After decades of playing racing games, I’ve become rather confident in my skills. The first thing I do whenever I launch a new title is to open settings and turn off all available driving assists (maybe with the automatic gearbox being one exception in some cases). I prefer to learn to drive the hard way. However, MotoGP 21 might mark the first time when I thought that it was actually too hard this way…
- improved bike physics makes driving more realistic than before (and satisfying, once you learn not to crash on every corner);
- AI behaves (quite) reasonably once again;
- improved graphics and loading times;
- tutorial is back…
- …but newcomers might find the game too hard nonetheless;
- manual bike recovery is poorly implemented and infuriating, especially considering that you crash much more often than in previous games;
- historical challenges are missing, as well as two bike classes (on release);
- you can buy a pay-to-win DLC that quickens progression;
Innovations big and small
The list of major improvements over MotoGP 20 presented by Milestone doesn’t look very impressive. Manual bike recovery, long lap penalty, and brake temperature don’t sound like innovations worth another 50 bucks, don’t they? However, there are also other changes that, albeit less apparent, seem far more important and I’m surprised the devs don’t put greater focus on them in marketing and promotion. The true game-changer here is revised physics – and it’s also the reason why it’s so hard to control the bike all of a sudden.
I did the direct comparison between MotoGP 21 and 20, and I noticed crucial differences. Milestone did some big (and good) changes to the simulation, centered around the suspension system. Now, it looks and feels more realistic when you drive over a curb or perform a stoppie. Furthermore the handling on corners is altered, as bikes are much more prone to lose traction when braking and accelerating (oversteer is way more dangerous than before). If you don’t want to use every driving assistance available in MotoGP 21, triggers on the gamepad must be pulled with extreme caution, otherwise you’ll crash on every turn. And if you’re going to play on keyboard… well, just don’t.
Fake improvements, real improvements
Speaking of crashes, since they occur more frequently than in MotoGP 20, the manual recovery of a motorcycle after an accident turns out to be a more important feature than expected… And much, much more frustrating. Yes, it boosts realism, but it’s just poorly implemented. Milestone tried to ignite our imagination, claiming that we’ll have to get to the machine as quickly as possible, but in reality, there’s no rush, as you watch your rider slowly getting up and then jogging leisurely towards his bike. All you have to do is to push the left analog forward. Nothing more. There’s no sprinting, and you don’t even have to look for your ride, as the camera is automatically centered on it.
The whole operation lasts around 20 seconds, including a massive input lag between the end of getting up and the moment you can finally move the character. Now imagine experiencing something like this after every single crash. Horrible. Thankfully, you can still use the rewind option (go back a couple of seconds and avoid crashing) or just disable the manual recovery in the assists menu. But you haven’t heard the best part yet. The AI riders don’t have to run for their bikes after crashes, they’re just automatically reset on track. Ludicrous, right? Milestone promised to add this system for AI after the game’s launch, but for now, it’s a huge flop.
I’m afraid the same goes for the large lap penalty. Your competitors tend to cut corners quite often, but I’ve never seen them taking a longer route to compensate for that. Fortunately, at this point I can stop complaining about AI. That’s another area where Milestone made some significant, yet inconspicuous improvements (or rather: fixed the issues from MotoGP 20). You no longer get the feeling that all AI riders are working together against you, braking far too early before corners but overtaking you easily on long straights, no matter the difficulty. This time, they pose a reasonable challenge and don’t turn the racetrack into a battlefield.
Give some and take some
Milestone finally noticed that their game gets more and more complex with each year, and they’ve brought back the tutorial mode. It lets you get acquainted with various settings and systems of a modern racing motorcycle step after step and provides some useful information. However, it comes at the expense of removing the historic mode. The historic content is still there (around 40 famous riders and bikes from MotoGP’s past), but you won’t find challenges there anymore. Moreover, two classes of bikes are missing (MotoE and Rookies Cup), but devs promised to bring them back at some point after the release.
With the addition of development tests you get a good reason to spend more time in practice sessions (and enjoy it).
There is one more small but important “innovation” I need to mention. Milestone is following the direction taken with RIDE 4 and MotoGP 21 becomes another game that offers you a $5 DLC that speeds up progression. This VIP Multiplier Pack grants you more reputation and research data in the career mode so that you can advance through classes and upgrade your bikes faster. In other words, you pay to win. I suppose it doesn’t make as notable a difference in MotoGP as it does in RIDE, yet the developer is clearly trying to make ground for non-cosmetic microtransactions in their game. And it worries me.
Wait another year?
I’m not sure if you’ll believe me after all these complaints that MotoGP 21 is an overal satisfactory game. The revamped physics, once mastered, will be very satisfying and fun, especially with the AI riders that came to their senses and no longer try to turn race into some kind of scuffle. You can spend many joyful hours in the career mode, visiting some 20 renowned circuits around the world (which look better than ever before thanks to an enhanced lighting system) and managing many aspects of your team’s operations between races. You only have to find a set of driving assists that will suit your needs.
However, I’m not sure if I can recommend the purchase of MotoGP 21 to anyone, especially on launch, taking into account the missing content or half-baked new features. If you’re a newcomer, you may find the game hardly playable due to the unforgiving simulation. And if you’ve played previous installments, you might be disappointed with the lack of truly groundbreaking innovations (unless you consider the improved suspension system or manual bike recovery as such). Milestone did a few important changes this year, but I suppose it’s wise to wait until MotoGP 22 combines them with sexier novelties.
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com