There is a well known phrase: two steps forward, one step back. Sadly, in the case of MotoGP 18, it’s one step forward, three steps back. Being the official game of the MotoGP motorbike racing world championship, it features all of the riders, bikes and tracks, putting them to use in an extensive career mode, online multiplayer, and more. All of the boxes are ticked on paper, but it’s another tricky transitional year for Milestone’s premier racing game.
On track, the handling is enjoyably benign. Motorbike fans looking for a super-realistic sim will be left wanting, but the game strikes a fine balance between at least giving the illusion of realism and also being accessible. There are plenty of assists and visual guides to help rookies along, or you can switch the help off, up the AI skill level and have manual control over the front and rear brakes if you feel particularly masochistic.
There is a satisfaction to stopping a bike from 180mph, getting the nose tucked in, brushing the apex and then accelerating out the other side with but a mild wag of the tail. There can also be frustration too when you fail to scrub off enough speed, turn into a corner a little too quickly and your rider goes into a painful somersault as the adhesion from the front tyre disappears. The frustration is only towards yourself for making a mistake, however, and not directed at the game — the school of hard knocks is very much part of the appeal.
One previous complaint of mine about other recent MotoGP games has been a general lack of atmosphere. Everything from the voiceover to the track surroundings were sterile and devoid of character. In this latest installment, the tracks now have vibrant crowds who wave flags and let-off flares. The first time you venture out to track, the difference is plain to see. The environment feels more ‘alive’.
Even your custom career character is walking around the pit garage, before hopping on the bike for a practice or qualifying session and celebrating with your team should you finish on the podium. The likenesses of the real MotoGP (but not Moto2 or Moto3) riders make an appearance for the first time too, adding authenticity to podium celebrations.
Milestone have built the game from ground up in Unreal Engine 4 for MotoGP 18, which is something fans have been looking forward to for quite some time after being stuck on an ageing in-house engine for far too long. Unfortunately, in many key areas, this has made the game significantly worse.
Compared to last year’s game on the older engine, MotoGP 18 regresses from 60fps to 30fps, and there are still plenty of flaws in the graphical presentation. Textures are slow to load in, often appearing well after the pre-race cutscene, while shadows noticeably fade in a short distance from the camera, which can distracting when they appear and whizz out of view in the periphery of your vision. When the tracks are wet, they look like they are covered in ice, not water. If you ride off-track onto the grass at certain tracks, there doesn’t seem to be any performance detriment or vibration from the pad to differentiate the surfaces. You ride straight through trackside banners as there is zero collision detection.
The bigger sin comes from the load times. You can listen to the whole of Fell In Love With A Girl by The White Stripes in the time it takes to load a practice session in career. Once practice is over, you have to load qualifying. After qualifying, the race has to load. The process is mind-numbing.
The circuits themselves have been remodelled, using new drone and 3D scanning techniques. While the methods may be the new hotness, the interpretation is not. Some corners have excessive bumps in the middle, and several cambers are the opposite of real life. Hopefully, this can be improved with updates or the next MotoGP game, but for now, they are sadly wide of the mark.
Career mode is where you will be spending most of your time. You start out in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, with the aim of taking your character all the way through Moto3 and Moto2 classes before challenging for the MotoGP world title. The progression is very straightforward and familiar from previous games. In the practice sessions of each race, you can take part in up to three development tests, namely being quick in a straight line, braking on time and accurately following the racing line to a given percentage. This gives you development points to spend on upgrades, which apparently improve the performance of your bike. The difference is so negligible, you’d be hard pressed to tell.
If you do well, your reputation increases and team offers will arrive, which is how you progress through the ranks and reach the upper tiers. Strangely, you’re also given XP, which increases your rider rank across all modes. It feels like it amounts to nothing with no extra bikes or riders to unlock – previous games would earn videos and classic riders, but it’s a complete afterthought here. The disconnect is felt in the trophies. One trophy for winning a race on all tracks ignores the new Thailand circuit, trophies for completing online races have the wrong icons, and there’s a silver trophy that simply doesn’t work.
Online multiplayer is an improvement for Milestone in terms being able to find a race, but the trade-off is not being able to search for lobbies or select a type of race. All public lobby races have a voting system, where you select from four preset tracks, but that’s it. You are at the behest of a vote every time you want to play online.
The actual network racing is as smooth as a brick wrapped in sandpaper, with a strong bungee cord effect making it nigh on impossible to judge where other riders are on track. The grid order is of who joined the lobby first, but it doesn’t matter. Usually, at least four riders are able to jump the start, and a handful of bikes seem to get more power off the line. Whether or not you get these advantages from one race to another is pot luck. The net result is more collisions than a blindfolded chimpanzee at a banger racing event and Milestone have their work cut out to support the esports tournament.
The MotoGP series has long suffered from a lack of obvious progression from one release to the next. This time, Milestone has at least tried to do things differently and switch game engines, but right now that hasn’t paid off. Last year’s game was already supposed to be a transitional one, yet here we are with a game that is a regression for a series that was becoming a bit stale.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on Xbox One, PC and coming soon to Nintendo Switch