On paper, MotoGP 19 makes a strong first impression. The official game of the motorcycle racing pinnacle, this latest instalment in the yearly motorsport franchise brings in sweeping changes and brand new features. So many in fact, it’s hard to believe it’s only been 12 months since MotoGP 18.
That game was a turgid mess, as Milestone’s jump to Unreal Engine 4 brought far too many problems with it. Thankfully I can happily say that MotoGP 19 is not terrible, which is a good start, and from our in-depth preview of the game, the key changes sounded very promising too. A new AI system, revised visuals, all the latest sporting regulation changes and roster updates, and a whole lot more. It sounds great, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Let’s start with the good news. This game is a step change for the series and not just a small evolution with a fresh lick of paint. You’ll notice this as soon as you hit the track; the bikes move around more, they crackle and pop, spit flames on downshifts and feel distinctly different from each other. The bike sound is a big improvement as well, with richer tones and more accurate results. Crucially, for a game that encompasses several racing categories, each type of bike rides with their own character too. A Moto3 feels light on its toes, a full-fat Ducati is a thuggish brute, whereas a Suzuki is more nimble through the corners. In previous MotoGP titles, each bike has largely felt like much of a muchness, but not this year.
Moving away from your own riding skills, your rivals also provide a much sterner test. Developer Milestone’s system for AI may be buzzword-bingo – the ‘Neural AI’ system features ‘machine learning’ for ‘smarter’ opponents – but it does at least match up to some of that hype. The results will depend on the difficulty that you choose, as I think you’ll only really notice a difference when playing on the harder settings and you’re jockeying for position in the mid-pack.
The effect is most apparent on the first lap, as the field is far feistier, with some trying to dive down on the inside, some on the outside and the odd one out-braking themselves and running a little wide. Sometimes they can be a little over-aggressive, clipping your rear wheel at the pivotal corner-entry phase, but the effect is more naturalistic.
From the on track action, things are on the up, and this is before I mention the Historical Challenges. Split into four eras, there are 60 events to complete. Going for gold in these events is good fun, with the goal – either a lap time or a reaching a set distance ahead of rivals – set at just the right level for competent racers to achieve top honours after a handful of goes. Challenging, rewarding and authentically set on classic tracks using older riders and machinery, they’re a treat for MotoGP fans. Listening to the sound of the old beasts, learning to brake a little earlier and mastering the technique creates a demanding game mode.
As you would expect, the core feature is the career. It sees you rising through the ranks from Red Bull Juniors to become MotoGP world champion, or you can just jump in at the top echelon right away, the choice is yours. Doing well throughout the season will net you offers from different teams, hopefully culminating in a top-flight gig. Structurally, this is all by the by. The two additions of note are the pre-season test that’s added to the top class – it’s cool, but I wish this was also available in Moto2 and Moto3 – and a Pro Career option which ramps up the difficulty and removes the rewind and restart functionality, whilst also upping the race length.
You can develop your bike through the season by partaking in practice session tests, but the game doesn’t signpost this strongly enough and it isn’t central to the career progression, with little incentive to partake in such activities. It’s a textbook career mode that doesn’t upset the applecart.
Another item that is worth mentioning is customisation. As is the trend these days, there is now a livery editor, in this case for the rider helmet, number and nickname sticker. It’s pretty in-depth, but relatively straightforward as you switch between a myriad of colours, shapes and letters to apply. You can download other people’s designs and share yours online, although you cannot import your own logos from outside the game.
The restrictive way of finding online races from last season has been ditched and, from our experience so far, the lobbies don’t kick you out after every second race. Extra details such as the safety car on the pre-grid and a mucky rider after a fall into the gravel have been added, plus there will be once again an eSports championship later in the year and the bonus addition of the punchy pure-electric MotoE bikes.
I’m sure at this point you could smell it coming, but there’s a but. MotoGP 19 also brings with it a suite of new bugs. Each is small, but they have a cumulative effect, chief of which is the game hitching and stuttering on PlayStation 4. There is a tendency to freeze frame for one or two seconds at a time. You may get one in a race, you may get a race that’s completely smooth, and other times you get three or four jerks in quick succession. Online, your competition may stay connected, but their motion is far from smooth as if the steering animation doesn’t match their inputs – something we could put down to teething issues with pre-release servers. During a career development test where I had to follow on-track markers, after pausing the game, the markers disappeared and the menu music sometimes overlaps itself.
Errors like these aren’t a reason to dismiss MotoGP 19. These are, after all, mostly minor indiscretions that I expect to be fixed through patches. There are a few low hanging fruits for the inevitable MotoGP 20, such as a full bike livery editor or MotoE being part of the main career path, and I wish there was something to differentiate the main mode from other racing games, but the simple fact is that MotoGP is now in a much better place.