Motogp ’14 couldn’t have been timed any better. Marking Milestone’s next-gen debut on PS4 (though not Xbox One, you’ll note), its release came at a time when players were starved of new racing releases, paving the way for the overwhelming onslaught of titles currently vying for position, thus giving the often overlooked biking series some much-needed traction. With its inaugural North American release also racing off the line this month, the spotlight on the MotoGP game series has never been more widespread.
Interest in the sport has also spiked over the past few years, with veteran Valentino Rossi proving to be consistently formidable, not to mention Spanish sensation Marc Marquez’s remarkable winning streak in which the talented young rider won no less than 10 consecutive races before effortlessly securing the overall championship.
MotoGP ‘13 was a triumphant return to form, acting as a solid foundation to build upon and revitalise the retired genre following Milestone’s reacquisition of the license. Trouble is, with this year’s obligatory annual sequel comes the potential for the developers to become complacent – particularly as Milestone currently have the monopoly on licensed bike racing games, with their sister series MXGP also catering for motocross.
So, does MotoGP ’14 opt for an easy ride, or does Milestone go the extra mile?
In terms of presentation, MotoGP ’14 sees Milestone once again heavily take its cues from Codemasters’ F1 series, and this feeds into other aspects of the game, too. There’s even a hint of Gran Turismo here and there, with the new gentle, but ultimately generic, piano theme accompanying the menus adding a touch of class to the proceedings. And is it me, or does the menu navigation chime sound distinctly like Gran Turismo 3’s?
The tried and tested pre-race paddock menus also return, which, while functional and immersive, feel a tad too familiar at this stage. The same is true for progression in the career mode: you start off as a rookie wildcard rider in Moto3 rising up the ranks in the hope to get promoted to an accomplished MotoGP rider and embark on a full-length calendar championship season, with the aim to complete team objectives and beat your team mate. And if you don’t fancy being saddled with the entry level machines for an entire season, contract offers allow you to skip ahead and enter the higher classes early on, although doing this will put you at a disadvantage starting with no points mid-season.
Rider customisation is limited to a handful of stock face portrait photos lifted from developer mug shots (curiously, selecting a female avatar still has no bearing in-game), along with the usual array of options to customise your racing attire. They still lack any in-depth personalisation options, however, so don’t expect to be able to add custom decals to your helmet and overalls.
Moto3, Moto3 and MotoGP classes are all fully represented with over 100 official riders to choose from, making it an authentic representation of the championship hierarchy – unlike Codemasters’ F1 series which continually excludes Formula 3 and 2. But apart from the new Argentinian Termas de Río Hondo circuit, which brings the total number of calendar tracks to 18 as in the real life championship, and a few neat touches such as how your motorhome becomes increasingly lavish as you rank up, little has fundamentally changed in the career mode.
In fairness, license requirements probably prevent Milestone from deviating too far from the established formula. One notable new addition, however, is the inclusion of data packs, which can be used to upgrade and develop bike components from the brakes and suspension, to the chassis and engine by assigning research points in the paddock. It’s not exactly a deep system, though, as data packs are generously rewarded by simply completing a lap in one session, and it again feels like a feature borrowed from the F1 series, but it does add to the sense of progression.
If there’s one long-standing gripe I have with the career, it’s the excessive loading screens. After completing a career race, you have to wait for the motorhome menu to load, then you have to scroll to the calendar to select a race and sit through a load screen while the introductory circuit cinematic loads which you’ll often skip anyway, followed by another loading screen preceding the actual race. They do at least present you with interesting tidbits on the sport and game tips to keep you occupied, but it’s far too long-winded. An option to disable the intro cinematics altogether would be welcome in order the bypass the unnecessary load screen.
Visually, MotoGP ’14 is a significant step up. Milestone are often criticised for releasing games with dated graphics, but MotoGP ’14 borders on photorealism at times, particularly in the scintillating slow-mo replays.
Swoop the game’s photo mode camera onto the bikes and riders, and they stand up to scrutiny remarkably well. Indeed, you can’t help but marvel at the increased level of detail: individual grains in the rider’s leather overalls can be made out, as can scattered scrapes and scratches on the bike’s battered bodywork. Rider animations are smooth and realistic for the most part too, but the illusion is shattered whenever you take a tumble as the rider slithers down the track and flops about unconvincingly, failing to capture the brutality of the sport. Sadly, the PS4 version has been downgraded to 30 fps, but this has no noticeable impact on the performance, which remained resolutely smooth during play-testing. But if optimum performance is a priority to you, then the 60 fps PC version is, as always, the definitive version to seek out.
Adding to the visual splendour is a reworked lighting engine powered by Yebis 2, which casts a terrifically realistic sheen, and it’s just as effective during the dynamic weather changes which are a sight to behold. Granted, MotoGP ’14 probably isn’t a game you would use to showcase the power of PS4, but it’s still the best looking Milestone game to date by some margin.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the environments, which finds Milestone succumb to bad habits. Tracks sport significantly less detailed textures and appear bland and barren by comparison. There’s also little in the way of race day atmosphere, bar stilted introductory commentaries and the odd muted cheer from spectators. Speaking of which, the copy and pasted crowds are still static, resembling something from the PS2 era. When it comes to encapsulating raceday atmosphere, Codemasters still have the upper hand.
Audio design is another common stumbling block for Milestone, and while MotoGP’14’s audio has been noticeably enhanced, there’s still room for improvement. Having said that, I do like how the engine sounds change depending on your viewpoint – switch to the helmet camera, which offers a terrifyingly realistic portrayal of racing these speed machines mere inches above the ground from a rider’s point of view behind the visor, and the audio becomes muffled. And yet it still doesn’t quite sound real somehow. The engines lack that raw, organic ferocity you experience in reality. By contrast, the weedy engines of some of the entry bike classes sound like a wasp.
Thankfully, you can always rely on Milestone to deliver in the physics department, and MotoGP ’14 is no exception, with a handling model that’s as initiative as it is sophisticated, and a natural evolution from MotoGP ‘13.
Indeed, MotoGP ‘14’s controls feel more refined than last year’s effort, but it’s easy to become dismayed after falling off the bike for the umpteenth time after misjudging the entry speed or throttle control. The same physics options comprising Standard, Semi-Pro and Pro remain, along with an array of assists to cater for all skill levels, but Pro certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, requiring a mastery of keeping throttle control and rider stability in tandem. Apply the throttle too liberally, as your instincts will initially tell you if you’re more accustomed to car racing, and the rear wheel will often slip, catapulting the rider onto the tarmac. But it’s this constant delicacy to the controls that makes the racing action so engrossing, forcing you to be tactful with your measured inputs when moving up the field.
Controlling the bikes with the Dual Shock 4 controller feels responsive thanks to the added precision from the more pronounced analogue sticks and triggers and deploying more advanced racing tactics, such as the ability to ‘tuck in’ to reduce drag on straights, soon becomes instinctive. Adding to the intensity are competitive AI opponents that put up a strong fight should you dial up the difficulty, and yet are still prone to making mistakes of their own accord, ramping up the realism.
It’s also wise for novices not to dive straight onto the high powered 1000cc MotoGP bikes. The subdued power of the Moto2 and 3 classes provide the perfect training ground to get to grips with the mechanics and experiment with the different physics models before attempting to tame the daunting MotoGP class, so you can gradually dial up the difficulty to what you feel comfortable with. It’s wonderfully accommodating to all skill levels, though personally I found Semi-Pro to offer the best balance between fun and realism.
A Question of Sport
Milestone are renowned for being big bike racing aficionados, and their passion is abundantly evident in MotoGP ’14 with a raft of extra modes providing pleasing fan service for long-time devotees of the sport.
Real Events 2013 lets you relive key moments from last year’s eventful championship, and in some cases rewrite them – the race in Sepang, for example, saw Crutchlow’s position snatched by Bautisa just minutes before the end of the race after maintaining 5th for the majority of the race. Here the objective is to rewrite history and hold the position. Yes, it’s unashamedly aping F1’s Champions mode, but it’s undeniably diligent fan service on Milestone’s part, particularly as each challenge contains live action footage of the real event for added context.
Similarly, Challenge the Champions takes you back to the sports’ illustrious past during the vintage 500cc 2-stroke era, allowing you to relieve some classic race battles from the likes of Rossi, Gardner, Capirossi, and of course Rainey and Schwantz, along with some fictional challenges thrown in for good measure. Again, it’s not too dissimilar to F1 2013’s Classic mode, but you can at least use the classic bikes in any mode outside of career, as can the 2013 bikes, although many have to be unlocked with XP. The other downside is that, with only 34 total events spread between each mode, they’re all too brief, so it’s unlikely you’ll want to return to them.
More bizarre is the inclusion of the safety car. And by that, I don’t mean watching the safety car being deployed mid-race. No, there’s an entire dedicated mode where you get to drive the new BMW M4 Coupe safety car in a time trial on any track and compete on the leaderboards. It’s an interesting novelty at first, but it would have been more worthwhile if it didn’t handle like a sloppy shopping trolley – it’s as if they haphazardly applied the bike physics to a car, which doesn’t work. It’s a throwaway mode that comes off as a glorified advertisement for BMW. Pouring resources into other areas would have been more beneficial.
Up to 12 players can compete in the highly customiseable online multiplayer, with options for race length, qualifying sessions and physics. With the right set of likeminded players, racing online with MotoGP ’14 is a genuine thrill – it’s just a shame you can’t race in full season championships as in the offline career. Still, at least there’s the option for traditional sofa split-screen multiplayer, which too many developers disregard.
MotoGP ’14 finds Milestone on fine form, with their first foray into the next-gen bringing all the visual and physics upgrades you’d expect. But it’s the diligent fan service and copious content that sets it apart, just about saving MotoGP ’14 from being another incremental annual sequel, as their unbridled passion shines through every aspect of the game.
It’s a shame, then, that their future standing with the license looks uncertain. With their focus now firmly on their new IP Ride, there’s a possibility that Milestone could be abandoning licensed motorsport games altogether, which has become their speciality over the years. Adding to the speculation are rumours that WRC, their other long-established licensed series, is being towed away by Kylotonn Games after being acquired by Bigben Interactive. If this does turn out to be Milestone’s last stint with MotoGP, the successor will be a tough act to follow.
With their focus now firmly on their new IP Ride, there’s a possibility that Milestone could be abandoning licensed motorsport games altogether, which has become their speciality over the years. Adding to the speculation are rumours that WRC, their other long-established licensed series, is being towed away by Kylotonn Games after being acquired by Bigben Interactive. If this does turn out to be Milestone’s last stint with MotoGP, the successor will be a tough act to follow.