One of the great things about racing games is the sheer versatility and ability to run the gamut of different experiences. The racing game world has seen basically everything from cyberpunk future death races to humble simulators of humble vehicles, each providing subtle changes that make for a radically different gaming experience. Despite this seeming knack for subtlety, one of the things that a surprisingly large amount of games fall flat on is really simulating the experience of motorcycle driving.[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3YThppLrJw[/embed]
Outside of Super Hang-On and Manx TT Superbike Racing, both of which had the benefit of handlebars, a surprising abundance of racing games featuring two-wheeled tearaways drive an awful lot like cars. From Kawasaki Superbike Racing on the Mega Drive to even game modes like Burnout Bikes, there seems to be difficulty in translating certain racing engines to account for the variables bike racing entails, such as lean, using the body as an aerodynamic device and even balance. Luckily, these are not problems faced by Milestone Games' first installment in what has become a series of superbike racing games based on the long running Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP) series, a series which has seen games by THQ, Capcom and Namco (even featuring Klonoa as a playable rider!) among other developers.
Part of the measure of a licensed sports game is how well they provide the feel of being part of a world class sport, and in terms of presentation, everything is there in MotoGP. You get all the runners and riders of the 2013 MotoGP season, including the Moto2 and Moto3 categories to play with, as well as all eighteen tracks on the calender that season, from the opener in Qatar through to the last of three courses in Spain. The sponsors are there and all the other little details are present and correct, so in terms of surface detail everything is rather good.
In terms of optimization, the PC port runs very well, with no significant framerate drops regardless of quality, resolution or extra graphical effects, even with 29 racers on the grid. The only major black eye in terms of the PC port is the absolutely terrible VSync, which turns your game into a chugging screen tearing mess, but once turned off the game's performance improves significantly.
The graphics themselves are nothing to shout home about, looking dated, unpolished and flat, particularly with regard to crowd details, weather effects and reflections. The crowds are motionless, as is the standard in sim racers but seem to be particularly low in terms of detail. This is possibly a compromise made for the Xbox 360; it appears this is the console the game was designed for. Reflections and glass effects are particularly low quality, which is conspicuous compared to the otherwise rather detailed handlebar view, complete with digital readout and rev-meter which are realistically impossible to see due to handlebar appendages blocking your view. The rain effects are not terrible per se, but they are still miles behind the amazing dynamic effects seen in Codemasters' F1 series of racing games.
In the end, a sim racer lives and dies by its physics, and delightfully this is where the game shines through. The game gets the sensation of riding a superbike down, with the differences to the approach to corners, braking, acceleration (and the chance at pulling wheelies) and the consequences for cocking up all of the above are at least to a layman very authentic. The riding feel (for the distressing lack of a better term) is unique to different classes and types of bike, and mastering that feel is both necessary to win and incredibly rewarding to do so. If that mastery isn't forthcoming however, the game follows the merciful trend of simulation racing games and allows for a lot of customisation tweaking of settings to ensure the game isn't entirely made up of falling over and letting the EMotionFX animation engine go haywire as your poor rider rolls across the floor at 100mph. The standard gamut of racing aids are available, with dynamic racing lines and rewinds working identically to other racing games, allowing up to 6 major injuries before you're on your own. There is a damage model, though sadly unlike other racing games there's no visual feedback of this and damaging your racer too much simply leads to a menu telling you politely to retire.
Most of the real changes in this regard however are based on the three simulation models: Standard, Semi-Pro and Pro. Standard seems to be designed for the Kawasaki Superbike Racing or Super Hang-On crowd, removing the problem of stability from the equation and adds braking and steering assists, meaning that the game will do its level best to correct the lines into corners, at points in Jerez basically taking the controller away and handing it to someone who can actually steer. Pro on the other hand mandates the removal of all driver aids and adds a rather realistic balance model, which means a slight bend or stiff breeze can knock you into the crowd in a matter that can only be described as “shamefully hilarious”. Semi-Pro of course lends a perfect balance of playability with consequence, and that balance leads to some great racing, flattering the player enough to not bail every corner but also requiring enough challenge to make daring passes feel amazing.
The major new addition to the series this time is the career mode. Much like the F1 series' career mode, you play a rookie rider, managing racing and team offers on your quest for the MotoGP world title. Unlike F1 however, there are endorsed feeder series into MotoGP, so you do start at the very bottom, racing a few races as a wildcard in Moto3 while placing high enough to impress other teams to receive offers for a full season. It's not entirely complex, but it does work very well to keep you hooked beyond simply racing. This will take you through the entire season and every part of a MotoGP weekend, from the 40 minute practice session, through qualifying, the final warm-up and the race. Complaining about the "good old days" and being banned for testing positive for dietary supplements are sadly not included however.
The core rules are similar to MotoGP, with three types of tire to choose from on a race weekend, Hard, Soft and Wet. Each can be applied separately to the front and rear wheels and on a dry race really determine strategy. Hard tires do not give as much grip and are difficult to warm up but will last an entire race distance while soft tires give much better grip at the risk of degradation near the end of a race, which typically has the result of causing the back end to slide out and pitching your poor rider into a wall. The nature of the rules of MotoGP and the short races means that the racing is close and a lot of fun, with winning from the back of the grid possible in every class of race. There is a progression system similar to F1, with EXP awarded at the end of every session of a race weekend, however each level brings with it rewards more tangible than the team offers of F1 2010. Video footage, extra customisable parts for your rider and extra Moto2 and Moto3 riders are available for completing levels.
The value of a game like this is almost invariably linked to how much of a fan you are of MotoGP. There's a lot to offer here for motorsport fans, and few motorbike games get the mechanics as correct as MotoGP 13 has. If you are willing to invest time in the career mode the game provides a lot of excitement, as well as providing split screen multiplayer. The multiplayer mode has seemingly been shut down however, with the servers simply not connecting when I attempted to create an account, so that is something that should be kept in mind.
In the end the game is certainly functional but not by any regard. There are a few bugs, mostly graphical in nature, and the game had the unfortunate fate of looking dated when it was new, but the core mechanics are fine, the controls are intuitive, adjustable and actually allow to a certain degree the feel of riding a bike, particularly with the shaky discomfort of the first person view. How much you can look past graphical fidelity and are willing to simply experiment with the racing mechanics is the determinate factor here. Not quite a podium finish but still high up in the points.
Note: The copy of this game used for review was obtained from the developer.