MotoGP might still be the greatest sport I never watch. Since it was bumped off free-to-air TV, I’ve barely stayed current with it, although it’s been intriguing to keep an eye on it since Valentino Rossi moved towards team ownership and Mark Marquez injures himself into a sad decline. I still look forward to these games and MotoGP 23 does deliver once more on a challenging handling model whilst some of the newer bullet points don’t quite land.
MotoGP 23‘s handling remains engrossing as an steep learning curve is traversed. Assists are plentiful as the much touted Neural AI coaxes you into the right habits. On the lowest difficulty, it intervenes to the point where the bikes felt on auto-pilot but moving into Classic settings made the little nudges feel more organic. The bike felt a lot more lively as I transitioned from braking to putting the power back down. Bumps at places like Portimao really do upset the rear and I’ve had plentiful tank-slappers as I’ve been manhandling the premier machinery.
It is rewarding to get it nailed and demands a concentration I do admire. Motorcycles really aren’t designed to turn and I definitely recognise that with each passing lap. Heaving braking brings the rear of the bike off the ground and there’s a general sense that the machine underneath you is separate to your rider. At any moment, the two could divorce and it’s worth paying attention to the little movements and bigger jerks.
It makes traversing the official 2023 calendar very interesting. I’ve become very familiar with most of them on four wheels but the buckaroo nature of MotoGP 23’s physics give these tracks a new sense of danger. If there’s one hallmark of the series’ recent past, it’s that sense of carefulness and risk that makes riding and racing such a challenge.
There are new complications. Dynamic weather can intrude, turning a dry race into a flag-to-flag one. Tip-toeing around a greasy track whilst waiting for a red flag can be fraught. Meanwhile a wet race can dry out, leading to a field desperately scrambling for the pit lane. From my experience, the Neural AI does falter when that mass arrival happens. I found myself losing a comfortable first place when entering the pits saw 20 other riders trip all over each other.
Racing through the three categories does feel different. Moto3 races are tight but there’s plenty of room to experiment with lines and braking points. It’s competitive and fun in a way the two latter classes can’t quite match. MotoGP especially seems to show the difference between in performance between bikes. The ratings look pretty accurate although it’s grim to see the Repsol Hondas so far down the field.
AI continues to have granular settings so dialling in a sweet spot shouldn’t be too hard. Opposition does run wide and make mistakes although the wet races I’ve run do seem to favour certain corners to go hot into. It looks a little predictable although I may be skewing the results by keeping races short.
It’s nice to know you can bump into fellow riders without much punishment. Space is at a premium, especially at the start of a race and fighting for position can be combative without devolving into carnage. I don’t think an AI crash can trigger red flag conditions but they largely don’t cause that kind of chaos.
The official riders are all here although likenesses only extend to the top class, once again. The Moto2 and Moto3 feeder series are all part of the package but it’s a shame to see them locked behind helmets and gear rather than seeing them modelled like their more illustrious counterparts. For what it’s worth, the equipment all looks sharp and authentic. One new track does make the list despite the real Kazakhstan Grand Prix being cancelled. It’s another circuit penned by Hermann Tilke and it shows with long straights and right angles. Consider this game a sizeable sneak peek before the real bikes hit the tarmac.
The same modes return as last year with the usual Grand Prix and time trials appearing. Career mode has seen a moderate shake-up with a truncated introductory Moto3 season used to wet your whistle. Right off the bat, this mode is big on rivalries. I seemed to always have someone in my sights whether it was a teammate or someone further up the grid. It does provide a constant motivation and a target to chase.
Outside of this there’s also in-season testing to conduct. They deliver rare opportunities to upgrade your package. It’s simpler than some of the sprawling tech trees of other racing games. During the sessions you can take to the track and alternate between two specifications of bike. Like an eye test, you pick your preference and use that for the upcoming races. It’s a nice way to handle it rather than give you the upgrade and have to deal with it, even if it does require more track time.
You have a social media feed to communicate with the other drivers. These typically kick in post-race and they present you with some binary response to a fellow member of the paddock. I don’t see it having much of a consequence but then I don’t tend to upset the grid. The final piece of the puzzle is contract negotiations. As the season progresses your role within a team can alter and other teams can take note. Again, rather than something more organic, you’re presented with a few options before a season closes out.
As a package, MotoGP 23 is an improvement, if not taking a great leap forward. The changes to the career mode don’t all seem to gel, although the way testing and upgrades are handled is very welcome. Ultimately, the handling and actual racing of the bikes are what I come to the series for. It remains a steep learning curve and, whilst the Neural AI looks to gently coax you into good habits, it can be overbearing on lower difficulties.
+ Competitive, tight racing.
+ The Neural AI should help ween newcomers into the tricky riding.
+ Variable weather adds an element of chaos with flag-to-flag races.
- The feeder classes don't feature rider likenesses.
- I feel like the AI struggles under wet conditions and busy pit lanes.
- Compared to other racing games, career mode feels a little light.