Arcade fun or hardcore racer!
- Developer: Milestone
- Publisher: Milestone
- Release date: 22nd April 2021
- Genre: Racing, Simulation
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC (Steam)
- Reviewed on: PS5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
I have long been a fan of the real MotoGP racing series, and have dipped in and out of the games over the years. I have platinumed a couple of the games but skipped a few yearly iterations because they never seemed to be much different from the previous year. In the meantime, I have ploughed hours into Ride 4, and can currently call some of the fastest Ride 4 racers on the PlayStation Network my friends. With their help, I have been learning a trick or two on how to be competitively fast. So starting up MotoGP 21 on my PS5, I licked my chops with a confident swagger. Eager to channel my inner Rossi, I jumped into a race, sure of my riding ability.
Minutes later I was quite literally being brought back to the ground with a bump over and over again as the harsh reality of trying to keep a MotoGP bike upright while racing is a lot harder than it looks! It was time to knuckle down because this game is a serious attempt at sim racing, and despite all my years of MotoGP, Ride, SBK and even Motocross games, I quite clearly needed to start all over again with a fresh set of eyes, and a new set of leathers!
The newer MotoGP games have a complicated range of assists and settings, such as TCS, AWS, PWR, EBS, Tyre Wear, and Long Laps. I thought I knew what they did, but I still needed to re-learn them properly. You can adjust the bike settings to “Real”, which means that if the bike of that time didn’t have TCS or AWS, then it’s not available as an assist in-game but it is highly advisable to ensure you have every assist unlocked as you will need them all!
Fortunately, MotoGP 21 has a comprehensive Tutorial section that I recommend you play through. It goes through every nuance of the game, even down to the difference in feel and performance caused by using smaller or larger brake discs. The impressive thing is, you really can feel the difference, not just in stopping distances but in the handling!
After you have gone through the tutorials, you can then explore what the game has to offer. During our review window, the online aspects of the game were unplayable due to the fact the servers weren’t live yet.
Where the fun starts
To start with, I clicked on a single race weekend Grand Prix and was offered options from a whole selection of warm-ups and qualifiers to take part in. Going straight into a race on a bike I’d never ridden, on a track I hadn’t practised, even on the below-average AI difficulty was borderline pointless. The reason is, and it’s quite a key one, you really need to spend time on each bike to understand it, and how it reacts to how you ride. You then need to make setup adjustments from your feedback.
Now you might think it would be a simple case of doing that once and applying the same setting to each bike you ride thereafter, but how wrong could you be. Each bike reacted differently to my riding style. Some bikes, for example, braked evenly when I wanted them to, others not. Some bikes I could hit every apex and be accurate but slow, others fast and wild.
Therein, in a nutshell, lies the beauty and depth the game has if you scratch beneath the surface. With over 120 bikes in the game, you will quite clearly need to find the right bike for you and spend quality time on it to make the right tuning, to then be consistently competitive. Even then, the tuning setup you have for your bike at one track will need to be different at the next.
The Moto 3 bikes were the only ones that didn’t require much tinkering, but even they can bite the unwary or the aggressive rider. Moto 2 bikes, in my opinion, were the worst. When set to real-world electronics, therefore with no TCS, I simply found them unrideable. This was because, even with the haptic feedback on the PS5 controller, no matter how softly I gently squeezed the throttle, I was still having rear wheel spin up wash-outs at each and every slow corner exit!
For example, at a dry sunny Silverstone, at the end of the Wellington Straight, into Luffield, over a bumpy corner, I was millimetre by millimetre squeezing the power on but no matter how gently I tried to apply the throttle, the rear end washed out from underneath me, and my rider fell off so many times his face is now part of the track. In comparison, on the same track, I jumped onto a MotoGP bike to race in the wet and didn’t fall off once! It’s not that a MotoGP bike is easy to ride either, it just confirmed to me that these bikes need all the settings they can get to make them rideable and you just have to find what works for you.
Your Engineer is your best friend
There are many settings to change on each and every bike; Gear ratios, spring settings, it’s all there for the real tuning geeks to mull over a click or two up or down. However, if you are a mere mortal like me, the in-game race engineer soon becomes your best friend. He can, via a few simple clicks, adjust the bike for you based on the feedback you give him, and it works. Slow leaning into a corner, he can sort that. Missing apexes through understeering? He can solve that too.
My only issue with this was the game didn’t make it clear if making a second adjustment to your bike altered the first, and that you yourself really need to have some basic understanding of what’s going wrong to advise him correctly in the first place. If you don’t then there will be a lot of experimentation, and therefore the need for all those Free Practice sessions on a race weekend.
The second element to the handling of each bike was that the bikes themselves aren’t all equal. Each bike in its class is rated by the manufacturer, from 100% down to 75%. It was unclear what the differences were for each bike, but I suspected it was mainly power and handling, so if you wanted to ride the lower-rated bikes, you would need to figure out what it needed work on.
For most, the best part of the single-player experience will be the career mode, and it’s where the meat of the game is. Players will get the choice of either dropping right into a MotoGP team in the elite league, starting at the base level of Moto 2 or Moto 3, or indeed creating a bespoke team of your own.
The career mode has just as much to do off the track as it does on it, but unfortunately, the off-track content is more of a means-to-an-end RPG aspect than anything interesting. For example, when you are part of a team you can assign team members to the development of parts to upgrade your bike. The more members assigned to a part the quicker it gets developed and onto your bike. Although I respect the fact that the game gives you this opportunity to delve deeper into what goes on behind the scenes of a real MotoGP team, there is absolutely nothing exciting or worth stressing about to make this aspect of the game worthwhile. Do you commit seven members to a part to get it in two weeks or split them to get two upgrades in four weeks? That is about as thrilling as it gets.
As rewarding as building up the team and the bike you ride is, once you start to improve you will get offers to join a new, probably better team with a better bike anyway, and would have to start the process all over again. Also, winning more money and fame attracts better quality crew members, so that accelerates the process somewhat too.
The meat and potatoes of the career mode are race weekends. and the thrill of racing. MotoGP races and the draw of what makes them exciting is faithfully recreated here, not just on race day but in the build-up too. I can’t understate the sense of achievement and reward of being 1.5 seconds off the pace at the beginning of the weekend, only to get the tuning correct and end up getting a front-row qualification time. Then, the dismay at all that hard work being unravelled by either getting a poor start off the line or being wiped out turn one. The pain is real! You can of course rewind or start the race again, but the more realistic the setting the bigger the payoff.
The racing itself is excellent. Milestone has improved the A.N.N.A in-game AI engine, especially when compared to RIDE 4’s version, as the AI riders certainly don’t behave as erratically or aggressively. They don’t want to fall off just as much as you don’t. However, the AI might for some be just a little too safe. This was especially noticeable towards the end of races.
When I began races, I managed to set them up with just the right amount of difficulty so that the AI times were matching my own. For three quarters of the race, I would be having thrilling side by side, duck and dive racing action. The last quarter though, as the consumables of the bike deteriorated, i.e. the tyre wear, I seemed to be suffering far worse than my AI counterparts even if I still had the right amount of grip and correct tyre selection.
While I’m sliding sideways into corners through a lack of tyre grip just like Marc Marquez, my AI counterparts are still smooth as silk and untroubled. This was a problem because you need to correctly balance the bike to be able to pull away from a corner quickly; A slight wobble here or there means the rider you were right behind starts to pull away. Although the AI riders do crash, brake late, or at times move erratically, they never seem to struggle with braking or late-race grip. This attention to detail would have given the game another superb layer of realism, as it could be argued these two aspects make or break a race.
So, you have brought your bike up to speed through free practice testing, got a decent qualification time and fought your way through the field until you are within sight of the leaders with a couple of laps to go. Pushing has taken its toll, though. You are starting to get low on fuel so have to turn the power down, but manage to catch their slipstream to still gain on them – nearly fall off as the right side of your tyres are down to their last moments of grip and come into the last corner on the tail of the leader. You have been fighting the bike the whole race, but are now within sight of your first win, if only you can get the power down this last corner smoothly and catch their slipstream, the win is surely within your grasp!
By the time the race finishes, you are truly feeling exhausted but elated, so much so, that at times even finishing a lowly 7th or 8th felt like a win! Manifest the ups and downs of one week over the course of the entire season and welcome to MotoGP racing! It’s not hard to see why, if you get the balance right, it’s utterly compelling, and a must-play experience.
The look and sounds of racing
Graphically, Motogp is very sharp and detailed but lacks a certain amount of real live rendering to the environments. Although for the most part the tracks you race on and their locations will be nothing more than a blur as you are focussed on racing and the bike in front, when you do stop to look around, the areas are far too bland and stark. Everything around you looks brand spanking new. The grass is uniformly green, the buildings clean, it’s just a bit too fake. The road surfaces are excellent, as are the bike models and rider animations when shifting. Close-ups of the characters when in the pits or during career mode look extremely dated and a little scary!
It’s hard to criticize though, as the graphics where it counts – on the bike and on the road – are excellent. Tiny little details like the blur of a sponsor’s logo on a wheel rim, or the scrub of damage on the fairing of the bike if it receives damage show off the best of the attention to detail the game has.
The audio was for the most part excellent too, but occasionally awful. Riding the Honda Repsol MotoGP bike sounded more like a knackered one-cylinder petrol lawnmower than a highly tuned expensive piece of motorbike engineering. Contrast that with the throaty sound of the Ducatis or Yamahas, or the tinny whine of a Moto3 bike, and you wonder why all the bikes didn’t get that attention to detail. The highlight, however, is being in the middle of a large field of bikes. Regardless of the class, it feels alive, with a cacophony of engine noises around you, all at different pitches in glorious surround sound.
There are also three other classes of bikes to race other than the current MotoGP series. These are Moto GP 800 4-Stroke, Moto GP 990 4-Stroke and Moto GP 500 2-Stroke bikes. Unlike in previous games, there are no scenarios to reenact with the historic bikes, just a race with riders from the same period on the same period of bikes. As fun as it is to race the different machines, there really isn’t much to this section of the game other than you can try out a few different bikes.
MotoGP 21, has certainly moved away from the arcade race experience of old to a whole new level here in 2021. MotoGp21 is hardcore, very hardcore and not something for the casual racer. Even the most basic of bikes require the utmost respect. Each race felt like a major event, especially when managing your tyre and fuel degradation alongside the racing. However, with all this effort comes immense reward which is utterly addictive when your hard work pays off. If you are up to the task, put your big boy pants on, and enjoy one of the best MotoGP games in the series, but come prepared to work for it. This game will high-side any who want a casual experience so only serious contenders need apply.