Stay at home, stay safe, race motorbikes.
- Developer: Milestone Srl
- Publisher: Milestone Srl
- Release date: 23rd April 2020
- Genre: Racing
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
With the new, earlier release of MotoGP 20, I should have been happily announcing that the game is out now, coinciding much closer with the start of the real-life MotoGP season. Unfortunately, thanks to the worldwide pandemic, MotoGP is on hiatus. With no clear date yet emerging for its return, this is now the only way fans can get their fix of the premier class of motorbike racing action for the time being.
Careering around the track.
In the past year or so there has been an emergent trend in racing games of finally offering a substantial improvement to the depth of career modes. Games like F1 and WRC recognise the importance of adding more to their games than just compelling physics and official licensing. I am happy to report that MotoGP 20 has joined those ranks, and has crafted an in-depth career mode, borrowing a similar structure and offering a far more comprehensive career to play through.
Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP are all included, and although you can jump straight into the big leagues, the lower tier races make for an excellent introduction to the new and improved handling for those new to the series, or those with a touch of road-rust. (MotoE and Red Bull Rookies were scheduled to launch alongside their real-world counterparts, but with the current Coronavirus situation we have yet to receive news on when they will launch). You have the choice between racing for an official team or creating your own team, complete with your own individual branding crafted in the highly comprehensive editing suite. It’s not quite Forza levels of customisation, but it’s a huge improvement on the “choose generic livery A, B, or C” offered by most games.
Choosing a team is just a small part of the equation, though, with team management playing a bigger part in your career now, and while it is technically possible to ignore this side of the gameplay and churn out race after race, it will adversely affect your progression. Research and development are crucial to improving your bike and keeping you competitive. You have a team of engineers, who can be allocated to either work on generating research data points or assigned to work on upgrades. The more engineers you have working on an upgrade, the faster it is completed, but you must also make sure you have enough engineers engaged in research so that you can accrue the necessary research points needed to unlock the next level of upgrade.
For the mathematically minded, it’s almost like solving a puzzle. Keeping your team resources spread out means that you can keep a steady stream of upgrades coming and minimise downtime. Admittedly, for those who just want to get on with the racing, this could be an unwanted distraction; however, the adjustable difficulty level means you can tailor the experience to your level should you wish to ignore it completely, so it isn’t detrimental to your enjoyment.
Similarly, if you wish to skip all of the practice sessions and go straight to qualifying (or even straight to the race, although you will start at the back), there is nothing to stop you doing so. For purists, though, the return of development tests (similar to F1’s system) helps add some progression to the otherwise potentially boring FP sessions. By completing some tests, such as maintaining a set lap time over a number of laps or following the racing line, you can earn extra research data, freeing up your R&D team to focus on developing upgrades.
In addition to the obligatory career mode, there are the usual quick play and time trial options, supported by Historic Mode. This is a series of custom events that involve racing classic GP bikes, with famous riders of yore like Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner, and also includes Laguna Seca and Donington as bonus circuits. Winning these events unlocks more riders and bikes that can be used in free-play, online or time trial modes. It’s a welcome bit of extra content, but if it’s to provide any real replayability it will need to be consistently added to.
Living for the weekend.
In MotoGP 20 they have accurately portrayed full race weekends. In qualifying, the fastest fourteen riders from the free practice sessions are automatically entered into Q2. Remaining riders enter Q1, with the fastest 4 earning a spot in Q2 and the opportunity to race for the final eighteen spots on the grid. If you are sadistic and opt to do a full-length career mode, you will have lengthy practice sessions, followed by full-length qualifying sessions and race.
It’s an epic undertaking – I tried this for the first few races of Moto3 career, and I really enjoyed the authenticity. I couldn’t envision completing a whole season this way, though, with each event taking several hours to complete (although, thankfully, you can fast forward through the practice and qualifying sessions once you have set a good lap or completed your development goals). For those foolhardy or dedicated enough to attempt this, though, you will be rewarded with some fantastic simulation aspects you may otherwise never even know existed.
Tyre modelling has been reworked significantly for MotoGP 20, with tyre wear now being broken down across three sections of the tyre; the middle, and both edges. This asymmetric wear becomes more pronounced when you are running full-length races and plays a much bigger part in how you ride. If you are progressive with your use of the throttle and brakes, you can maintain the medium or soft tyres over longer distances, but if you have a heavy right hand, you may need harder tyres to prevent the inevitable ‘falling off the cliff’ that occurs in the latter stages of the race.
Rubbering-in becomes more pronounced in the full-length sessions, too, as does usage of fuel. As your fuel level decreases, conversely, your bike’s power to weight ratio increases, whilst as the race is progressing, the amount of grip is gradually increasing too. It all coalesces to create a subtle but tangible difference to performance, and if you’ve managed to conserve your tyres and fuel, it allows you to make a big push in the closing stages of the race.
This adds a level of tactical awareness above and beyond what you would expect from a simple bike racing game. Obviously, you can just jump into a race and pay no attention to any of this, and it’s not going to detract from your experience at all, but for those who want the full MotoGP experience (most likely a very small percentage of gamers if we are honest), it is highly impressive that they are being catered for in such depth.
Getting a handle on it.
The handling model, regardless of whether you race for 100%, 50% or 25% distance, is excellent, but not without its irregularities. Positioning your bike takes a little adjustment, but once you get used to allowing for the slight delay in your rider shifting their momentum as you turn into a corner or returning to an upright position, you’ll find you are effortlessly setting yourself up for corners.
Maintaining the lean angle through corners takes a bit of practice, and until you get it nailed, you’ll find that trying to balance the throttle, brakes and rider positioning will give you a wobbly line through the corners at first. They have really tried to move towards a more sim feel in MotoGP 20, and while it isn’t quite there, it is still a big step from the previous games.
The irregularities come from how effective the brakes are and the way that power is applied: Turning into corners and maintaining power mid-corner is smooth and intuitive, but when returning to an upright posture there is a distinctive drop in RPM and power output. It isn’t really a big problem, and it doesn’t affect the racing, it just doesn’t feel natural.
Braking is simple on the lower categories of bike, you can get away without shifting rider position and make it into the corner unscathed. On the big-boy MotoGP bikes, though, you need to adjust your rider’s weight to prevent the rear wheel lifting and coasting well past the turn-in point. Even then, I found myself unable to brake anywhere near as quickly as the AI riders, regardless of setup changes or brake modulation.
As mentioned, shifting the rider’s weight is essential to keeping your wheels in contact with the asphalt, but it really isn’t that intuitive. I don’t know if it’s reversed or I just don’t understand how rider positioning works on motorbikes, but I had to hold the left stick forward to prevent endos, and conversely hold back to prevent wheelies. Similarly, on the straights, I expected that pushing forward on the left stick would move my rider to the tucked position but instead, he sat himself up like he was preparing for a corner.
After reversing the controls in the settings, I was able to pull back to sit my rider up to assist with braking, but on exit, if the front wheel lifted, I had to hold back again to counter the wheelie. I’ve managed to work around it, but I still get caught out far too frequently.
On your bike.
Rider models have been fully mo-capped, and they have very realistic movement, on the bike as well as tumbling, sliding and catapulting through the air following the very realistic crashes. Likenesses of the riders are getting better year by year too, and for the most hardcore fans, they have included the likenesses of some of the MotoGP team bosses, but they still come a bit too close to the uncanny valley for my liking – For the most part, they are faceless riders on bikes anyway, so it is of little concern. The bikes themselves are highly accurate, though. All of the official teams and liveries are present and correct, all the way from MotoGP right down to Moto3.
AI opponents are powered by an improved version of the learning AI from last year and it has made big improvements as far as having riders taking different lines, making mistakes or in their aggression. The huge grid of riders interact with each other and you in a fluid, highly aware fashion, attempting overtakes and positioning themselves all across the track, taking advantage of openings down the inside or outside, and generally feeling more like a living, breathing field of riders.
There are still occasions where a rider will cut across into you, but more often than not this will be a result of how you have positioned yourself on the track while making an excessively opportunistic move. It’s a long way from being realistic in comparison to an actual MotoGP race, with the rider behaviours feeling more like that found in an online lobby, but it’s a vast improvement over the soulless, racing line hogging behaviours of old.
Putting it on the line.
Multiplayer in MotoGP 20 allows you to race with eleven other human riders in custom events, though AI opponents can be added to fill out the lobbies if you wish. While the majority of the online works as you would expect, the Race Director mode allows you to have full control over the entire proceedings. Ideal for anyone hosting an eSports or community race series, the race director can assign starting positions, assign penalties and flags both during and after the race, notify players that they are ‘under investigation’, and modify finishing positions after the race.
MotoGP 20 is really embracing the eSports scene, with season 4 of the very popular official eSports league is set to return in the coming months. All in all, it’s a complete suite of online modes, and for those involved in community events, in particular, should offer enough functionality to run some well-managed events.
Look at me!
As we near the end of this console generation, and with there only being a mere ten or so months between this game and the last, there are obviously very limited gains to be made in the appearance of the game. The front-end menu has had a bit of an overhaul, and it’s very slick and smooth. I’m not overly convinced by the palette, with the overtly-neon pink and purple hues used feeling like they are better suited to the over-used RGB seen in many streamers setups.
In-game graphics feature slight improvements to the already highly-polished visuals from MotoGP 19, and it is very impressive. On the higher-tier Xbox One X, there are two image modes: high quality and high framerate. In high quality, you are restricted to 30fps, but it plays in glorious 4k HDR, and it is genuinely stunning. Pausing to take a screenshot, it’s possible to create an image that is indistinguishable from real-life.
Fidelity is lowered a little in high framerate mode, but the gameplay runs at a pretty solid 60fps. I did, however, notice quite a few frame rate drops. There isn’t a hugely noticeable difference in visual quality between the two modes, but as a pixel-junkie, I preferred the improved visuals over the inconsistent 60fps.
Rain-soaked tracks look excellent thanks to the beautifully rendered weather effects. The trackside trimmings all look good, as we’ve come to expect, but it’s in the finer details where MotoGP20 shines. HDR implementation works very well here: Grass is rich, vibrant and detailed; the armco around the track still looks good up close; hot air from the exhaust shimmers and makes an authentic hazy effect; while the gravel and sand traps surrounding the circuits kick up dust in a very realistic fashion.
Shadowing and lighting are also very competently rendered, with sunlight glaring differently depending on the texture it is being shone upon, and shadows on and around the rider giving a real sense of solidity.
Game audio is well presented, too. It’s a racing game, so there’s not that much to say really. Engine notes sound realistic, and the noise of your fellow riders’ bikes moving around you is very immersive. Menu music is understated and unintrusive, and thankfully, there is no irritating rock music playing mid-race.
MotoGP 20 is a subtle but welcome improvement over last years outing. The career mode, while still needing a bit of refinement and clarity in explaining the intricacies of its underpinnings, offers more depth than the overly simplified checklist-style ‘practice, qualify, race, repeat’ that used to be the standard. The graphical improvements are slight, but when it already looked great, it’s hard to criticise it for that, and the Neural AI is making positive effects when it comes to rider behaviours, but we are still a long way from truly realistic opponents.
MotoGP 20 is one of the best games in the series. The career has enough depth to prevent it from becoming boring, while the graphics have been refined to a very high standard. There are a few slight issues with the handling that take a bit of practice to get the hang of, but with patience and perseverance, you can master the controls and become proficient enough to appreciate the new tyre and fuel modelling systems.
For newcomers, there are enough assists to make the controls approachable, while Moto3 makes an accessible starting point. For veterans, whether there are enough improvements to justify the upgrade from MotoGP 19 will be subjective, but for hardcore fans, the fact this is the only way to experience the 2020 season will no doubt entice many people in, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.