The world of motorsports, just like the rest of our little spinning globe, has basically crashed straight into a wall. The official MotoGP season has been postponed indefinitely at this point, leaving all us petrol heads sulking into our cups of motor oil. But this isn’t going to stop Milestone and their latest entry in the MotoGP video game franchise, astoundingly titled…er, MotoGP ’20. Clever.
Unfairly MotoGP ’20 has the poor luck to release about a month after the thrilling TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2 which I declared to have the very best motorbike handling in video games. So I’m just going to come out right now and tell you that Ride on the Edge 2 is still the more exciting game, but that’s a bit like comparing DiRT Rally 2.0 to F1 2019. It’s a different style of racing, and likewise MotoGP ’20 is a very different beast than its Isle of Man counterpart. So does this latest offering from Milestone give MotoGP fans everything they need to survive without their beloved sport?
But first, let’s get a couple of nerdy things out of the way. Owing to the current pandemic Milestone didn’t quite manage to get all the new liveries and details up to date, so there’s an Aprilia running around in its 2019 form, for example. There are a few other glaring omissions too – both the Red Bull Rookies and MotoE categories are completely missing. According to Milestone these will be added across May and June, and all the official liveries and such will also be getting updated to match the real sport.
Now let’s get into the game proper, starting with the career mode. While I was personally hoping to be able to create a brand new, fictional team and grow it to become a championship winning outfit, MotoGP ’20 has something a little lighter to offer. You begin by hiring a personal manager whose job is to negotiate contracts for you. Then it’s just a case of picking which of the three classes you’ll begin your promising new career in, from the manic mayhem of Moto3 to the boisterous Moto2 and finally the monstrous MotoGP class. With that done you can see which teams are offering you a contract, pick which one seems most reasonable to you and get racing.
You also get to hire two team engineers, each offering different skills for developing the bike. You’ll have to pay them from your own money, so there’s some basic budgeting and management needed. It’s obviously tempting just to get the best manager and the best engineers, but do that and your bank balance will drop faster than my jaw when a pretty girl look in my miserable direction.
Note that I mentioned developing your bike. By spending research points and assigning staff to projects you can upgrade your bike across four areas: the engine, the frame, the aerodynamics and the electronics. Given the realistic nature of the game the upgrades won’t make massive, sweeping changes to your machine. You can still feel and appreciate them, though. A fully upgraded Moto3 bike will definitely feel different from what you started with. It helps give you a sense of progression throughout the career which is important because doing race after race can become tiresome.
To earn more research points you can command a few of your loyal minions to toil away, producing points every week. But you can also take on an active role by completing development tests during Free Practice sessions before a race. There’s only three types of test that check your track knowledge, outright speed and race pace, so they can definitely become repetitive. However, they do serve to give you a reason to actually compete in at least one Free Practice per race weekend rather than skipping straight to qualifying or the race.
I also really like how you can take part in winter testing sessions in the MotoGP class. These take place before the racing season begins and in them you test out three development packages before picking one for the coming year. This shapes your upgrade options, as well as dictating the basic feel and performance of your bike. Like the upgrades you can perform this helps give you a sense of progression and of ownership of the team.
While I might be disappointed that we can’t build an entire team from the ground up, MotoGP ’20 does give you some customisability. Through the in-game editor you can design your own custom helmet, bike stickers and rider sticker. With up to a thousand layers per design and a pretty extensive list of shapes and stuff to work with you can create something that fits you and the team. It also helps alleviate some visual fatigue that naturally comes with games like this where you’ll be staring at the same bike for a while.
In short, the career mode doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen in other games, notably from Codemasters, but it’s a solid effort with potentially dozens of hours of content. It is however, missing two features: the first is that there’s no dynamic changing of riders, so for example you won’t get to see Marc Marquez take a contract at Yamaha, or John Mcphee come up to the MotoGP class. Codemaster’s introduced this idea in F1 2019 and while it’s mostly a visual change that doesn’t actually affect the gameplay, it’s still cool for a fan like myself to see the driver line-up changing. The other thing I would have maybe liked is a way to accept a contract for the next class up mid-season. I enjoyed racing in Moto3, but half-way through I found myself wanting to go up to Moto2 where the bikes are more lively. Of course, you can always restart your career, which on PS4 is done by deleting the career mode save data.
But those are both ultimately not major complaints, and they don’t detract from the otherwise enjoyable career mode. And by time Red Bull Rookies and MotoE hits the scene there will be plenty of pure content for fans to amuse themselves with.
Plus there’s also the Historic Mode if you fancy trying out some older bikes. There’s even two historic tracks, including a personal favourite of mine in the form of Laguna Seca where Valentino Rossi pulled off one hell of a pass on Casey Stoner. These older two-wheeled beasts feel satisfyingly different from their modern day descendants, so it’s fun to jump on one and blitz it around a track.
However, the way you play through the historic offerings might annoy some players. Basically, each day you’ll be offered three events to play through and doing well in them will award you with credits. You can then spend those credits to unlock riders and bikes, but you only get to choose from the three riders/bikes being offered at the time rather than picking from the whole roster as you please. It’s obviously an attempt to keep players returning to the game, and could worryingly open up the way for microtransactions. So if you want to race as someone specific or on a certain bike in Quick Mode you have to win enough credits and then patiently wait for them to show up in the store.
As for the multiplayer it has got bolstered by proper dedicated servers. It’s tricky to find a game free of suicide rammers but once you do it’s a lot of fun to race against real people. And all the options you’d expect are present and accounted for, though sadly there’s no option to compete in a full co-op season with another player. I’m a big fan of doing that, especially right now since we’re spending more time than ever at home.
Right, so I’ve chatted about everything except the actual most important aspect of any racing game: how’s the handling and physics? The short answer is that both of those things feel very, very good, albeit not as absurdly exciting as what I found in TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2. The braking is what caught my attention first: hitting the front brake like a madman results in the back wheel rising off the ground, so you have to be careful when applying the brake, gently letting it off before you lean into the bend. You can opt to have both the rear and front brake tied together if you like, though if want to use the Pro physics then they have to be separate. In MotoGP ’19 the braking had little feedback in terms of vibration or the wheel lifting, and it felt like you could just slam the brakes on without any consequences. This new system is much nicer to use.
Dropping into a bend feels good, largely thanks to the new tyre modelling. Rather than model tyre wear as a whole, the three major zones of the tyre will be worn down separately in order to mimic real life. In other words, if a track features predominantly right-hand bends then the right side of the tyre will deteriorate quicker, affecting the handling. There’s also a good sense of weight to the bikes when you’re trying to flick them from side to side.
Coming out of a bend feels great too. While you can pretty much hit full throttle on the Moto3 bikes and come out just fine, doing the same thing on a MotoGP machine will most likely see your face being introduced to asphalt at extreme speed. You need to be careful when it comes to applying that throttle, but there’s also room to deliberately slide the bike if you don’t mind burning through your tyres a bit quicker.
You can adjust things like traction control and anti-wheelie on the fly using the D-pad which adds some flexibility for more casual players. But I find that with the default electronic aids the bikes aren’t a lot of fun to ride, and you’ll wind up going pretty slow as they hold the bike back. Turning them down makes the on-track action a lot more enjoyable. You also get to control your engine mapping in order to access more power, but that comes at the cost of burning fuel at a massively increased rate, bringing a little extra strategy to proceedings. Not that I care about strategy when I’m trying to plough into Marc Marquez at 200+ MPH.
Speaking of the more casual players or perhaps those that just aren’t familiar with how a bike handles, I would have liked MotoGP ’20 to include a tutorial. Bikes are massively less forgiving than their four-wheeled counterparts, after all, and understanding how they handle corners can be tricky. A proper tutorial showing how to use both brakes, how to shift weight quickly and how to enter corners could have helped a lot of people get to grips with the game. As it stands now, a biking newbie may be in for a rough time.
Getting the bike set up plays a vital part in doing well. There’s plenty of stuff to tinker around with, but if you aren’t mechanically minded there’s a great guided setup involving your race engineer. Tell him the issue, and he’ll make the changes for you. God, if only life had an engineer. I’ve got some issues I’d like solved. Like money. And happiness. And why my pancake mix never turns out right.
Milestone claim to have upgraded their Neural A.I. for MotoGP ’20. The concept is that the A.I. will learn as they go and become faster, while still making mistakes so that they feel real. There are some weird things going on, like how they frequently take bizarre racing lines yet somehow seem to carry more speed than said line should allow. But putting that aside, the A.I. is reasonably challenging and takes good advantage if you stupidly leave the door open. They aren’t afraid to take a dive down your inside, sometimes getting a little cocky and causing themselves or both of you to crash in a tangle of limbs.
In conclusion, the on-track action is very, very good. I don’t think the handling is quite as satisfying as TT, but it’s still terrific and the A.I. in MotoGP offers the superior bike-to-bike action. It’s heaps of fun to battle for position in the middle of a Moto3 pack or to launch an offensive on Cal Crutchlow in MotoGP.
Performance wise the PS4 version of MotoGP ’20 lets you pick from the prettier version or the performance mode. I’d recommend sticking with performance because even with that the PS4 Pro does drop frames here or there, and without performance mode on the problem is excarbated. For the most part the framerate holds steady at 60FPS for a nice, smooth experience, though for some reason when you’re in the pits the console suddenly ramps up its fans. I’m not sure why sitting in the pit staring at a menu tortures the PS4 Pro so horribly, but there we have it.
If you do go for the prettier picture over the better framerate then you’re rewarded with…um, mediocrity, really. Look, Milestone don’t have a huge budget, so I’m just being realistic here: MotoGP ’20 looks fine. That’s it. The bikes and riders are nicely detailed, and I especially love the way riders will dangle their legs coming into corners just like they do in real life. Celebration animations are quite smooth, too. But outside of that the tracks themselves look flat and lifeless.
As for glitches or bugs, MotoGP ’20 wasn’t too bad, though there were a few. At one point I returned to the pit, only to realize that my bike had somehow become invisible. Another time my rider got stuck in the “look back” animation, so I wound up completing an entire race with one hand on the handlebars.
MotoGP ’20 has some obvious problems, one of the biggest being the budget constraints that Milestone work with. It lacks the more lavish presentation of things like F1 2019. It certainly doesn’t help that MotoGP ’19 was only launched in June of 2019, making for a mere 10-month gap between games. And then of course the fact that the MotoGP season has been delayed has resulted in some things outright missing from the game, though they will get added later. But we’ve still got a solid entry in the franchise that sports great handling and a chunky career mode that helps soften the blow of MotoGP being postponed until further notice.