Two wheels: historically more difficult for the developer to convey the pure physics of racing on them than it is their four wheeled counterparts. Motorcycle racing games suffer because of physics. A car is a stable structure, a box, a wheel at each corner, and a mechanism for turning the front two wheels, simple. You sit in it, you make inputs using the controls and the car just follows those instructions, sure there’s skill involved in balancing power, braking and cornering forces but, even for those, your presence within the vehicle isn’t necessary, you’re just a passenger, a car will function properly, and in a predictable way, via remote control. Ask yourself, when have you ever seen a remote controlled motorcycle? Bikes are completely different, they require user input in a way a car doesn’t, they require deft use of weight distribution through the riders’ various contact points with the bike coupled with steering inputs that may seem to defy logic (e.g. turn the bars slightly to the left to initiate a right turn). In short a bike needs you to be there, otherwise it won’t turn at all, and it’s this dynamic which doesn’t usually transfer to the racing game environment well at all.
MotoGP13 marks Milestones return to the franchise (their last MotoGP title was in 2008) having, in the meantime, been busy on various licensed racing titles, not least of which have been the Superbike series. So, it’s fair to say that if anyone knows how to develop a bike racing game it’s Milestone. As you would expect from an officially licensed product all the 2013 teams and riders are present from all three categories (Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP). The license has been used well with attention given to glossy slow motion clips of top riders doing their thing and looking cool, to suitably rousing music, littering the front end, this adds to the overall premium feel of the game and creates the sense that this isn’t just a motorcycle racing game you’re about to play, but a MotoGP racing game.
There’s nothing new or innovative about the game modes, although all the usual array of options are present. Instant Race lets you get inside a helmet with minimum fuss and onto the track, ideal for a quick blast with the rider and track chosen at random. For more in depth play there’s the single event option Grand Prix (pick your category, rider and track), this will also allow you to customise your race options and rider aids, more on these later. Championship mode is the full race calender, this is where you face off against the best in the world for an entire season, as in all the modes you can play as your chosen MotoGP hero or as a player created character. There are 18 race events mirroring the actual 2013 season, however, if you want to change the order of the races, or remove particular races altogether, this option is open to you, this allows you to create your own season by dropping tracks you don’t like and, if you wish, doubling up on tracks you do. Points are collected for race placements and at the end of the season the rider with the highest… well, you know how this ends. An XP system has been added to provide unlocks and a (seemingly mandatory nowadays) sense of progression.
Along with the obligatory Time Attack and Online modes there’s an extensive Career mode, this is your opportunity to shine. Create your rider, pick a Moto3 team from a choice of 3 offers and start to impress, or not. Results bring in other offers and if you perform well your offers become more attractive. You have a virtual office in which to check emails and the events calendar, alter your riding style, change your appearance and check the standings, a neat touch that creates the impression that you’re on the verge of something big and it’s up to you to make it happen, the pressure is on. In all modes, once you’re out on track the racing is an intense mix of balancing speed with not falling off, getting the balance right can feel a little strange at first, the big bikes don’t turn as quickly as you’d like and, especially with swift direction changes, turns need to be planned, waiting until you’re just about to enter the bend before initiating the turn will see you run wide, even if you’re at the correct speed. An extensive list of customisable rider aids will help out here, through the usual trajectory, braking and steering aids to the more bike specific physics and tuck-in. Like auto transmission you can set whether you want to control the riders position manually or have it dealt with by the AI, this adds another layer to the overall racing dynamic and together with manual transmission and pro physics will ensure you’re kept busy at all times, don’t expect to be chatting to friends, or surfing the net, while idly meandering around the track in first place with these aids turned off, you’ll be crashing, a lot.
The game is not without its issues, the game engine, while adequate isn’t as polished as it could be. We know that racing games in general can reach a high level of visual flare, and if this level is directly proportionate to the amount of investment into the product then it’s clear that the MotoGP model has been tweaked on a strict budget, I guess this is down to the game’s limited appeal compared to the big hitting car racers and funds allocated to development have suffered as a result. There are some frame rate issues when the screen fills with riders and contact detection can be a little amiss at times, sometimes you can be hit from behind at pace and you suffer nothing more than a jolt and other times you can be punted into the gravel by nothing more than a nudge, although, in fairness this doesn’t happen often. Animation is good though, with riders coming off their seats and up over the bars in a realistic way while saving highsides, to sometimes land back on the seat after a successful save and sometimes not. I’m not sure if you can affect the outcome of these potential highsides but the imminent threat of hitting the ground head first doesn’t stop you trying. Also AI riders gesticulate, and shake their heads if you, or other AI riders, should try to share the same piece of track as them, it adds to the sense of realism when riders will shake their fists at each other and even take each other out in racing incidents right in front of you without your intervention or influence.
All of which brings us to where we came in, ‘does it feel like you’re riding a bike’? Well, the short answer is no. However, it does feel significantly different to controlling a car, the ‘helmet view’ provides you with a realistic view of riding a motorcycle, down to the movement around the bike, hanging off like a baboon and getting tucked in behind the fairing on the straights, although I found this view a little disorientating to begin with. You can choose to control the riders’ weight distribution front to back but the cornering style is predetermined in the options (Classic style through to full on Stoner/Marquez ‘almost off the bike altogether’). It is just a game though, i’m being unfair by expecting the complex physical nature of riding a bike to be conveyed, if you want that then you’ll have to ride a bike, if you just want to don the helmet of your MotoGP hero and mix it up on track with the stars of the pinnacle of world motorcycle racing then this game is for you, fans of the series can add a point to the overall score.
Reviewed on PS3