavour of racing game and benchmark it against Codemasters’ official F1 series, the 2020 edition of which was announced last week.
At its core, Moto GP 20 is an accessible yet extensively authentic recreation of the world’s premier motorcycle world championship grand prix series. Every rider and team from the championship’s three major tiers will be represented in the game, from the premier class of Moto GP with the likes of Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi, down to the junior class of Moto 3.
Due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic, the roster and bike liveries are not fully up to 2020-spec at launch. But creator Milestone has announced a road map to all three categories being fully updated via free downloads.
Moto GP will be the first to arrive at the beginning of next month. Moto 2 and Moto 3 will also be brought to 2020 spec by the end of May, with two full additional categories of the Red Bull Rookies Cup and the Moto E electric class to be added free of charge by the end of June.
Like F1, Moto GP originally announced its biggest ever calendar for 2020. And like the official F1 game, Moto GP 20 will include all 20 circuits which were originally scheduled.
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These include the brand-new KymiRing, an interesting if frustratingly twisty circuit that plays host to the new Finland Grand Prix. Also featured are two ‘historic’ tracks, namely a 2015-spec Donington Park and Laguna Seca of 2013 vintage.
As a rider’s personal brand identity is such an integral part of the Moto GP experience, you begin the game by customising your own in-game rider. You can choose from a range of preset avatars that cover a range of ethnicities and include both men and women. Once your leathers, helmet and riding style are set, you can race for any of the official teams included in the game as your own virtual stand in.
But to help you really stamp your own identity on your character, Moto GP 20 offers a powerful suite of visual editing tools to allow you to create your own unique helmet design, rider number, logo and rider sticker for the rear of your leathers.
It’s a deep and complex system. Having even a little graphic design or editing experience will come in handy, but if you’ve ever dabbled in the design modes of Gran Turismo Sport or Forza Motorsport, you’ll figure things out fairly quickly. With 1,000 layers available, a generous number of save slots for each element and the ability to download community creations, if you’ve ever designed your own helmet or logo in your own time, you’ll certainly be able to recreate it here.
Being able to customise your rider to such a degree is incredibly welcome and puts Moto GP 20 above its Formula 1 counterpart in just how immersive it can feel to have you in the game.
Once you’ve suited up to your liking and get in the saddle, you’ll find that Moto GP 20 is a racing game that is difficult to master. Especially if this is your first time on a virtual bike.
There is a challenging but deeply rewarding handling model here. The vital art of leaning is controlled with the analogue sticks while front and rear brakes can be operated independently if you feel comfortable with it.
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Whether you’re using ‘Assisted’, ‘Normal’ or ‘Pro’ physics, finesse and nuance is the key. Taking an accurate racing line into corners is arguably even more critical on a bike than in a car and given that you are not directly steering but instead controlling weight transfer, it’s very difficult to be precise. You will find yourself losing bags of time if you miss an apex or braking point, which is very easy to do. Once you start to build up confidence and speed, you’ll find that hooking up a good lap deeply satisfying.
Modern Moto GP machines take advantage of rider assists like traction control and anti-wheelie system and it’s a good thing too, because the premier class bikes are monstrous.
If you’re too keen on the throttle, you’ll crash. If you’re too late and hard on the brakes, your back wheel will lift off the track, you’ll run wide and you’ll crash. If you so much as touch the grass while leaning, you’ll crash. If you ask the bike to do too much at any one time, you’ll crash.
Thankfully, the Moto 3 class bikes are far more forgiving due to their lighter weight and far lower power output. Newcomers are strongly recommended to start off on one of these while you get to grips with the game as you’ll find you can attack corners with far greater margin for error and correction than with its more powerful siblings.
New for Moto GP 20 is tyre and fuel management. The more you lean on your tyres, the more you’ll see the wear indicator for both front and rear begin to deplete. It adds an element of tactics to races that have no pit strategies to consider. If you opt for soft compound tyres, you’ll have to make a deliberate effort to be kind to them, else you’ll find yourself losing critical lap time during the closing stages of a race
Given that the actual racing is the most important part of a racing game, Milestone have made a lot of noise about their Neural AI system, which they claim uses complex machine learning to create believable and formidable AI opponents. It all sounds like a bit of a gimmick and, on-track, it’s hard to pick up on any specific AI behaviour and think ‘ah, that’s the neural system at work’.
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What can be said, however, is that the computer-controlled opposition is a lot of fun to race against, whatever is going on behind the scenes. When you get the difficulty setting right you’ll notice that you won’t have many corners that you’re able to take much faster than your rivals, meaning that chasing down the riders ahead is a matter of gaining a little amount of ground through each turn. Every tenth gained feels truly earned and when you eventually catch them, and they’ll not hesitate to re-pass you out of a corner if you throw a cheeky lunge up the inside.
In Moto 3, realistic packs form through the field while AI riders will make mistakes and crash entirely of their own accord, even in practice and qualifying sessions. Given how difficult it is to be precise, it can sometimes feel overly difficult to avoid clattering into your opponents during the opening lap, even if you’re being careful. And with the new damage modelling introduced in this edition, even a slight bump could be costly to your bike’s handling.
Career mode is a staple of modern officially licensed racing games and Moto GP 20 is no different, with Managerial Career mode making a welcome return to the series after a two-year absence.
With free pick from each of the three tiers available to enter from the start, you select your chosen category and select to join either an official team or one of the customisable original teams. Each model of bike across all three tiers has a customisable team connected to it. You can pick from a short list of sponsors and a handful of preset livery concepts that you’re free to colour as you wish, but you’ll be disappointed if you want to be able to name your new team.
Managing comes down to hiring personnel like your assistant and your data analyst, who have varying levels of ability to bring in money and resource points for your team respectively. You can assign your technical staff to research and development to improve your bike in the areas of engine, frame, electronics and aero – depending on your category. The more staff you have assigned to research, the more development points you’ll get to spend, while the more staff you have assigned to development, the faster you’ll be able to bring upgrades to your bike.
Get to Moto GP and you can even take part in test sessions where you can try multiple packages with various attributes, ride them at your leisure and then choose which package to move forward with. It’s a great way to game-ify testing which is so crucial in real world motorsport and something other racing franchises would benefit from emulating.
Unfortunately, while you’re free to sign with other teams and jump ship at your leisure, there doesn’t seem to be the dynamic rider transfers that Codemasters offer in F1 2019. Nor does it appear that your computer-controlled rival teams develop their own bikes in parallel to you or each other. It takes away from the long-term appeal of the career mode knowing that each season you’ll be racing against Marquez’s Honda and Dovizioso’s Ducati.
Not many motorsport series embrace their heritage as much as Moto GP and it’s not surprising to see a significant Historic Mode featured in Moto GP 20.
Two historic eras of bikes, the old 500cc two-strokes from the early Nineties to early 2000s and the rebranded ‘Moto GP’ four-stroke bikes that succeeded them, are available with bikes unlocked through currency earned through completing race challenges.
Like Codemasters with Formula 1, Milestone aim to appeal to the nostalgia of its core players with names like Doohan, Schwantz, Rainey and Criville available to race against and unlock in the two-stroke era. With four-strokes, fans will also no doubt appreciate the chance to race retired champions like Stoner and Lorenzo and, in a welcome touch, you can also race as riders who were lost long before their time, namely Dajiro Kato, Nicky Hayden and Marco Simoncelli.
You can’t simply choose which bikes and riders to unlock with your currency, unfortunately. You can only choose from three options at a time with each rider and bike having a different chance of appearing in the store when it cycles through. If you really want to unlock that 2004 Valentino Rossi Yamaha, you’ll have to hope you have the right amount when it appears in the marketplace.
Moto GP 20 is not only a solid game to play, but it looks highly impressive too. The game takes great advantage of its Unreal engine to produce a game with a high image quality. Textures are razor-sharp. The rain effects during a wet race are excellent. The general lighting of the game is outstanding with circuits looking beautifully vibrant under clear blue skies and realistically dimmer under cloudy ones.
The game oozes the Moto GP branding throughout with the game integrating the sport’s TV graphics package into the HUD and pre and post-race commentary from Keith Huewen to add that broadcast flavour. It feels like a truly authentic virtual recreation of Moto GP and one that hardcore fans of the sport will appreciate.
Unfortunately, we encountered some performance problem when reviewing the game on a standard PlayStation 4. Frame rates would briefly drop and on multiple occasions the game drove for a split second, often just before a TV graphic popped up. Having it occur in the middle of a corner is distracting to say the least and the frequency of momentary freezes is concerning.
Milestone offer a performance mode for Moto GP 20 on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X that they claim should provide 60fps gameplay, but this could not be tested for our review. Hopefully they are able to address these problems in a future patch.
Despite this, Moto GP 20 gets a firm recommendation, although it goes without saying that fans of the sport will appreciate it more than those who are only casually familiar with the world of motorcycle grand prix racing.
Milestone have given us a challenging and rewarding racing game that allows players to immerse themselves in the joys of racing wheel-to-wheel alongside the greatest riders on the planet, no matter their ability or experience.
It may not have the lasting appeal that other racing franchises offer, but as something to help keep motorsport fans entertained during the longest off-season of our lives, you could do far worse.
Moto GP 20
Publisher: Koch Media
Published: April 23rd 2020
Price: £49.99 (PlayStation 4/Xbox One), £39./99 (Windows PC/Steam/Nintendo Switch).
NB. The US release date for the Nintendo Switch edition is May 5th.
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