Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and PC
Reviewed On: PC
As I write the opening lines of this review Marc Marquez has just become the first rider since 1971 to win the first eight races of the season in a row, taking victory at a hectic afternoon at Assen. There’s even people beginning to wonder if Marquez could pull off a perfect season, winning every race on the calender. As unlikely as that actually is the Honda is the best bike on the grid at the moment, and when you throw such a clearly talented rider on top of it you have a recipe for domination.
Since nobody seems to have an answer to Honda and Marquez in real life just yet, the new MotoGP game from Milestone provides an opportunity to unseat the young lad, possibly by smashing violently into him. Milestone has made more bike games than anyone else, and yet they’ve always been stuck in mediocrity, managing to impress with solid physics but coming in lackluster almost everywhere else. Is this latest attempt any different?
A graphical upgrade is the first thing long-time fans of Milestone’s efforts will notice, with bikes and riders sporting a nice level of detail that’s especially noticeable during replays, which is also where the improved lighting becomes apparent. The rider animations are also quite smooth and fluid for the most part. Having said that crashes still look wooden, like it’s a scarecrow with a pole up its backside being throw from the back of the bike. Taking a tumble is laughable at best, and fails to capture the often wince-worthy accidents that MotoGP riders get themselves into. Trackside detail has also been increased, but there’s a slight softness to it all and plenty of jagged edges, along with what would appear to be some pretty low resolution textures. Even with a graphical upgrade Milestone’s work remains decidedly average. There’s just something so flat about the presentation, most of which stems from the static racetracks which don’t do justice to the real thing. Considering how pretty the game can look during a replay, especially when you enter photo mode, it’s a shame that in motion it’s uninspiring stuff.
As a PC title MotoGP is sorely lacking in basic options. Fire up the game and all you can choose between is resolution, two levels of V-sync, HD textures on or off and Advanced AFX. Furthermore these options must be tweaked in the launcher, and cannot be changed in-game. It should also be noted that while the game worked lovely on-track without V-sync, in the menus screen tearing was present and quite common, a problem I could only solve by turning V-sync on. Framerate drops during heavy action were present regardless of whether V-sync was enabled, although they were not frequent enough to damage the overall performance too much. A very slight stutter on occasion was also present, again not managing to really spoil the experience. The lack of graphical options here once again serves as a reminder of Milestone’s questionable past when it comes to creating PC titles. Opt for the PC version and go in with the knowledge that you won’t be able to tweak the game very much in order to ensure a truly smooth experience.
As a simulation it’s the physics which lie at the heart of the game that matter, and in this area Milestone continues to make small but important improvements. This is without a doubt their best model yet, with the big MotoGP bikes feeling alive and dangerous, a deft finger needed to handle the throttle. With riding aids on and the physics turned down this is far from an arcade racer, but it’s still incredibly forgiving. It’s nice for newcomers, easing them into the action, but the game truly shines with physics turned up to max and the riding aids turned off, leaving you go wide-eyed the first time you attempt to twist the throttle coming out of a corner and toss the bike into the gravel. The small Moto3 bikes are the easiest to get to grips with as even opening up the throttle full while leaning right over won’t slide the back wheel in most circumstances. Easy they may be, but they require skill to use to their full potential, as the style needed to get the best lap times and compete at the higher AI levels is very different from that of the Moto2 and MotoGP machines. Corner speed is everything on the small bikes, and that means learning to simply use engine braking to slow you down for a corner more than traditional brakes, allowing you to carry more speed smoothly through a bend. Get up to the MotoGP bikes and power-sliding like Casey Stoner is an option, albeit one that can be dangerous if you choose to allow tire wear as well. The handling has been tweaked to make backing the bike into a corner close to impossible, though, which is a shame.
Of course the game doesn’t even come close to replicating the real thing, and off-track excursions might raise an eyebrow as you plow through gravel with only a reduction in speed, but to be honest it’s hard to see how games ever will be able to come close to riding a real bike. While it may not hold a candle to reality the handling model is responsive and satisfying, the driving aids allowing beginners to enjoy the game and more dedicated players plenty to dig into, successfully creating a multi-tiered system.
The audio has also seen some improvement as well, making bikes sound closer to their real-life counterparts, although they’re still lacking that raw edge. A nice touch is that when you switch over to the utterly awesome helmet cam, which realistically replicates how a real rider looks around corners, sound becomes muffled. Menu music remains as generic as can possibly be, however, while the brief commentary that plays when arriving at each track sounds as forced as ever.
Like always Career mode is the meat of the game. Before getting into it proper you can create a custom rider using a limited suite. A face for your avatar can be chosen from a measly six portraits that are divided into three male and three female, and a name given to your creation. Boots, helmet and gloves can all be changed, with more unlocked later, as can riding style, but otherwise the options for creating your rider are lacking. How about some custom decals for the helmet, Milestone? Once into the career mode it’s standard stuff. You begin by doing a couple of wildcard rides before signing on with a Moto3 team with the aim of consistently beating your team-mate and achieving the team’s objectives. Perform well and mid-season you can accept an offer to jump up to the next class in case you want to reach the more powerful machines faster, but this dumps you mid-way into a season with zero points. Stick around and you can either upgrade to the next class or choose to stay in your current class with the same team or accept an offer from another outfit , perhaps with the intention of claiming the Championship, if you didn’t already in your rookie year.
Throughout the season your bike can be improved by collecting Data Packs and using them to upgrade either the brakes, suspension, chassis or engine, with each component having a maximum upgrade level of three. A Data Pack is acquired when you complete one full lap, with one pack available per each of the available sessions, meaning that across a full weekend of practice, qualifying, warm up and race there’s a total of four packs up for grabs. Furthermore test sessions scattered throughout the season provide a chance to acquire several Packs at once by beating a lap time set by the team. It’s a neat system that brings a nice sense of progression to the season, but one that is lacking any sort of complexity. While the differences in performance made by the upgrades are subtle, those tenths shaved off a lap are everything in close races and can provide the edge need to pick up another position or the win. The only problem is that its possible to fully upgraded your bike by around a third of the way through the season, provided you choose to go through full weekends, an easy task considering all you need to do is complete one full lap per session and then skip forward to the next.
For the technically minded you can delve in and tweak the settings on your bike to your heart’s content, tinkering with gearing ratios and brake bias until you’ve squeezed every tenth of a second out of the machine. For those who can’t be bothered to figure out what a rake angle is any why you might want to change it the team engineer is always on hand. Talk to him and you’ll be presented with several options to describe what you feel is wrong with the bike, at which point the engineer will make some suggestions and then setup the bike in order to combat the problem.
In between races you’ve got a small, virtual trailer to hang out in. From here you can access team offers, view emails, check standings and even read a website which offers repetitive quotes from team bosses and riders. Milestone have used this idea before of using magazines and such, but it’s a feature that still needs to be more fully fleshed out in order to really be worth including. The fan system has also returned, granting you largely meaningless fans depending on how well you do, and more specifically if you accomplish the team goal, which doesn’t make much sense as this means fans are privy to every teams objectives. Thankfully the system has been tweaked so that team expectations don’t suddenly skyrocket if you get a lucky result or two. Earning fans unlocks new helmets and teams to ride for in other modes, along with some picture and videos.
The AI offer up quite a stiff challenge this time around. They no longer seem to brake much earlier than they reasonably should be and carry more corner speed, making them overall faster and more challenging to overtake. When it comes to close fighting, though, they do still do some rather strange things, like choosing to go for a tiny gap on the left hand-side of you while coming into a right-hand corner, a gap that clearly isn’t really big enough for them and will make an overtake impossible. While trying to fend off riders I also noted that they had a habit of almost bumping into me and slamming on brakes rather than moving out for an overtake. For an authentic career experience MotoGp fans will want to whack the difficulty all the way up to Realistic, that way upon signing with a low team in your rookie year you’ll need to fight hard to achieve your team objectives and to claw your way up the grid to a better ride capable of winning races.
The only genuine problem stems from whenever you opt to race in the Moto3 class, where for some reason the leap from medium to hard is massive, taking you from racing for the win to struggling to stay in the top 15. This is accomplished through the other Moto3 riders suddenly gaining the cornering speed of God himself, enabling them to pull off overtakes that technically shouldn’t even be possible.
Also worthy of note that is Moto2 and Moto3 races have the complete roster of riders taking part, making for some manic action as over 30 bikes bump and bang for position on the track. Having said that, do keep in mind that without an update the game is missing a total of 13 Moto3 riders, and Moto2 is missing 16. These were added with an update on July 2nd.
Outside of the Career mode you can also choose to embark on a season of racing which can be customised to include as many events as you want. Grand Prix let’s you choose to take to the track as either a custom rider or an official one for a single race or entire weekend. Naturally an Instant Race option is present which gives you a random track and rider, as is Time Attack.
Meanwhile Real Events 2013 is a mode that challenges you with acting out key moments from the 2013 race season, such as recovering from a serious mistake as Rossi in Qatar and recovering for a podium finish. These events often pose what-if questions, tasking you with altering reality, a pleasing notion for a dedicated MotoGP fan like myself. Similarly Challenge the Champions mode throws you back to the days of 500cc 2-stroke beasts and legendary riders like Wayne Gardner, Capirossi, Kevin Schwantz. again constructing scenarios based on real-life for you tackle, although a few of them are entirely made up. Bafflingly a couple of the riders aren’t actually champions, but in total there’s 19 riders on 20 bikes. Both of these modes offer a simple, pleasing diversion that MotoGP fans should enjoy, but with just 34 events between the two of them you’ll breeze through the available challenges rather quickly. The difficulty increases as you make your way through them, but otherwise there’s no much reason to go back and replay them.
Brilliantly you can take both the classic riders and classic bikes and use them in Quick Race, Championship, Grand Prix and Time Attack modes, the only caveat being that many of them must be unlocked for use through the XP system. Choose to enter a race on a classic bike and the grid will be populated with other riders and bikes from the same era. Furthermore there’s also the ability to select 2013 bikes and riders as well, a nice addition, especially if you maybe want to see Cal Crutchlow back on a Tech3 Yamaha like I do.
MotoGP 14 successfully takes home the trophy for single most pointless addition to a game within the last several years for its Safety Car mode, which lets you take a BMW safety car around any of the game’s tracks for reasons only known to the developers. It is, to put it bluntly, utter crap. The car handling is pathetic, and the mode simply has no reason to exist, using up resources far better spent elsewhere, such as Challenge the Champions.
As for the multiplayer it’s fairly standard stuff, allowing you and up to 11 other people to race around whichever track you want. The host can set exact race distance, as can whether players will partake in qualifying. The host may also choose to set a physics level, or allow players to choose their aids individually. Indeed, the wealth of options to choose from is impressive, allowing you to really customise the race as you see fit, choosing to allow tire wear, the level of damage, whether there will be AI opponents and more. As with any racing game it’s the quality of those that you play with which makes or breaks the experience. Get the right group of people who know how to overtake without bashing you off the road and it’s a blast, though it remains disappointing that only twelve people can take part rather a full MotoGP grid. Split-screen local multiplayer is also available which makes me a very happy bunny indeed.
Multiplayer also includes Sprint Season, a neat idea in which you compete to achieve certain objectives, such as managing to bag 60-points in four races. Complete the objective and you’ll instantly move up to the next class, but the catch is that if you perform badly you’ll be thrown back down. It’s great fun, but also does serve as a sad reminder that MotoGP 14 doesn’t include a full Championship mode that allows you and a buddy to embark on an entire season as either team-mates or members of rival teams, an idea that Milestone seriously need to consider as it’s a blast in something like Codemaster’s F1 games.
Another multiplayer mode is Split Times, a brilliant idea which splits the track into eight sectors and then asks you to be the fastest person through as many of them as possible before the timer runs out. It’s hectic fun, and means that people who can’t string entire laps together stand a good chance of winning provided they can nail a couple of sectors.
Even this shortly after launch, though, the multiplayer community isn’t very strong on PC, with the server browser displaying a sad number of matches available.
Along with the award for Most Pointless Addition To A Game In Recent Memory MotoGP 14 also takes home my coveted award for Most Baffling Glitch In Recent Memory as well, for a strange problem in which the exit button doesn’t actually exist after taking part in a career mode race, meaning the only way to quite out of the game is to use CTR+ALT+DEL since the Windows button refuses to work. A quick glance at the forums reveals this is affecting a lot of people, and it seems almost impossible to think that such a clear problem could have ever made it through testing. Presumably they’ll patch this one up pretty quick, but having said that Milestone’s track record when it comes to updating and fixing their games is not great.
Another problem worth mentioning is that the game refuses to save any controller remaps, a frustrating issue if you don’t like the default setup, forcing you to change the settings every time you fire the game up. Again, how the hell did this manage to make it through testing?
Speaking of controllers if you have one connected but use your keyboard first to navigate the menus upon starting the game the controller won’t work, which is rather odd. Likewise if you plug in a controller while the game is running it won’t function, instead you’ll only be able to control the game via keyboard. In fact, even if you don’t use a controller, although one is very much recommended, you can only navigate through the menus using the keyboard as the mouse isn’t supported.
These problems along with the pitiful graphical options strongly suggest yet again that Milestone are not very capable when it comes to bringing their games to PC, or just aren’t willing to invest the extra resources in porting it correctly.
Milestone have managed to deliver yet another solid motorbike simulation with satisfying handling. Throwing a MotoGP machine around the tracks feels wonderful, while the inclusion of classic bikes and events based on the 2013 season are smart choices, but the game is still let down in how it’s presented to the players.
+ Lovely handling model.
+ Taking some old bikes for a spin.
+ Multiplayer can be a blast.
– What’s up with the safety car?
– And what’s up with taking away the exit button?
– Bland presentation.
The Verdict: 3.5/5 – Good, bordering on great.
While one could argue that MotoGP 13 offers superior handling, but this is, to my mind, the best bike game Milestone have managed to produce thus far.