The world of motorsports is a vast and varied one, but it has gone largely unrepresented on the latest generation of hardware, as developers and publishers have taken their time to launch… That is until now, as MotoGP 14 has burst onto the PlayStation 4, alongside releases on older machines.
My familiarity with racing has largely been with four wheels on the ground, so as soon as I hopped onto a bike in the early tutorial, I was very aware of being out of my depth. Though the principle of finding and following the ideal racing line remain the same, the process of doing so on a ludicrously powerful motorbike was something quite different for my brain to process.
Without the downforces and weight of a Formula One or a touring car, the power of the bike’s engine needs to be meted out much more carefully unless you want the front to rise up (you don’t). Riding a curb too heavily will at the very least lose you time and grip, if not make you lose control completely and see your rider thrown off, and ending up on the curbs is particularly easy to do if you don’t get your braking, turning point, rider angle and throttle control absolutely right.
The game does an admirable job of trying to make this all accessible, with Standard, Semi-Pro and Pro levels of physics simulation alongside a bevy of assists that you can tweak. It can assist with braking and leaning into corners, handle the dual braking systems as one, show the racing line and automatically tuck the rider’s body in to minimise drag. The only problem being that my first instinct with a racing game is to turn most of these off…
My attempts at riding the 1,000 cc, four-stroke beasts that are the modern MotoGP bikes failed quite miserably. I was just about to resign myself to racing with Standard physics when I discovered that the Career mode actually drops you into Moto3, the first of two feeder series, alongside Moto2, which follows the main championship around the globe.
Moto3 drops the bike’s raw power quite considerably, to less than a quarter the break horsepower, making it much, much easier to get to grips with the fundamentals of cornering and throttle control as I progressed through the early races of the 19 race season.
Consistently beating my team’s targets saw my agent provide me with a bunch of better teams and contracts that he was able to negotiate, allowing me to jump from a team in the middle of the pack, struggling for a result in the top 10, right to the front, fighting for victories and podiums.
Approaching the end of my first season, I was able to move up to Moto2, get a taste of a much more powerful but still controllable bike, so that I’m now much more confident in my abilities and generally able to handle a full MotoGP bike. The rewinds still come in handy every once in a while, though.
When you’re in the garage, you’re able to turn to your engineer and alter your bike’s set up. An excellent part here is that you can work through what you’re having difficulty with logically with a series of questions and have the engineer make changes for you, removing a barrier to tweaking a set up for novices. Additionally, completing a lap in any session – so the more sessions per weekend, the better – will earn you datapacks that can improve and develop certain parts of your bike over the season.
While tackling a full career is a daunting and time consuming task, it is pretty flexible, allowing you to customise each race as you see fit before starting it. You can alter the AI difficulty – where I still find the Medium AI to be fairly challenging as a relative novice – race length from three laps to full length, the number of sessions over a race weekend, penalties, flags and so on. All of these options are similarly available when creating a custom championship or single race, and have their equivalents for custom lobbies when you head online.
If the more straightforward racing ever grows tiresome, a nice inclusion are the Real Events 2013 and Challenge The Champions modes which, thanks to the addition of last year’s bikes and a varied selection of classic 500cc bikes and riders from the 90s, allow prior events to be twisted into small stories, like needing to recover from running wide or hold off a faster rider. Though it would be nice to have live updates based off the 2014 season, it’s still a great twist to put you in a real racer’s boots to recreate or alter history in some pivotal moments and encounters.
My only real disappointments coming in a lack of polish and refinement for the game’s overall presentation. Between the nicely detailed racers and bikes, lovely lighting and wet weather effects, the game can sometimes look really good, but it’s let down by the track scenery, which feel very beholden to the last generation, right down to the abundance of tree sprites in use. Then, in spite of including a woman’s photo as a choice to pick for your career profile, doing so doesn’t actually give you a different rider model or alter any of the sparse post-race commentary.
There are also about twice as many loading screens as there should be, with a 15 second loading screen to a video that introduces each track location or sets up a challenge followed by another 15 seconds of loading as soon as I could skip the video. Those videos were sorely missing some voiceover work, to make them even vaguely worth having in the game.
Disappointingly, I also encountered a number of bugs, with one particularly bad example seeing some wet race sessions load in with textures missing. While it might sound like fun to race on a reflection of the sky, it makes seeing the track difficult, and every time I then attempted to back out to the main menu, it would see the game crash completely. Hopefully this will be patched soon.
Being fairly new to racing on two wheels, I wasn’t sure how I would take to MotoGP, but found that it quite quickly grew on me as I became more familiar with the handling and physics of the incredibly powerful bikes, by way of the career mode and the wide selection of bikes and classes to work through.
However, it’s let down by certain graphical limitations and a general lack of polish to the presentation. The PlayStation 4 version is very much a transitional release, importantly getting a game out on the new console before starting to refine it over the next few years.
Version tested: PS4