With the real life MotoGP season well underway, the virtual counterpart is just catching up with the release of the motorbike racing title, MotoGP 14
. The newest installment of the franchise builds on the successful return of the series last year and brings a lot more with it too. Claiming "That's Evolution", the game features new modes, new graphics and audio, all the official tracks and officially licensed teams and riders. The question is, is all of this enough to lead it towards top spot and improve on last year's podium finish.
For those who might not yet know, MotoGP is a World Championship for motorcycles featuring bikes of different sizes running in different classes, Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. The races take place on eighteen different circuits throughout the world, attracting nearly 2.5 million spectators through the gates for last season. It has the reputation for being a high thrilled and high adrenaline racing sport, which is pretty well captured in the virtual counterpart.
The main focus of the game is the career mode where the player takes on the role of a rider, selecting a class to race in, a team to race for and building up fame, fortune, and a fanbase in the high speed sport. Over the course of the eighteen race season, the player is given the chance to develop the bike using data packs that can be won on the first lap of qualifying or racing. A certain number of data packs are required to level-up a particular component on the bike, making a difference to the way the bike handles. The player is also given a chance to sign for different teams, but beware, changing teams means changing bikes, and components that were improved on one bike will need to done again on the new bike. All of this is managed through a number of menu screens which still look a little, well, simple. The presentation still looks a little threadbare these days.
To a certain extent, this is also carried over to the visuals for the courses and tracks, especially with the environments and backgrounds. The graphics engine has been improved though, and never once during any of the races was there a visible drop in the framerates. On the other hand, when you compare Circuit de Catalunya in Forza Motorsport 4
with the same circuit in MotoGP
, the two wheeled franchise does look worse off.
However, looks aren't everything, and where the title has always shone and continues to shine, is in the racing. Although Milestone have done their best to make the game as accessible as possible to all levels of riders, by including a wealth of options and settings, even racing on the easiest levels remains a challenge. Racing on two wheels is always going to be more difficult than racing on four. Throw into the mix the fact that you have to have the correct lean on the bike, change the rider's position, balance the braking and control the acceleration, it becomes quite a feat of multitasking. Let's not forget that there are twenty other bikes on the track with you, too. There is genuine intensity in the racing, with an extreme level of concentration required, focusing on the thin strip of asphalt you are trying to hit, or the even thinner strip of rubberized asphalt where the grip is best. If you think this will be a game that you can relax with, forget it. It is simply intense from start line to finish line, and just when you think you have the dry conditions licked, along comes the wet weather just to throw you off again, quite literally in places.
Now I have to confess there was a point during the reviewing of the game that I began to feel a strange sense of deja vu, and to be honest that point came surprisingly early on. Looking back over last year's review nearly all of the same points were valid, almost to the point where it was tempting to cut and paste, but actually, that wouldn't be entirely fair (or professional). Points such as the learning cliff for beginners, the basic menu presentation, and the visual representation of the courses; all those minor gripes still remain. However, alongside that, all of the positives from the title remain, too; all of the little touches that made the game such a nuanced and fine racing title are back but they've been improved. On the surface it might well appear that Milestone have not done much to the game, and if it ain't broke why fix it, but don't be fooled, somewhere midway through the first season of racing it became clear that there had been some tweaking done and the title has clearly benefited. This is better, this is improved, it's just so subtle that it becomes hard to point out exactly why.
There are also some noticeable changes to the title, too. Milestone have updated the teams and drivers and added an additional course. They have added extra game modes, including challenges against individual racers, some of whom are legends in the sport, and challenges featuring real life events, reproducing or altering the course of historic racing events in the sport. All of these new game modes add to the previously included Grand Prix and Championship modes from last year's title. In short, despite initial appearances, Milestone have in fact been very busy this year, and packed an immense amount of content into the new game.
There are seventeen challenges where the player takes on the role of one of the racing stars and attempts a particular feat. This can be based on reality but it can also be entirely fictional. In both cases, the challenge varies in difficulty, but don't expect any gimmes amongst them. Similarly, the seventeen challenges based on real life events also vary in difficulty, and will no doubt keep even the most hardcore riders amongst the fans, busy for a while.
There is also the possibility to drive the safety car (a souped up BMW) around the track. Apparently this is something the fans wanted, and Milestone responded. To be honest, it's not the best driving sim, and certainly nowhere near as much fun as racing the motorbikes.
The achievements are pretty standard for a racing title covering the career progression, online racers, collectibles, and then a few very specific types such as winning with a particular bike or team. There are 43 achievements in total and the length of time to achieve the full 1000 GS will vary with each players individual skill. That said, over half of them were unlocked during the first full season of racing.
Motorcycle racing games remain a niche market and there aren't a lot of games available. Fortunately for the fans of the sport, this title should fulfill your every need with respect to racing in the virtual world. It is accessible to all levels and is as challenging as the player wants to make it. The racing is tough even on the easiest levels, but overall it is truly exhilarating. The moment that you feel that you have complete control of the bike, banking rapidly from one side to the other through the chicanes and curves, cutting through and overtaking on a corner, those moments feel triumphant. If you're a biking fan, then this remains a four-star title; a little gem of a racing game, albeit a little rough around the edges. Sadly at the other end of the scale, if you're not a fan of the sport, then this game is not for you.
The review copy was provided by the publisher. The reviewer spent around fifteen hours racing through a complete season, unlocking 27 of the 43 achievements available, whilst developing a deep and healthy respect for the sport, the bikes, and the riders.