MotoGP sits at the very apex of the motorbike-racing formulae, yet its officially licensed games have somehow never quite crossed over to a mainstream audience. The cognoscenti are aware, however, that developer Milestone – which has been crafting MotoGP games since 2007 – really knows its stuff.
For a number of reasons – not least the fact that making a motorsport game in the middle of a pandemic, when visiting circuits to scan them is somewhere between tricky and impossible, is a logistical nightmare – MotoGP 21 doesn’t offer much by way of surprises.
It’s the first MotoGP game to include the long-lap penalty, its management element has been expanded somewhat, and its tyre-wear model has been tweaked to offer even more realism. So is the 2021 edition worth the ride?
Preaching to the converted
But that there’s no major new feature isn’t vastly problematic, since Milestone’s MotoGP games have been consistently solid for a number of years, and MotoGP 21 continues that trend.
As we’ve come to expect from officially licensed motorsport games, it’s big, comprehensive and technically accomplished, and provides a meaty facsimile of the whole real-life MotoGP circus, encompassing the lower formulae, Moto2 and Moto3, and letting you indulge your team-management fantasies to an extent, as well as to showcase your bike-riding skills.
One reason why MotoGP games haven’t been huge hits among a mainstream gaming audience in the past instantly becomes obvious when you fire MotoGP 21 up: its target audience is clearly hardcore MotoGP fans and the sort of bike enthusiasts who might participate in track days.
It does have a tutorial, you can turn on driver aids, and there’s a rewind button for erasing painful wipeouts. But that tutorial is distinctly cursory when it comes to explaining the fundamentals of bike-riding, and much more detailed regarding esoterica like bike-setup.
MotoGP 21, then, preaches mainly to the converted, and those who are new to bike-racing games are likely to find it a tad intimidating, although it is easy enough to set things up so as to ease yourself in gently.
Carving out a career
In Career mode, once you have virtually created yourself as a MotoGP racer, you can choose whether to start in Moto3, Moto2 or the full-blown MotoGP. From then on, there’s a familiar calendar-based structure, so you can opt to participate in as many or as few testing and practice sessions and so on as you want.
If team management is your thing, you can start your own junior team after a season, and you can mess around with chasing the most lucrative contracts and swapping to the best teams.
But if you find all those aspects peripheral and just want to dive into the racing, MotoGP 21 delivers brilliantly. You can leave the Career mode to launch quick races in all the formulae, but if you don’t know the circuits, you’ll struggle in the races. So, it makes sense to participate in the Career mode’s free practice sessions in order to learn the circuits, before qualifying and the actual races.
If your bike-racing skills aren’t quite at a ninja level, it also makes sense to start off in Moto3: its less powerful bikes are much more forgiving and, in particular, easier to stop going into the corners – those used to four-wheel racing games will have to adopt an unfamiliar slow-in, fast-out style, and learn how to blend the throttle. Being the last of the late-brakers is a recipe for disaster.
MotoGP 21’s bike-feel is exemplary – the full-blown MotoGP beasts are a real handful, but once you develop confidence in the front-end of your bike, you can really flow round the circuits. Tyre wear is also very noticeable – as it is in the real-world MotoGP – and you must setup your bike carefully for the races, playing off tyre longevity against top-end power. You don’t necessarily have to fiddle around with bike settings yourself: you can tell your virtual engineers what you want, and they will make changes accordingly.
Online, MotoGP 21 feels impressively solid in technical terms, although it can be difficult to tell pre-release, when servers are sparsely populated. But the online side of the game definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted: it tries to match riders with similar skill levels, but you’re still likely to be pitting yourself against gamers with expensive rigs rather than just a console and a gamepad. Inevitably, brutal racing results. Offline, you can crank up the AI to reflect that, but its default level is fairly forgiving: your rivals will be quick, but at least they won’t take you out with abandon.
Visually, MotoGP 21 is very good, but not exactly jaw-dropping. We played it on the Xbox Series X, and it didn’t feel like a game which was designed for the latest generation of consoles, then crunched down for the previous generation – understandably, given that new-gen consoles are still in short supply. Ironically, MotoGP 21 is at its visual best when you crash, and it switches perspective to a harrowingly realistic crash-cam.