Platforms: Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
As I write this particular section of the review the MotoGP race at Assen was about a week ago and the legendary Valentino Rossi had claimed his 80th win, ending a long draught and hopefully signalling a change of form for the man who many know as the greatest of all time. This year’s season of MotoGP has certainly been interesting: with Stoner gone Pedrosa has to prove that he can win a championship or risk becoming the one of the greatest to never hold aloft the trophy, yet his rookie team-mate Marc Marquez has impressed us all with outstanding speed, even if his youth has led to some rash mistakes. Lorenzo, meanwhile, is as smooth as ever and his race this past Sunday with a broken collarbone proves his love for the sport. And as for Cal Crutchlow…well, he’s bringing some much needed personality to a sport too controlled by carefully worded statements and PR. He’s pushing that Tech3 Yamaha to its limits and playing with the big boys.
It’s all go, then, and in the midst of this action Milestone have released a brand new MotoGP game, hoping to capture all the thrill and excitement of the 2013 season in virtual form. Even as a bike and MotoGP lover, though, I’ve always had doubts about two-wheeled racing games like this, because motorcycles are simply extremely difficult to replicate very well in a game. You can create a fairly convincing facsimile of racing a car in a game, as Forza and the like have proven, but you can’t even come close to a bike, because you simply can’t provide enough feedback for the player. There’s just so much that needs to be taken in to account as every tiny change of the rider’s weight and positioning can effect the bike. How, for example, can you tell when your front wheel is lifting in the game? In real life sensing that change in the bike’s balance is utterly vital to sating healthy, but in virtual form there’s no way to allow the player to feel it properly, other than a a very exaggerated lifting of the bikes front end so that it can be visibly seen. Another example is how can you feel the front wheel beginning to follow? The physics of a bike are just so much more complex to bring in to a game, and thus the results tend to be a very limited replication of the real thing. Still, doubts aside I’ve enjoyed Milestone’s previous SBK titles, and had good hopes for MotoGP 13.
Career mode is where the meat of the game is and where you will most likely kick of your MotoGP 13 experience, so it makes the most sense to start this review proper by talking about it. Sadly that does mean beginning with a disappointment before we really delve into it: the lack of customisation on offer. Your asked to create your rider when you first fire up the game, but the options are so shallow that it feels like a rather pointless endeavour. All your allowed to do is pick your rider’s face from a very limited selection of portraits and then give him or her a helmet from an equally limited line-up of designs. Considering this is 2013 it’s a little disappointing that there’s no facial creation tools available, or even a basic decal editor so that we could chuck together our own helmet designs. It’d be nice to have my rider on the grid, my rider winning races.
But moving on, your first steps in your career consist of four wild-card rides in the Moto3 class, the smallest of the bikes and therefore also the easiest to get to grips with, allowing you to cut your teeth on something less dangerous before moving on to the more powerful machines. For those who don’t follow the world of MotoGP a wildcard entry essentially means a team, for whatever reason, take on a rider for a single race weekend. For the rider it’s a chance to impress the various teams and possibly even earn a full contract for the next season, should they manage to make enough of an impression. After your four wild-card entries you’re given the chance to sign with one of several different teams, the quality of which depends on how well you did during your wild-card entries.
And thus begins your career as a professional racer, albeit possibly a very short career if you have a habit of firing yourself at the scenery at high-speed. Taking a leaf out of Codemasters F1 games you spend the time in-between races in your personal trailer, where you’ve got a few options at your disposal. You can read through your Emails from both your personal manager and your team boss, detailing what the team expect of you during the race and other things of importance. You can also check out the social tab on your laptop, which lets you read tweets from other riders and your loyal fans, which is a neat touch. More importantly, though, it’s from your motor home that you launch into the race weekend. Depending on your preferences you can play through practice, qualifying and the full race distance, or just take part in the qualifying and a quick 3-lap race, or even just the race, if you’re really short on time – it’s completely up to you. From here you can also adjust the various settings that determine just how hard you want the game to be, including whether you want to handle both the front and back brake separately or how realistic you want the physics to be. There’s plenty of room to customise the difficulty exactly to your liking.
IN the pit garage we again find the expected range options. The game gives you free reign to setup up your bike exactly how you want it with solid explanations behind each setting meaning that almost anybody can get into the fine art of tinkering. Still, if you’re a bit unsure about what rake angle is and why’d you want to change it then you can always talk to your engineer and describe, using preset options, what you don’t like about the bike and he/she will adjust things accordingly. It can sometimes be a little tricky to navigate through the conversation options to get the desired setup result with your engineer, but it’s a damn good feature nonetheless and lets those that simply want to race get on with it with minimal fuss.
Speaking of minimal fuss if you want to advance quickly to the bigger bikes then the game is more than accommodating. five races in to your season, as well as a few more times throughout, you’ll be given the chance to sign a new contract with a team in the next class, and by doing so you’ll immediately find yourself riding for them. I’m absolutely all for the idea of allowing players to skip forward so that they can get to grips with the bigger, more powerful machines without having to complete entire seasons on the Moto3 and Moto2 bikes if they so choose, but in I do have some complaints to voice about the system, mainly that the game isn’t actually very clear about what happens when you sign a contract with a team in a higher class. When the option to sign a new contract first pops up you naturally assume that you’re agreeing to ride for that team next season, and the game says nothing to make you think otherwise, something which will undoubtedly surprise more than a few people because what actually happens when you sign with a team in the next class up is that you’re transferred to that team instantly. Just like that. No questions asked. It needs to be made clear to the player that by signing these contracts you’ll immediately jump up to that class.
The other problem that I have is that when you do choose to skip ahead to the next class the game doesn’t automatically start you off at the beginning of a new season, instead when you sign-on with your new team you’ll find yourself at exactly the same race that you were just away to compete in before you signed. Again, the game doesn’t warn you about this and so you could sign a contract and find yourself mid-way through a season racing for a new team in a new class with no chance of winning the championship, all while wearing a slightly confused expression.
Actual progression through career mode is about as standard as you’d expect: you blitz through races, either winning or breaking bones, possibly even your own, all the while garnering mostly pointless XP which occasionally unlocks you a new helmet to wear or a team/rider for use in the other game modes. You also gain fans as you ride, although much like the XP they’re essentially a meaningless number that you acquire simply for the sake of it. The number of fans you gain and the XP you acquire are all based upon what position you achieve during races and whether or not you meet your teams goals, although exactly how the fans are aware of what your team’s goal actually was is a bit of a mystery. There’s absolutely no limit to how long you can play for in career mode, so there’s no pressure to capture a championship and you can spend as little or as long as you want in each class.
However, the systems governing fans and XP has a fairly irritating problem because the magical formulas governing team expectations are slightly unbalanced. Take, for example, my first MotoGP ride: I signed up with a CRT team, riding a bike which was nowhere near capable of running at the top of the grid, which was fine by me because I was after a more realistic portrayal of the sport and sometimes having to accept a ride on a lower-standing team is a part of things. My teams expectations for the race weekend were therefore realistic for the bike’s abilities – they wanted to finish at least 15th. Still, I got lucky because the first race was in the wet, therefore giving me a much better chance. Some slightly reckless riding later and I managed to bag a place on the podium, fending off a determined Pedrosa in the process. I felt proud but went in to the next weekend with no thoughts of really replicating the performance, and so I was rather shocked to learn that my team expected a 3rd position in the coming race. Still, I shrugged it off and ran the race, managing to claim a damn fine 8th place on the CRT machine. At this point I should note that on anything bar the highest AI difficulty settings it’s a bit too easy to get what should be a low performing bike on the podium. Despite this solid finish the team were highly disappointed with me, and as a result I gained barely an XP or fans. Going in to the next race I naturally assumed the team would curb their high expectations to a more realistic goal this time, but yet again they were expecting a podium finish. This continued for a little while. The point I’m trying to make is that much like in Codemaster’s F1 games the team expectations system is in dire need of some balancing, as one good result send their expectations soaring, while several lower results don’t seem to bring them back down quickly enough. No CRT in MotoGP is suddenly going to think their rider can achieve podiums every race because he managed it once in the wet. But thankfully because XP and fans are largely pointless, this flaw doesn’t harm the game too much.
Alright, so I’ve been doing a fair bit of complaining thus far, and if I’ll be honest there’s more to come yet, but for all of the problems off the track, things do come together on the track. The bikes all handle beautifully, with a real sense of weight to their movements and with each class feeling unique. The Moto3 bikes are the easiest to learn with little in the way of throttle management required, but jump on one of the big machines with 250bhp and suddenly opening up the throttle too early will catapult you into the nearest wall, although accidents are usually more amusing that wince inducing thanks to some pretty unconvincing physics. Whether you ride bikes in real life or not it takes some time to learn how to navigate the tracks as you need to get used to time it takes the rider to shift weight and lean the bike into the bends. Doubtless your first while with the game will involve a fair bit of swearing and fish shaking, and many impatient players will probably write the game off as unplayable, but as you begin to get the hang of it all there’s a real sense of satisfaction to be had from mastering these brutal two-wheeled fire-breathers. This is a game that takes time and genuine player skill to get the most out of it. The more you play the more smooth and nuanced your riding becomes as you learn all the little tricks of wringing just a little more speed from the bike, making each beautiful overtake all the sweeter. The first time you sweep through a series of fast bends in a single, fluid motion is one of triumph, only possibly topped by hitting the corkscrew at Laguna Seca for the first time or sliding the bike Stoner style around a long corner. Sure, it’s still not even close to replicating the real thing, but this is as good as you’re going to get in a game until we’ve got Holodecks.
Special mention must also be made of the new helmet camera feature which manages to finally bring a little more realism to the first-person viewpoint in bike games. While in helmet cam when you lean into a corner your rider will automatically turn his or her head in that direction, allowing you to get a proper look at the apex and exit of the corner, as well as the entry of the next one. A lot of people don’t realise this, but when you’re racing a bike, or even a car, you’re normally looking at the apex or exit of the corner rather than the patch of track just in front of your wheels, and the helmet camera in MotoGP 13 finally conveys this properly, creating a far more realistic experience. If you’ve never done so before go and watch a slow-motion video of a MotoGP rider going around a corner and take a careful look at where he’s looking: it’s not at the front wheel of the bike, it’s far ahead. Likewise with car racers It takes time to get used to it, but I heartily recommend taking that time should you pick up the game. Unless you get motion-sick quite easily, in which case you might want to avoid it at all costs or risk having to clean your TV screen. And carpet.
And finally if you really want to experience the ultimate challenge you can set the game to its highest level of physics, which also forces you to control both the front and back brake seperately, as well as adjusting your rider’s weight. Controlling all of this using nothing more than a simple gamepad is a daunting task and doesn’t feel natural, but spend enough time learning and it can become rather rewarding. However, even on the highest level of physics going off track in MotoGP 13 is oddly forgiving. Putting a back wheel on the astro turf at the edge of the track has no effect, and it’s even possible to plow into gravel traps and barely even notice it.
The AI can also put up a solid challenge as well, resulting in some brilliant battles that went back and forth from the moment the race began to the moment the chequered flag dropped, though as mentioned on anything other than the very highest setting their outright pace isn’t very good. But while the AI may work well during races, I did find that during qualifying and practice the other riders do have a nasty habit of getting right in your way during a hot lap, seemingly completely oblivious to your existence.
Not everything about the racing is spot-on, mind you. For example the sense of speed isn’t quite there on the big bikes and they lack a certain visceral quality that’s hard to put into words. The jerky camera movements when you’re making slight adjustments with the analogue stick in helmet cam view is also damn annoying and needs to be smoothed out.
These issues aside, though, on the track the game is fantastic, easily the best motorbike game hands down, though that’s not saying much given the lack of competition. The handling is superb. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the games presentation, though. Graphically the game is absolutely bland, to the point where I’d even be willing to go as far as describing it as ugly. It looks like something from the previous console generation. While I certainly don’t expect or need outstanding graphics on par with Triple A titles, considering how long Milestone have been using this engine and creating racers with it I would have expected them to have at least managed to learn some tricks to improve the visual quality of their games, but I can’t honestly say this looks any better that their previous SBK entry, or the one before that, and possibly even the one before that. Your motor home looks like something out of an old first-person point and click game, while the tracks themselves are just plain drab and lacking in character, though the bikes and riders look decent enough. Considering the game isn’t pushing the boundaries of what can be done on consoles I was also disappointed to note that the framerate isn’t always as smooth as it should be, with fairly frequent stutters. In particular on one corner on the Indianapolis Speedway it dropped by an alarming amount almost every time I went around it. There were also other technical hiccups, like black boxes appearing on signs and the camera staring at the ground when it was supposed to be showing the victory celebrations. The audio isn’t doing it, either, with a selection of generic racing music on offer. Meanwhile on the track the roar and grow of the real bikes hasn’t translated into the game, where they all sound flat and lifeless, pale imitations of the real things, taking away from the overall experience Where’s those lovely little snarls, pops and crackles that give the bikes their identity?
Outside of career mode you’ve got your usual line-up of options. You can participate in single races, or you can enter into the Championship mode which lets you set up a series of races on whichever courses you want. And of course you can take the whole lot online, pitting your skills against the other riders that inhabit the virtual world, which is something of a mixed bag because at the moment people either seem to be either really terrible or alarmingly good. Going up against real opponents is a blast and I’m happy to report that I experienced little lag during my time with the game. And fear not those who love to get some mates round and a few beers in, because split-screen play is supported. Of course I felt it was my duty to test out this spit-screen with the aforementioned mates and beer, and can confirm that watching slightly drunk people attempting to navigate a track on a MotoGP bike using the helmet cam is bloody hilarious.
Ultimately if there’s one thing that can be said about MotoGP 13 is that it’s certainly not ambitious, something which could also be said about Milestone themselves. This is about as safe as a racing game you can find, providing the basic range of options that every other racing title out there features. On the one hand it’s sort of nice to have a racing game that simply focuses on the racing, but on the other hand this is pretty much just a reskin of Milestones previous SBK game and feels, well, lazy. I’ve got something of a soft-spot for Milestone and their creations, but they really do need to try and start expanding their efforts. Maybe for the next entry we could get more customisation, or perhaps even the ability to create our own team, though licensing may prevent that.
Off of the track, then, MotoGP is about as generic and lifeless as you can get. The presentation is poor and there’s a real sense that Milestone just reskinned their last SBK game and called it a day, although in their defense I’m sure a lot of hard work was probably put into this, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling lazy. This is a game completely lacking in ambition. Yet on the track the handling of the bikes is weighty and satisfying, creating a damn good experience. Despite all of its many flaws I can’t help but recommend MotoGP 13, but only to the real racing fanatics out there with the patience to master the handling systems and the willingness to forgive the poor presentation.
+ Bikes handle very well.
+ Helmet cam!
+ AI is great at close-quarters battles.
– Poor audio and graphics.
– Odd design choices.
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
Milestone put in yet another solid effort, creating the best bike game on the market in the process and a title MotoGP fans should certainly check out. But rough presentation and some other problems stop this from scoring higher and from me recommending it to more casual racing fans.