Depending on your view of motorsports, some are more exciting than others, especially when it comes to their gaming adaptations. Some franchises translate their chosen sport exceptionally well such as DiRT Rally or the more recent F1 games from Codemasters. Others manage to hit the main points but struggle to find the spark that makes others such a thrill to play. The MotoGP series of games from Milestone have often been a faithful recreation of the sport it represents but have generally been found in the latter camp in recent years. Can MotoGP 18 be the year that they find that missing something?
One of the biggest shakeups for the series is the move to Unreal 4 engine. The visual leap from MotoGP 17 is plain to see and it’s very much welcome. Trackside now has some life about it with flares and flags waving as you ride round bringing some much needed atmosphere. Riders, bikes and the tracks themselves are much more detailed and for fans of the series this can only be a good thing. It does, however, come at a cost with things dipping from 60fps to thirty. For some, this may be a big negative but given how dull MotoGP 17 looked this is a step in the right direction in our opinion. It’s Milestone’s first foray for this series using the Unreal 4 engine and it’s a commendable one. Things aren’t perfect as we did notice occasional asset pop-in and tearing but for the most part things look good.
Like its predecessors MotoGP 18 comes packed full of game modes though many will likely spend the majority of the time in Career. Starting out in the Red Bull Rookies Cup you and your created rider face the task of making it through the ranks to, hopefully, the top MotoGP series. Rider creation is fairly basic but serviceable enough to create your own riding avatar and besides, they wear a helmet most of the time anyway. You can then decide just how much you want to recreate real life. If you want to you can race all practice sessions, have a full qualifying and race. Same goes for the assists and, if you so choose, you can race with all sorts of assists switched off. As a relative newcomer to the series as well as racing around on two wheels we had a fair few turned on but you can tweak things to your liking.
Whilst there’s plenty of assistance to make things accessible, it’s still a tough game to master. There are tutorials to help you learn the ropes but even then we couldn’t quite get to grips with the physics. Racing games rely on you being able to find a flow to what you’re driving (or riding) and for us it’s what makes these games fun to play and, more importantly, helps make you fast. The physics certainly imitate real life rather well and the bikes twitch and jerk when under load especially when your ambition pushes beyond adhesion. However, this commitment to realism does severely limit its accessibility to casual players. Even with plenty of practice laps we still found ourselves struggling to set consistent lap times. Still, when it does come together and you grab a commendable third on the grid the sense of satisfaction is palpable.
When you start out in Career mode in the Rookie Cup the focus is purely on riding and racing but as you progress so do your responsibilities. You’ll need to upgrade your bike as the better you race the more successful your finishes the more likely it is you’ll catch the eye of the bigger teams in the higher formula. These take the form of challenges and tasks that, should you do well, will reward you with points to upgrade your bike. The upgrades are fairly generic and focus on areas of our bike rather than, say, fitting a specific new part. It’s a simplistic take and surprising considering how much other aspects want to draw you in with its realism.
This simplistic approach also seeps into the AI who have a blind obedience to the racing line where, should you be on it and travelling slower than they are, they have no problem bumping you out of the way. It is, quite frankly, disappointing to see this approach being used in a modern racing game. It’s lazy and makes racing a hit-and-miss mess of frustration. We had a fair number of crashes caused by reckless AI purely because we had the temerity to get to the apex before they did. The rest of the race-day experience thankfully much better. There are the neat little intros to each race you see on the actual TV coverage as well as the behind-the-scenes cameras. The commentary is a touch limited but covers enough to make it believable before and after races. Alongside the more atmospheric trackside thanks crowds waving their flags and setting off flares it really does make each race feel like event.
If you do tire of your career there are other game modes to scratch your bike-riding itch. You can, if you want to, take on the mantle of one of the real-life riders in a single Grand Prix, a championship or, if you wish to set some records, in a time trial. All the current MotoGP riders and circuits are present and correct though some likenesses are a little bit off. Still for fans of the series being able to ride as Marc Márquez or Valentino Rossi will be a pretty big lure. There’s the expected multiplayer though, at the time of writing, the furthest we progressed was in a two-person lobby where the host quit before the race started. It doesn’t inspire confidence and despite repeated attempts we never managed to get through a full online race. There’s also an eSports section which has yet to go live but will allow players to compete for a grand prize of a BMW M240i.
MotoGP 18’s faithfulness to its sport is to be admired. Audibly you can tell the difference between say a Ducati and a Suzuki and its attention to the race weekend experience is commendable. Despite all this, it lacks the thrill and excitement that others, like F1 2017, can use to hook in new fans. MotoGP 18 is for the die-hards who want to race as their heroes or carve a story of their own across the MotoGP landscape. Its inaccessibility to newcomers, even with tutorials, can alienate all but the most dedicated among them who are willing to put in the time to learn and master the handling model. If you do though you’ll find a game that, despite the ropey AI and long load times, is a step in the right direction for the series.
<iframe src="https://opencritic.com/game/6159/score" frameborder="0" width="300" height="102"></iframe>