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MotoGP 17 review

Martin Bigg On September 10, 2017

Short development times often mean that annual licensed racing games offer incremental improvements rather than revolutionary updates. To Italian developer Milestone’s credit, last year’s MotoGP game was a valiant attempt to reinvent the series. The imaginatively named Valentino Rossi: The Game was a tribute to the legendary rider that introduced new disciplines you don’t normally see in a MotoGP game, such as dirt bike racing at the Rossi ranch and rallying events at Monza.
 
While the new disciplines added some needed variety to the experience, the quality was inconsistent – the less said about the dire drifting events, the better. Ironically, with all the focus on the new Valentino Rossi-themed content, the MotoGP component felt like an underdeveloped afterthought. For this year’s entry, however, Milestone has gone back to basics.

A refined ride

As a result, MotoGP 17 lacks a lot of the extra content that was introduced in last year’s game, but this has allowed Milestone to improve some of the fundamental aspects of the MotoGP series that urgently needed addressing. First and foremost, MotoGP 17’s presentation is noticeably more polished, with slick-looking menus that are easier to navigate than before. Mercifully, Milestone has also finally fixed one of our main gripes with the series: the game no longer forces you to create a rider avatar when you first start it up, allowing you to jump straight into a race without interruption. It only took them five years to fix.

MotoGP 17 screenshot
 
If you’ve ever attended a live MotoGP race event, you'll know that the engines are so ear-splittingly loud that they sound distorted in real life, yet Milestone’s audio design has always failed to convey the savagery of these powerful machines. For MotoGP 17, the developer has adopted new techniques to record the bike engines, and it shows. Bikes in previous MotoGP games sounded synthetic and weedy, but in MotoGP 17 the roaring engines sound authentically visceral and ferociously powerful in every class, even during low rev ranges. Hearing a full grid of bikes rev up on the starting line is an absolute aural assault that will make your speakers shudder. Compared to past MotoGP games, and indeed other Milestone games, the audio design is now far more representative of the sport, and bodes well for future Milestone titles.
 
Milestone clearly wants you to notice the revamped engine audio, which may explain why there’s no in-game music in this year’s release. Players who normally play their racing games with background music may find the constant drone of the bike’s engine grating after a while.  
 
It’s a shame the same attention hasn’t been applied to the dated visuals. While MXGP 3 benefited from a significant graphical upgrade running on the shiny new Unreal Engine 4 giving the game a grittier, more realistic look, MotoGP 17 is still powered by Milestone’s ageing in-house engine for the fifth consecutive year since the series was revived.

MotoGP 17 screenshot 2
 
The upshot, however, is that MotoGP 17 is the first console game in the series to run at a super-smooth 60fps, and the difference is immediately noticeable. There’s now a greater sense of speed as you hurtle down a circuit at scary speeds, and the controls are more fluid and responsive, allowing you to tackle tracks with greater precision. It’s an impressive technical feat when you consider the game renders large grids of up to 33 bikes in the Moto2 class with barely any slowdown, even on a standard PS4. PS4 Pro users can also enjoy an increased resolution of 1440P and a more stable frame rate, according to Milestone.
 
Milestone has still managed to extract some extra fidelity from the old graphics engine, too. Some circuits, like Mugello, have been completely remodeled, and texture detail has been increased in some areas of the scenery , though you can notice some cutbacks in the fidelity that were made to optimise the frame rate such as the barren grass textures and static crowds. Consequently, the envionments look flat and lifeless.  Occasional slowdown and screen tearing also hamper the graphical presentation, and the lighting is nowhere near as realistic as MXGP 3. Milestone’s in-house engine is really starting to show its age now. There’s no dynamic weather either, which was a key new feature in MXGP 3 that made the racing action more exciting and unpredictable. Just as it did with MXGP 3, the inevitable shift to Unreal Engine 4 in next year’s MotoGP game could potentially revolutionise the series.
 
Fortunately, the most crucial aspect in any racing game has been refined in MotoGP 17: the handling. As with every bike racing game developed by Milestone, you can choose between one of three difficulties: Standard, Semi-Pro, and Pro, with Semi-Pro providing the best balance between realism and fun. MotoGP 17’s physics seem to be based on the excellent Ride 2 – considering it’s still the best bike game Milestone has ever made, that’s no bad thing. In previous MotoGP games, the bikes were unpredictable and were very slow to turn in, but now they’re much more natural and intuitive, evoking the same sense of satisfaction as Ride 2 when you consistently hit the apexes.


 
The bikes are more fun to tame as a result, and players looking for a challenge can still apply the Pro physics where it’s a constant battle just to keep the rider on the bike. The first-person camera has also been tweaked in MotoGP 17 so that you now feel more connected to the surface. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the helmet camera, which still feels floaty and disjointed as your viewpoint stays static while the bike tilts.   
 

Championship Manager

MotoGP 17’s career structure has been mostly unchanged. As before, you play as a rookie rider racing through seasons on all 18 official circuits rising the ranks from the entry-level Moto3 class, to the demanding MotoGP class. This time however, MotoGP 17 eases you in with the Red Bull Rookies Cup previously released as DLC for MotoGP 15, a short seven-race championship where each rider is evenly matched on identical bikes. These bikes are far less powerful and easier to handle, providing a gentler learning curve before unleashing you into the higher bike classes that require more finesse with your throttle and braking inputs.  

Alongside the already lengthy Rider Career, MotoGP 17 introduces a new Managerial Career which puts you in the position of a team manager, an aspect of motorsport that’s often overlooked in officially licensed racing games aside from dedicated motorsport management games. Acting as an entirely separate career mode, initially can only hire one rider in Moto3, but you’ll eventually be managing a team of up to six riders which earn you more money as their skills gradually improve with race experience.  You can also choose sponsors, hire office staff, and pay for research and development staff to unlock mechanical bike upgrades.

MotoGP 17 screenshot 3
 
It may sound like a deep, time-consuming mode when you look at the exhaustive number of options, but in practice the Managerial Career isn’t very engaging. You’ll only spend a few minutes sifting through the endless menus and unnecessary load times before engaging in a race because, unlike in most management games, there’s no option to let the AI do it for you. And because every action you make is done through a menu screen rather than letting you directly interact with your team and watch them evolve, you end up feeling disconnected. The Managerial Career is a welcome distraction to the main career, but it falls flat due to a lack of depth.     
 
Despite some significant improvements to the core game, some of the series’ long-standing issues still linger in MotoGP 17. AI opponents rarely deviate from the racing line and seem oblivious to your track position, which can be frustrating when using Pro physics as the slightest contact can send you tumbling off your bike if another rider blindly barges into you. It’s a stark contrast to MXGP 3 where the rider AI behaved more naturally and took multiple racing lines, but they still present a challenge even on medium difficulty.
 
Real Events, which let you re-enact key moments from the previous year’s MotoGP championship, are also noticeably absent. It's a shame because the events in last year’s game took you on a personal journey through the highlights of Valentino Rossi’s memorable career. Hopefully Real Events will return as DLC. The track intro cut scenes are also long overdue an update, and in-game rider models still look identical. Even if you select a female avatar, your rider still has the same masculine proportions as every other rider on the track.


 
Online multiplayer is a mixed bag in MotoGP 17. With support for up to 12 players, battling against human players is inherently more exciting than the lifeless single player AI and the servers have improved to reduce lag, but the lack of penalties for shunting into other riders discourages clean and serious racing. There's still no online spectate mode either which makes waiting around in lobbies for races to start a chore, and there’s also no way of filtering if collisions are enabled or disabled when you search for a race. Likewise, the PS4-exclusive eSports championship endorsed by Dorna Sports, which is offering a BMW M2 as a grand prize for the lucky winner, suffers from the same lack of regulations.   

MotoGP 17 moves the series forward with its refined handling and revamped audio, but the outdated visuals and archaic AI still hold it back. Hardcore MotoGP fanatics will appreciate the new Managerial Career that adds longevity to the already lengthy career mode, but casual players may want to wait for next year’s entry where the upgrade to Unreal Engine 4 will no doubt take the series to new heights. It’s still a step in the right direction for the series, but seeing how Unreal Engine 4 transformed MXGP 3, MotoGP 17 feels like a stopgap game. 

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