I’ve always scoffed at the “games journalists are bad at games” meme. I’ve been writing about games for more than a decade and I feel like I can hold my own in most games. I’m even pretty good at some of them. But MotoGP 20 really kicked my ass. It slapped me in the face then doughnute’d over my toes, leaving me coughing in the tyre smoke. Without abusing the rewind function, it took me more than 2 hours of play before I finished anywhere other than last place in any of the races – even with all of the assists turned on and the difficulty turned down to the lowest setting. Admittedly, it has been a few years since I last picked up a MotoGP game. Maybe I was rusty. Maybe I’d become accustomed to the other bike racing games I’ve been playing. Whatever the reason, I could have killed for a tutorial or some helpful hints and tips. MotoGP 20 doesn’t have any. You have to learn to play the game on the fly and if you’re not accustomed to it, this’ll be a tough learning curve. Once you’ve overcome that hump though, this game really comes into its own and it starts to shine.
I think it’s fair to say that MotoGP 2020 is developed with its hardcore fan base in mind. That comes through in every aspect of the game from the presentation to the way it expects players to know the intricacies of the sport without explaining it to them. It’s on a molecular level to which Milestone have gone to replicate the MotoGP experience for players. For example, tyres will now wear down in zones depending on how you ride and the surfaces you utilise most. A new aerodynamic damage system affects your handling when the body of your bike is compromised – I couldn’t tell you if it’s accurate as I’ve never personally lost a winglet doing 180 around Le Mans but you sure can feel it. There’s a pre-race pit walk, complete with umbrella girls and interviewers. You can even hear the obligatory race day helicopter flying overhead when you’re in your pit.
In terms of content, there’s only 4 modes in MotoGP 20 in which to spend your time – Online races, Career Mode, Quick Modes and Historic Challenges. The Quick Mode is exactly what it says on the tin. Here you can choose a single time trial, race weekend or a championship to enter and jump right in. Online races are again self explanatory. Based on a lobby system (both private and public), pick a racer, pick a track, invite some friends and away you go. Returning from last years game is also the Race Director match which has you oversee a race and dish out penalties for ‘questionable rider behaviour’. Unfortunately, the online component of the game was deserted as I write this so I was unable to test this particular part of game.
It’s the other modes that will probably hog your time though. The Historic Mode, returning from last year’s game but with a renewed structure, is my favourite mode in MotoGP 20. Each day, 3 new challenges are presented to you, an easy, intermediate and difficult race, testing you to use an iconic rider on a famous bike in a race. If you place in these races – 1st to 3rd – you’ll win some diamonds, the reward being greater for the more challenging the race. This currency can then be used to purchase new bikes and riders from MotoGP history. Jorge Lorenzo from 2010, Àlex Crivillé Tapias from 1999 when he won the 500cc championship, Michael Doohan from his 1999 retirement year, several versions of Rossi throughout his career with different official teams. There’s a tonne to unlock and dig through here. There’s 30 racers (although whichever racer and bike is included in the challenges are free to use on that day) and 27 team bikes to unlock. It’s an engrossing mode that’s kept me coming back.
The career mode in MotoGP 20 is a little different than that of previous years as it adds a new focus to your racing team rather than just your racer and team bike. When you start the game for the first time, you can build your customer rider in an impressive create-a-character suite and then sign them up to a team directly in the main MotoGP or come in to Moto2/Moto3 and try to work your way up. The team you sign with with set you race and season goals which will increase your pay and reputation should you meet them. You also recruit a Personal Manager who will manage your contract and progression as well as a technical director and a data scientist. The latter of these 2 will help your engine and frame research and development which can be upgraded as the season goes on through a tech tree.
Each race weekend is available in full from free practices, Q1 and Q2, warm up and finally the race. You’ll be competing against the real world field of racers as it would have been this year if COVID-19 hadn’t intervened. From Moto3’s Dennis Fogia to MotoGP’s Marc Márquez, the field is stacked.
The Career mode takes you through all 52 weeks of the year and the full MotoGP/2/3 season including the new Finnish circuit “Kymiring”. If you’ve started from the Moto3 level, you’ll be building reputation which can see you move teams and up to Moto2 and eventually MotoGP. Once there, you’ll be challenging for the Riders Championship. Or at least attempting too.
The Career Mode certainly feels more fleshed since the last time I played one of these titles. Having to manage your personal contracts as well as your R&D and staff makes the weeks between races all the more important. You’re constantly doing something, whether it be taking practice laps to set look at fuel consumption (another thing that has been tweaked and improved) or deciding on what part of your bike would benefit from research next.
So, to the crux of it – How does MotoGP 20 feel to play? Like I’ve previously mentioned, this game is tough to master. Taking a corner once at the apex rather than having to turn yourself multiple times is easier said than done. There’s a subtlety to the controls in this game, something you won’t see in the more arcade-like bike racing games, that means that slight moves of the thumb stick can have you under or over steering with ease. There’s plenty of accessibility and difficulty options to ease you in – racing line displays, linked front and back braking, physics assistance, a rewind function so you can retry the last 30 seconds or so – but you initially choose these before you’ve even sat at a start line. It’ll take a little time to figure out what settings are best for you and that might not initially be the easiest or the most assisted. It might have been better for the game to present these to you in game so you can feel their effects rather than in a menu, well before you’ve seen tarmac.
When it all clicks together though, MotoGP 20 is truly wonderful to play. The smooth rider animations as they shift their weight, the exhaust crackles, the realistic engine roars, the DualShock vibrating when you hit a rumble strip and the light bar illuminating brighter as you burn through the gears – it makes for a heady blend of simulation and accessibility that’s quite remarkable. The feeling of out-breaking 4 bikes, slipping between them and making it to the apex before them, sending them all out wider never gets old. The handling – obviously different dependent on your bike – is realistic, demanding you tame the wobbles and jerks around corners without throwing yourself off. Breaking, apparently reworked since last years game, is effected by wet weather, often changing the shape of a weekend event. Even more impressively, a rain-slick track dries along the racing line the more bikes drive over it. When you’re in the zone, hitting all the corners perfectly as you chase down those in front to pull off an overtake, it’s thrilling. The AI, coined by Milestone as Neural AI 2.0 and an evolution of last years version, is fantastic. They’ll try to force you wide but not overly aggressively and if you over commit, you can be damn sure they’ll try to stick their back down the inside of you. The rewind feature, allowing you to retry the last 30 seconds of race means that you can always stay in the action. Even if it does feel a little like cheating at times.
One of the complaints I read repeatedly about last year’s game was that cutting corners and driving over grass or gravel didn’t feel like enough of a impediment. That’s certainly been fixed in MotoGP 20. Cut a corner and you’ll get a time penalty or your qualifying lap will be invalidated. Cut the corner so much that you drive along the grass and 7 times out of 10, you’ll watch as the camera angle changes to the TV favourite seat camera as you crash out. A similar thing can be said about gravel, which heavily reduces your ability to turn while driving through it. Try to force it and you’ll end up binning the bike in the stones.
The vast majority of the content in MotoGP 20 looks fantastic. The bike models themselves look almost photo-realisitc, as do the helmets. Many of the landmarks around the race tracks have been faithfully recreated too. There’s some inconsistency with visuals though. During the pit walk-through before each race, we get to see each racer in their position alongside their obligatory umbrella girl. Every face looks like it got lost in uncanny valley here. They’re all “almost but not quite” models that stand out among the high quality else where. There’s some rough looking grass textures too, not far off some of the racetracks.
Performance wise, MotoGP 20 runs like a dream. No matter what’s going on on-screen, the frame rate remains steady and unchanged. I’ve not noticed a single instance of screen tearing or juddering outside of the loading screen that stutters the music and that’s hardly worth writing home about.
MotoGP 20 is a game developed for its existing fans and the lack of any kind of tutorial is testament to that. This game isn’t trying to win over anyone new (or, if it is, isn’t going to do a good job with it). Instead, this is a cracking racing sim that’s a celebration of the MotoGP heroes through the Historic Mode and a gaze into a bizzaro alternative universe where the GP’s actually went ahead this year. It looks great, handles even better and once you’ve got used to its particular idiosyncrasies, it’s a whole lot of fun to play.
Those first few hours are a doozy though.
MotoGP 20 is launching on the PlayStation 4 (review platform), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC via Steam on the 23rd of April, 2020.
Developer: Milestone srl
Publisher: Milestone srl
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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