You know the world’s in a weird place when a sports title comes out ahead of a new season. MotoGP 20 becomes my first taste of the sport this year and my first return to the series in a few years. Since then, Milestone’s changed engines and are making noises about their AI, physics and braking model. Time for me to get back in the saddle, I guess.
The handling seems like the best place to start with the braking providing a lot more nuance and challenge to overcome and master. It feels very sensitive. I’m heavy-handed when it comes to braking and MotoGP 20‘s bikes have tendency to punish that with a rear wheel ready to leave contact with the road. It presented me with a hard habit to break and it’s a shame the game doesn’t offer any tutorials to ease people into how effective braking can be done. A gentler approach gets the job done with a mix of engine braking and manual inputs. I’d be lying if I said this training period wasn’t frustrating though.
Success is rewarding and the riders ahead of you can be your greatest blueprint. In terms of rider aids, you have the usual ideal trajectories, joint and automatic brakes. Sadly, there’s no sensitivity options available for throttle and brake. This could’ve alleviated some of the early headaches. You can make liberal use the flashbacks to retry tricky corners but a lot of the learning process is done using your own intuition.
Under acceleration, the rear will slide a lot. With a new emphasis on tyre management, this can concern anyone trying to stay smooth and keep their rubber in peak condition. For the most part, the handling stays consistent and the curbs are something you can use now instead of having to avoid them. Wet weather riding brings even more slides and adds to the challenge further. It’s a shame the weather’s not dynamic and some desert circuits like Losail simply won’t have the option to race in a downpour.
I do enjoy how the Moto2 and MotoGP bikes feel like a handful. It comes at the cost of accessibility but controlling these machines can feel satisfying. Newcomers have no warm welcome here but veterans might enjoy how lively life behind the handlebars can feel.
Racing comes in familiar forms. You have the career mode which continues to take the much travelled formula. You race, hire staff and upgrade your bike as the year goes on. In each practice session you can choose to perform development tests for currency towards the various upgrades. It’s a fairly common treadmill now and does well to contextualise the boring management side of racing. You can hire agents and have them scout out potential contracts and you do all this whilst watching your bank balance. Your rider and bike can be customised with a vinyl editor. This should lead to some interesting creations and give your avatar some much needed personality.
Elsewhere you have the Championship, Grand Prix and Time Trial modes. All should theoretically showcase the Neural AI that Milestone’s been touting. The idea is that the AI learns, develops traits and generally tries to act more like their human counterparts. In practice, this hasn’t really materialised. I find them competitive to race against but they do love to ease into heavy braking zones and I haven’t noticed any particular behaviours that stand out. Bumping into them can feel lenient although crashing out can be very punishing as you respawn in the gravel traps.
The Historical Mode, on the surface, does look like something sinking time into. These challenging scenarios take you back to yesteryear’s grid and put you in the saddle of some of the sport’s greatest machines. There’s dozens of riders to unlock although the list is hamstrung by duplicates. I’d gladly take one of the many Rossi’s out in favour of something further back in time. As it is, the trip down memory lane seems more focused about the more modern classics rather than venturing into Agostini or Sheene’s eras. They no longer go for real life scenarios and now limit you to a short race at higher difficulty. It feels compromised but the content is at least interesting to pursue. You earn diamonds in this mode that can be traded to buy new riders and the drip-feeding of unlocks in this mode did somewhat dampen my initial enthusiasm.
Online is typically barebones. It performs well and I’ve had some fun trying to find people worse than me but the modes are the usual slim attractions. Lobbies can be setup and races can be run but no options for championships or modes that feel anything out of the ordinary.
MotoGP 20 looks perfectly serviceable. Any differences to last year’s effort appear to be in the lighting model. Generally, things look a little darker. Colour has a wider range but there’s a lot of last year’s building blocks on show here. The bikes and circuits are accurately realised with some real depth to the surroundings. Looking off into the distance and seeing the neighbouring towns and forests always raise a smile. It runs at a steady 30 frames per second although some more chaotic crashes can cause that to dip.
Curiously, the riders sometimes dwarf their bikes. You see this more clearly in Moto3 where the vehicles can start to look more like a Mini Moto. It can look comedic and I’m not sure whether it’s a question of perspective or they’ve oddly beefed up their rider models. Weather looks great and getting up in speed does provide you with some nice wind effects. The bikes all seem to have an individual quality. Engine notes differ and it’s nice to see some identity between the manufacturers.
I can’t really complain with how they’ve presented the license. It’s a little by the numbers but the respect is duly taken. The menus have a nice pastel treatment to them but they do tend to feel bland within a couple of hours. The classic riders have some nicely characterised portraits and the new KymiRing is nicely recreated.
Overall, MotoGP 20 doesn’t buck any trends. The bikes do feel like more of a handful and the braking model really takes some getting used to. There’s a challenge and reward to this that does appeal to me. The historical events have been somewhat hamstrung but at least it’s new content worth seeing. I like this but there’s a nagging feeling we could’ve had more.
+ Sound is well done with each bike having an unique engine note.
+ Historical Mode offers plenty of new, interesting content.
+ Career mode is compelling and substantial.
- Doesn't really do much to accommodate new faces.
- Offline and online modes do seem a little stale and lacking invention.
- I haven't seen much evidence of the Neural AI yet.