Developer Milestone has been putting out racing sims since the mid-90s, and their most recent title, MotoGP 20, has landed on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and even Stadia. It’s been quite a while since I left the safety of four-wheeled racing sims and jumped on the saddle of a two-wheeled rocket so I had forgotten how difficult a motorcycle is to ride. Milestone has created a challenging game and has provided little in the way of guidance other than heading to the track and using the black and blue method of learning to master it. For anyone willing to push through a difficult first couple of hours, the reward is the thrill of high speeds and the feeling of danger at every turn as you reach for a podium finish. Welcome to our review of MotoGP 20.
Hitting The Pavement
One of the hardest things to do in any racing game is to provide an entertaining experience for a novice to the series and at the same time challenge a seasoned veteran. Curiously missing from MotoGP 20 is any type of tutorial or guided training for beginners. Instead, Milestone uses both a variety of difficulty settings and the lower tiers of the MotoGP ranks to accommodate all skill levels, leaving it up to you to figure out on your own how to make it around the track on two wheels.
After immediately jumping into a quick race on a GP series bike and spending more time with my ass on the pavement than on the bike I wisely chose to start a career at the Moto3 level to give myself a fighting chance against the computer riders. The bikes at the Moto3 level are still pretty fast but their handling is more forgiving than their GP counterparts. By the end of my time in Moto3, I was able to turn off some of the riding assists and fight for podium finishes without the use of the rewind button.
The move up to Moto2 brought about my first encounter with wheelies, endos, and more finicky handling, teaching me about the proper application of the throttle and brakes to stay upright. I also had to perfect speed and lean control through the beginning, middle, and end of turns to hang with the front runners. This time spent in the minor leagues was more than just a repetitive way to extend my time with the game and really allowed me to learn the ropes without the frustration of having everything and the kitchen sink thrown at me all at once. Without having the lower tiers to hone my racing skills I am positive this review would have a different tone.
Seasoned veterans of the franchise may fare better, but even after hours of practice in Moto2 and 3 I still find myself fighting to control my bike in the GP series. At least the basics I’ve learned mean I can make it around the circuit without leaving half of my leathers on the pavement. There are glimpses of brilliance as I hit the perfect line through a series of turns, and it’s those moments that make me want to continue fighting my way through the pack with the goal of getting consistent podium finishes. I really can’t ask for more than that out of a racing sim.
Before moving on to other aspects of the game, I feel compelled to take a moment to thank Milestone for their intelligent implementation of the rewind function. The heavy use of the rewind button is an invaluable tool in shortening your training. Being able to retry a turn repeatedly without having to wait for a complete lap to go by is perfect for building the muscle memory that you’ll need during a race. Milestone has been very generous in the amount of rewind distance available to you. This is important since a mistake may not be fully realized until a couple of turns down the track. You are able to rewind well beyond your initial point of error, unlike many games where the rewind doesn’t go back far enough and you merely end up reliving your errors over and over again like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Back At The Garage
MotoGP 20 isn’t just about perfecting your riding skills. If you want to find your way to the top of the podium you’ll have to spend some time tinkering in the garage as well. To do this, you get to take on the role of team manager alongside your time as a rider. Your first choice is picking a personal manager to handle your personal contract and negotiations with potential teams. As you gain reputation you can hire a new manager with a better skillset if you’re willing to pay the signing bonus and monthly salary that comes with them.
After that is settled you will also grab a couple of technical staff managers. Each available manager is rated in four categories: engine, frame, aerodynamics, and electronics. Their combined skillsets determine where you can focus your research and development throughout the race season. Like your personal manager, you can upgrade your tech staff from the initial duo if you’re willing to take on the burden of their salary from your team sponsors.
Each week you must decide where to allocate your development staff. Each person is designated to work on research or development. Research is a straight-forward resource, with each allotted person generating points that can then be used on upgrades. You then use those research points and assign staff members to develop parts along the upgrade tree. The more team members assigned to development, the quicker the upgrade will be completed.
Research and development is a painstakingly long process but you are able to speed it up during race weekends. During the free practice sessions, you will be given three optional development tests to complete. Hitting the assigned targets awards you a fair amount of development points, making free practice a worthwhile use of your time.
Choosing where to focus your R&D may have an impact on how your ride improves throughout the course of the season but you’ll still have to tune your bike for each individual race to get the fastest times. There is a guided setup where you simply feed issues to the team engineers and they automatically change your bike’s setup based on your feedback. Choosing this option does eat away at your practice time, though, so digging in and making your adjustments manually gives you more track time to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of your ride.
The overall tuning process is a little light for a racing sim in 2020. Most racers give you the ability to make minute changes to every aspect of your setup but Milestone went with an incremental slider instead. Each slider goes from 1 to 10 instead of using actual measurements. I know that setting my front springs to 1 will make them softer than setting them to 10, but it just seems a little arcade-ish for a simulation game.
Just like learning how to control your bike, figuring out how things work in the pits is once again left up to you. The lack of a tutorial leads to a lot of guesswork as you figure out how to manage your team. It isn’t too complex, but it will take the better part of a racing season to figure it all out. A walkthrough of how everything works would have saved me a career restart. It is this type of oversight that pops up again and again throughout the game, and although it doesn’t ruin the experience it certainly detracts from the overall quality of the game.
Sights And Sounds
There’s nothing like the scream of an engine when a bike or car roars past you at 150+. It’s a sound that sticks with you and it’s something a racing sim has to get right. While in the saddle, Milestone has made sure loud engines rule the audio roost, but there’s more than just engine noise at a track. I’ve never taken a tumble at 100mph so I’m not exactly sure what a realistic-sounding slide across pavement and gravel would sound like from the rider’s point of view, but the recreation in GP20 feels a little flat. It’s a stark contrast to the higher quality sound of rain hitting your helmet or the increasing volume of the wind buffeting against you as you reach higher speeds, both giving an added sense of just how fast you are going.
Milestone has done a fantastic job on the visual side of things. The scenery isn’t as stunning as some of the other offerings out there right now but there is enough detail to get a passing grade. Considering how focused you are on the track when trying to hit your turn points, it makes sense they concentrated their visual efforts on the track and nearby objects. Like the audio, where GP20 really shines visually is how well it imparts the feeling of speed. I could see every wobble of the bike when I hit the throttle too hard and even without the racing line highlighted I was immediately aware I had missed a braking point as my bike struggled to slow down in time for a turn. Skimping a bit on distant objects helps to push out fluid frame rates, something that can’t be understated considering how even minor errors to speed or rider lean from stuttering video could alter your bike’s trajectory. At 3440×1440 on my main rig (Ryzen 3700x and Radeon Vega 64) I was able to maintain 80+ frames per second. Even my much weaker laptop (Nvidia 1660ti) gave smooth 60+ fps at 1080p.
Race Weekend Hoopla
It’s pretty much an expectation that annual installments of racing sims bring more realistic visuals and physics, but another aspect that’s garnered a ton of attention the last few years is the off-track events that transpire throughout a race weekend and the season as a whole. Announcer commentary, media interviews, racer reputation, and even rider/stable relationships have become a part of the total sim package. Good racers will come and go, but the true legends are remembered as much for their personalities as they are their race record.
Tying research and development to the free practice sessions is a positive step in fleshing out the race weekend but it isn’t enough to push MotoGP 20 to the front of the pack. The lack of sponsor or fellow competitor communication between race weekends and not having pre- or post-race interviews to sway public and peer opinion turns your rider reputation into just another statistic that goes up or down based on your race performance. It may not be a concern for anyone who wants to just get on the track and race but I find all the extra bits act as a catalyst that transforms a racing sim into a career simulator.
On the other hand, MotoGP 20 has a full stable of editors to let you customize your rider’s looks. Understandably, there are only minor tweaks available when it comes to your bike and leathers. You can swap between a few sponsors and change colors, and there is a sticker and number editor to add even more personalization. When it comes to helmets you have an increased amount of freedom. With some imagination and skill, you can create virtually anything you can think of through the editor, or just hunt for something to download online (as of this writing, there were already 3000+ user-created helmets to choose from).
When it comes to getting your bike around the track, Milestone has done an excellent job of creating a believable simulation of MotoGP racing. Since you aren’t able to physically feel the forces acting upon your body and bike, it is paramount to recreate those feelings through audio and visual cues in-game, and MotoGP 20 does this to great effect, especially when you play in one of the first-person views. My time on the track was very rewarding and gave a completely different experience than the four-wheeled sims on the market. I wish that same feeling carried over into the off-track activities
Note: Our review of MotoGP 20 was done on PC with a Steam code provided by PR.