This year’s officially licensed MotoGP game is a treat for the hardcore, but is it compelling enough to appeal to anyone else?
The officially licensed motorcycle racing simulators have always tended to fall somewhere below the radar – certainly in comparison with Formula 1 games. But there are parallels between the two franchises: Italian developer Milestone has been making MotoGP games since 2007, even longer than Codemasters, which has had the F1 licence since 2009.
You don’t get to keep your hands on a coveted motorsport game licence for that long unless you’re good at your job and, sure enough, Milestone’s MotoGP games have a reputation for technical excellence and authenticity. Perhaps they haven’t been seen as wildly exciting by those outside the constituency of card-carrying MotoGP fans, but they have always presented a virtual facsimile of the real-life sport that felt spot-on.
Unsurprisingly, that can also be said about MotoGP 21. It eschews most of the bells, whistles, and razzmatazz that some sports and racing games try to inject into the process of driving round and round their various tracks, in favour of recreating the MotoGP calendar as faithfully as possible.
It must be noted that this is very much a game which preaches to the converted: if you’re not an existing MotoGP fan, and are merely bike-curious, you’re likely to find playing MotoGP 21 a tad tricky and frustrating – even if you’re used to playing racing games of the four-wheeled variety. In the game, as in real life, bikes are hard to ride fast; you have to brake early for the corners and modulate the throttle very carefully when exiting them.
MotoGP 21 does pay lip service to novices though and will even offer to brake automatically for you at each corner, although that just leaves you feeling as though you aren’t in control. You can also turn on a racing line indicator which is so discreet as to be almost unassuming. There’s a tutorial, but it covers the basics of racing in a pretty cursory manner, while going into great detail on the more hardcore subject of bike setup and reinforcing the impression that MotoGP 21’s target audience is seasoned enthusiasts, rather than novices.
Structurally, this is every bit as impressive as the F1 games, offering all manner of authentic possibilities. While you can jump into quick races on bikes from all three MotoGP formulae – the full MotoGP beasts, Moto2 or Moto3 – the main career mode is thoroughly flexible, and even offers elements of team management if that’s your thing.
Thus, you can create a facsimile of yourself as a budding Moto 3 rider, picking the best sponsorship deals, learning about bike development, and being rewarded with more lucrative contracts as you work your way up the ladder over the course of several seasons, towards MotoGP itself. Or you can jump straight into the full-blown MotoGP if you feel you possess the skills. MotoGP bikes are tricky beasts to ride in the game, as you would imagine they are in real life, although the game does let you rewind when you crash out ignominiously.
For those whose racing skills are somewhat limited, the best plan is to start in Moto 3. MotoGP 21’s determination to emulate the real-life season (you can even choose between the 2021 calendar that was supposed to take place and the near-identical one which actually hapepened) means that you can pound round the laps at tracks like Losail in Qatar for pre-season testing, before participating in all the practice sessions at each circuit the calendar takes in.
Putting in the laps soon gives you a feel for your bike’s handling, while choosing not to skip the practice sessions helps you learn each circuit. Happily, bike-handling and circuit authenticity are two areas in which MotoGP 21 excels. The latest iteration of the game further ramps up the realism of aspects like tyre degradation, and it’s vital to give yourself a chance in the races by balancing your bike’s trade-off between tyre-wear and top-end power.
Once you develop confidence in your bike’s front-end, and start discovering how to chuck it into corners without understeering wildly, proceedings start to become thrilling. However, if you then take your new-found skills online, prepare for humiliation, at least initially. The standard of the competition you will find is way above that of the game’s artificial intelligence (unless you deliberately turn that up). MotoGP 21 does attempt to match those brave enough to venture online, but the vast majority of your opposition will almost certainly have expensive racing rigs and real-life track-day experience.
Whatever your skill level, if you’re a bike-racing enthusiast you should love MotoGP 21, although it may take you a bit of time to get to grips with it initially. Visually, it’s pretty impressive although on the Xbox Series X, on which we played it, it didn’t look vastly superior to what you would expect from a previous gen console. Except when you crash, and a painfully realistic crash-cam kicks in.
Structurally, the game is also impressive, possessing the flexibility for you to dip in for the quick blast of a short race or work your way through every session of a multi-year career, generating your own junior team to run as manager and effectively getting a taste of what it would be like to be a team boss. Plus, you can tailor it as you go along, skipping any sessions you don’t fancy, ignoring the management aspects and letting your pit crew fettle the bike on the basis of what you tell them about its handling and characteristics.
It’s worth sparing a thought for motorsport developers like Milestone: the COVID pandemic has made their jobs very challenging since, among other things, it has become very difficult for them to physically visit circuits and scan them. Yet Milestone has managed to get MotoGP 21 out quite early in the real-life MotoGP season, with all the circuits included.
MotoGP 21 may not offer any startlingly new innovations in comparison with last year’s game (although the addition of the long-lap penalty, as applied in real life, is welcome), but it still manages to impress. It really does a fine job of bringing what feels like the real MotoGP circus into a game, with nothing noticeably fudged or omitted, and a palpable air of authenticity along with plenty of quality. If you’re a novice, you may find it intimidating, at least initially. But if you’re a MotoGP enthusiast, you should find it extremely satisfying.
MotoGP 21 review summary
In Short: A super-authentic bike racing sim that the hardcore will love. And while less experienced players may struggle at first, the effort is worth it.
Pros: Bikes feel fantastic. Very flexible and looks authentic. Welcome management elements and emulates the real sport impressively well.
Cons: Cursory tutorial makes the game especially intimidating for beginners. Not much of a visual upgrade.
Formats: Xbox Series X/S (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PC, and Stadia
Release Date: 22nd April 2021
Age Rating: 3
By Steve Boxer
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