Italian developer Milestone may currently be renowned for their annual WRC series that has continually evolved over the last few years, but trace back through their heritage and you’ll find a team with an unrelenting passion for bike games, having worked on their long-running SBK series and dabbled with MotoGP in the past.
The bike racing genre rarely gets the recognition it deserves due to its niche audience, and while Milestone’s passion for the sport shone through the otherwise unremarkable MotoGP ‘08, the last couple of MotoGP games developed by Monumental felt comparatively soulless, lacking Milestone’s unbridled enthusiasm for the sport. As a result, it’s a series that has become increasingly unbalanced from cycling between different developers, wavering from arcade to simulation with each passing iteration.
Now, though, after a two year absence MotoGP is back on the consoles with Milestone taking on developer duties. Their timing couldn’t be more prudent, either. Just as Codemasters’ F1 2012 had the advantage of coinciding with one of the sport’s most memorable seasons in recent years, which saw the first seven races won by seven different drives making for a refreshingly tempestuous championship, MotoGP ’13 arrives at a time when the sport has peaked in popularity thanks to the unprecedented prowess of young rookie rider Marc Marquez and the return of Italian veteran Valentino Rossi.
Like Rossi, Milestone face a similar proposition after their hiatus – can they get back on the saddle and reclaim their place on the podium?
If there’s one thing you’ll learn from Milestone’s comeback, it’s this: don’t expect an easy ride. Try to play MotoGP ’13 as you would play the earlier Namco-published arcade MotoGP games, and you’ll find yourself kissing the tarmac on the very first corner.
Instead, Milestone have stuck to their roots and aimed for a full-blown simulation akin to Polyphony’s underrated Tourist Trophy, and the result is a bike racing game that’s as challenging and unforgiving as it is enthralling and addicting, giving a refreshingly unrestrained take on motorsport that contemporary racing games often overlook in favour of appealing to the mass market.
Indeed, it’s a refreshingly challenging ride to handle, as MotoGP ‘13’s sophisticated physics engine demands your full concentration at all times. Of course, for newcomers this is potentially very daunting, which is why Milestone have implemented three distinct handling models to cater for different skill levels.
Thankfully, novices can be eased in by applying the Standard handling model – think of it like learning how to ride a bike with stabilisers. It’s still challenging, but the bikes feel much more forgiving and planted so you can dart across the track without the worry of unbalancing your momentum, and there’s less consequence when you inevitably bump into other riders. This allows you to get a feel for the bikes and gain a fundamental understanding of the physics, particularly if you’re more accustomed to four-wheeled racing games.
Helping to soften the learning curve is the branching bike classes, as the slower, more nimble and more manageable Moto3 and Moto2 classes steadily help prepare you for the demanding MotoGP monsters. For novice players, sticking with the Moto3 class and Standard handling offers great incentive to hone your skills before removing the stabilisers, even if it’s still not quite as accessible as its arcade ancestors.
Dial up the difficulty to the less forgiving Semi-Pro or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, Pro, and the difference is profound. Suddenly you find yourself having to regulate the rider’s momentum as they lean into corners, whilst supremely skilled riders can add the extra challenge of controlling the independent front and rear brakes if you so desire.
It’s therefore a relentlessly steep learning curve that requires perseverance and finesse with your inputs. Apply the throttle into a corner too early or too sharply, and don’t be surprised when you offset the bike and send your rider hurling over the handle bars and tumbling down the track for example, which has never looked better thanks to Milestone’s motion-captured rider animations. It’s not just the brutal bails that look realistic, either – all the official rider’s individual riding styles have been recreated, and I particularly like the subtle fist flying and recovery animations.
Once you master the nuanced balancing act, it's deeply satisfying when everything comes together and you get into a flow, timing corner entry speeds just right, sweeping majestically across apexes and narrowly scraping past the pack. It all makes for a wonderfully white knuckle ride, and it’s here you being to realise that MotoGP ’13 is without question the most realistic video game representation of the sport to date. Bike games are notoriously difficult to get right when it comes to physics simply because there are too many complex variables to factor, but this is as close as we’re likely to get for now.
Switch to the new first person helmet camera borrowed from Shift 2: Unleashed, and, coupled with the challenging physics, you get to experience MotoGP ’13 at its most startlingly visceral, with a tilting viewpoint that conveys the terror of what it’s like to skim your body inches above the tarmac at 200 mph. As you lean into corners, the helmet camera mimics your rider’s head movements, which will turn in the direction of the corner allowing you to accurately anticipate the apex and exit of the corner, making for a resolutely realistic racing experience.
On the Move
For those who still want more realism, MotoGP ’13 also supports the PlayStation Move Wireless Motion Wheel controller –finally, Sony’s aesthetically-disfigured peripheral has a use. But despite my ridicule in the past, I have to say it’s actually a very smartly designed controller. While most will have used it as a casual wireless wheel for playing the likes of Gran Turismo 5 and F1 2012, pull out the two side bars and it doubles as a set of handle bars for bike racing games. It even has a twist throttle for added authenticity.
MotoGP ’13 is arguably the first time we’ve been able to test this setup, and it plays surprisingly well overall - it’s a testament to MotoGP 13’s physics that playing with the motion controller is responsive and intuitive.
The only downsides are that you can’t assign the brakes to the right trigger next to the throttle twister like on a real bike (both the twister and right trigger are mapped to the R2 button) and playing with your arms spread apart without a pivot to rest them on becomes uncomfortable after continuous use unless you awkwardly rest your elbows on your knees, so it's difficult to recommend for prolonged play sessions. As an entertaining novelty, though, it works brilliantly and is highly immersive.
A is for authenticity
Milestone prides itself on authenticity in their licensed motorsport games, and MotoGP ’13 is no exception which is evident right off the bat from its polished presentation. It’s all indicative of Milestone’s passion for the sport: menus are adorned with slow motion live action archive footage, while the Eurovision-style circuit location intros and in-game commentary provided by motorsports commentator Gavin Emmett add another air of authenticity to the proceedings, which is only heightened by the excellent TV-style replay camera angles.
Likewise, the career mode closely replicates the journey of a MotoGP season, starting you off in rookie wildcard events to prove yourself in a handful of races before team invites start flooding your inbox – even if it heavily borrows from Codemasters’ F1 series rather unashamedly. Perhaps they’re getting their own back on Codemasters for taking all the credit for their rewind flashback system (which first appeared in SCAR, not GRiD as Milestone love to reiterate) which once again makes an appearance in MotoGP ’13, but it’s clear that Milestone want MotoGP ’13 to be biking equivalent of Codies’ fabled F1 series.
They nearly pull it off, too. The career is structured via an all-too familiar interactive motorhome that houses your racing calendar and email inbox for team invites and race objectives from your Personnel Manager, while social media and newspaper samples document your current race standings, with direct quotes from fans and fellow riders following your progress. It’s a novel addition you might have otherwise missed that helps add some needed context to the season that keeps you engaged – something that was somewhat lacking in Grid 2’s underwhelming WSR.
Progressing through the career is a relatively standard affair. Like other developers, Milestone has conformed to the XP bandwagon, which replaces the cash system seen in the last MotoGP game, and achieving team position objectives earns you additional fans which unlocks helmets and assorted riders and gear that can be used outside of the career.
Milestone are aware that not everyone will want to remain lumbered with the lowly classes. As you progress through the career season, new contracts will be offered at certain intervals inviting you to advance to the next class of bike. It’s a smart design decision that that allows more advanced and impatient players to press on without having to laboriously grind through entire seasons before being granted access to the meatier machines – a lesson that Gran Turismo could perhaps learn from.
Continuing Codemasters’ influence, each race is preceded with an immersive, walkable pit menu, where you can check the weather forecast (advisable, since dynamic weather can adversely alter your racing strategy), tweak your bike performance and talk to your Racing Engineer who will helpfully configure your bike in accordance to the track conditions – a potential godsend for novice players less knowledgeable about bike setups.
Meanwhile, a wealth of customisation options are available from the get-go, allowing you to tweak your riding style and cosmetics right down to your individual racing number. A more extensive suite of options would have been welcome, though – you can’t personalise your rider’s face for example other than choosing from some gurning pre-set mug shots modelled by the developers, nor can you create your own helmet decals.
It’s a shame a similar level of polish wasn’t applied to the visuals, too. MotoGP ’13 is certainly Milestone’s best looking game to date, no doubt a result of the advancements made in WRC3’s in-house Spike Engine, but it still falls short of the standard set by recent racing games. Still, it’s less noticeable since MotoGP ’13 has the advantage of being the only dedicated bike racing game on the market this year.
While the bikes have been lavished with superb detail, the tracks fare less well, suffering from occasionally murky textures and sterility – a blemish that also marred Milestone’s WRC games. After being spoilt with Grid 2’s animated cheering crowds, MotoGP ‘13’s cut-and-paste static spectators that populate the stadiums don’t quite cut it. And just like in WRC, the engines sound too feeble, failing to convey the savage power of the barking bikes.
Outside of the career, the single player portion presents a myriad of different race options which, strangely, are given priority over the career. Grand Prix mode is your standard single race option allowing you to pick a rider, team and track, with the option to participate in qualifying sessions. Alternatively, you can bypass this altogether and dive straight into an Instant Race.
Championship on the other hand allows you to participate in a full-length MotoGP championship with a class of your choice. Strangely, a time trial option wasn’t included in the initial release, but has since been added in a patch update. Grand Prix and Championship modes can also be played online which is mostly lag free, but split screen multiplayer is sadly restricted to Grand Prix, dashing hopes of co-operative career making a comeback.
It may lack some polish, but MotoGP ’13 is a spectacular return to form. Milestone have crafted a confident, challenging bike racing simulation that stands as the most authentic MotoGP video game in years, with enough content for hardcore fans and just enough stabilisers for casual bikers to handle. Finally, we have a current generation bike racing game that does the genre justice.