There is more than a little empathy to be had to the poor souls who work on annual sequels, for it is one of the most treacherous tightropes to walk, alongside the licensed game and the sports simulation. All three require the ultimate balance of “faithfulness” to previous games in the series, “faithfulness” to the source material and yet enough differences to make the purchase justifiable compared to the previous incarnation. The game must not be too iterative and yet at the same time not so different as to alienate fans of the previous game (link to review).
MotoGP 14, Milestone’s second foray in the superbike racing series and balanced precariously in the middle of the three tightropes, would have it bad were if not for its previous game based on two wheel terrors being a fairly good platform to build on and yet having enough obvious problems that a sequel should be able to fix, as well as simply offering more content. On all of this does MotoGP 14 deliver.
The most obviously striking improvement is in the graphics. There are several new middleware libraries at the start, probably in the field of post-processing, and as a result the game has significantly improved graphical fidelity. Pretty much everything bar the static crowds is improved from MotoGP 13 and moves into pretty spectacularly often, the PC port taking advantage of PS4 exclusive effects. In the rain especially the game has some amazing rain splatter effects on the bike, and at certain angles could look incredibly close to photorealistic, benefiting from depth of field and improved shadow engines.
All this graphical loveliness does extend to the game engine as well, taking advantage of the dynamic rain effects seen in Codemasters’ F1 series. It’s not quite perfect yet, the rain drops still looking like a particularly intense game of Missile Command and the smoke effects lacking a certain level of polish, but the track now has dynamic rain patches depending on elevation, track surface and indeed the level of wear, something that is visible but more subtle in the dry.
The driving model has been overhauled and is now a lot more challenging. While Moto3 bikes on Standard in MotoGP 13 were almost perpendicular to the ground, bikes in ’14 are prone to quite a bit more instability, even with the standard physics model, with bike wobble, lowsliding, bad lean and other biking problems being fairly well simulated. Adjustments to the bike do appear to have more effect though like in other sim racers, adjusting them tends to lead to the bike riding significantly worse.
The game is still often as obtuse as ever, although there is a tutorial race which at least attempts to show the absolute basics of playing the game. It’s nothing compared to the young driver tests of F1 2013, but compared to the nothing of MotoGP 13 it is an improvement. The general difficulty has been reduced although the riding aids are at best a mild annoyance and at worst outright counter intuitive, leading to some rather hilarious moments where I crashed due to disagreeing with the automatic steering and braking, an issue physics and engineering has yet to solve.
That said the riding does feel incredibly satisfying once you get past the “wobbling and weaving on every square inch of track then crashing out” phase of biking. The real life health of the MotoGP series and the improvements to the engine means there is a lot of racers, and the combination of this with the satisfaction of mastering the fearsome top tier bikes means a lot of close, intense and satisfying racing. Winning from 34th position is very possible and a hoot to do.
Presentation-wise, it is an iterative improvement from the previous game, in that it uses the best assets from the previous year’s game (the video packages in fact use the same guitar music as 13) and adds relevent information with a little bit of extra sheen. It is rather nice that the speedometer and rev-counter differ depending on which bike you are using for instance, and there are a lot of images and video from previous MotoGP seasons used during the twin campaign modes, Challenge the Champions and Real Events 2013. They are reminiscent of ancient Sega CD game Formula One: Beyond the Limit of all games, in that they use videos from the 2013 MotoGP season and set the task of completing a single objective in a limited time, usually involving making a difficult overtake or keeping the lead over three laps.
The meat of the game, the career mode, is still there and has been overhauled significantly. While the basics are still the same, with your rookie rider starting off with random wildcard entries before progressing all the way to the MotoGP world title, there’s a few new features that have been added, chief among which is a research element to the game similar to F1 2010.
Here however it is found not through the completion of challenges but the collection of Data Cubes which you receive on completion of a lap in any of the four sessions of each race. It is a nice idea, particularly since different parts you can upgrade have different costs, and it feels significantly less random than the upgrade paths in the F1 series, although the tradeoff is that there’s no distinct “number one driver” dynamic, but the racing class system that returns from ’13 is a great replacement.
In terms of difficulty, the increase of difficulty in the driving model has led to a gulf in terms of the difficulty of the AI. On Easy mode you can effectly win the race one handed while making rude gestures with the other, while Medium makes for an incredible battle in all but the best bikes in a class. One particularly wild dogfight for me included a race long battle that ended with my victory on the final straight after slipstreaming two other bikes. The sweetspot for such battles is much easier to find than in F1, possibly due to the regulations of the real MotoGP championship being designed for close races decided by rider skill rather than technical mastery of the regulations.
The final, somewhat odd addition is a Safety Car mode, which allows you to drive the BMW M4 Safety car around any track in the game. The driving model feels very much like a budget game, specifically Milestone’s WRC series, with a terribly vague handling model that feels like you’re wrestling with a horse constantly bucking and less of the speed and white knuckle terror that came with superbike racing. This presumably was just there to test the game engine for future sports car racing games and felt about as worthwhile.
The PC port is rather good, building on assets from the PS4 version. Vsync, much like in MotoGP 13, still does not in fact work properly, and turning it off improves the performance significantly, at the expense of a lot of very ugly screen tearing. Mercifully the worst of it is in the garage portion of the game and not actually on-track.Again, the amount of racers on screen at once without much stuttering is impressive, even with the graphical improvements, and other than a few cases of ugly texture pop-in on certain tracks there’s nothing game breaking about it.
The alt-tab problems that plague ’13 have even been fixed! Of course this is all after some particularly notable bugs at launch, which included driving in the sky and missing about half the major riders. Unlike certain major launch snafus these problems were eventually fixed.
As an iteration, it has passed with flying colours. The roster is updated, the racing is improved, the presentation is all there and fans should be happy with the additional modes which incorporate the championship even more. It is far from a perfect game still, but there is a definite improvement in every aspect. Even more positively, there is now a cross-generational platform to iron out the bugs from this release and improve further for potentially an incredible MotoGP 15. All they need to do is improve some slight features and make sure the game works well on day one. After all, it doesn’t matter if the engine works in the end if the world championship was lost months ago.
There is a lot to like, a lot to recommend over Milestone's previous effort. While certain flaws still exist in the troubled development of the game, the gameplay and racing experience is exhilarating and the game is worth checking out if on sale.