Racing games based on the MotoGP motorcycle class have had a long and fairly bumpy ride. Their humble beginnings can be traced all the way back to the Amstrad CPC and Atari ST with 500cc Grand Prix. Since then, several companies have tried their hand at creating a lasting MotoGP franchise. First, it was up to THQ to deliver the MotoGP racing experience fans wanted. The reins then passed to Namco, then Capcom for a few instalments. Nobody ever quite stuck to it until the current iteration of the franchise, but MotoGP has been relatively stable since 2013.
That’s thanks in large part to Italian developer Milestone. The company has been creating MotoGP games since 2013, and – with the exception of 2016 – has released a MotoGP game each year since then. 2016’s game was Valentino Rossi: The Game, which bucked the trend and named itself after its cover star rather than the discipline as a whole. After that, the franchise returned to its sober naming conventions with MotoGP 17 and 18. We’re now up to MotoGP 19. Will Milestone once again prove itself the master of MotoGP, or will it veer off-course?
We say “once again”, but MotoGP 18 doesn’t exactly enjoy the most rapturous reputation. Of course, there are some who like the game, but many criticised it for its flawed AI and unsatisfactory physics engine. For a MotoGP game, it’s pretty crucial to get at least these two aspects right. Fans will clamour to play an officially licensed game as long as it feels true to their favourite sport, and that’s something MotoGP 18 struggled with. As such, MotoGP 19 has some pretty big bikers’ boots to fill. This one’s got to get it right where its predecessors didn’t.
It’s a pleasure to report, then, that MotoGP mostly manages to do this. In a rare move, MotoGP 19 actually does feel like a reinvention of the central formula. Obviously, there’s only so far the concept of motorcycle racing can actually evolve in a video game if the dev isn’t going to shoot off the deep end into the realms of arcade wackiness. With those restrictions in place, Milestone has delivered a realistic, faithful and frequently beautiful adaptation of MotoGP racing. It sputters in some places, but it’s mostly very solid indeed.
Let’s start with the physics. MotoGP 18 occasionally had some problems in this area; its bikes would sometimes behave irrationally, and there was no real weight or heft to the mechanics. Each bike felt floaty and samey, and although some effort had clearly gone into creating different bikes, sometimes it felt like wasted effort. That’s not true of MotoGP 19. Lots of major brands are represented here – Suzuki, Ducati, and Yamaha, to name but a few – and they all feel distinct from one another. Ducati bikes pack a serious wallop in MotoGP 19, while Suzukis are fleet and move much more quietly.
The overall physics have also been improved. You can almost feel the suspension bearing the rider’s weight as a bike rounds a corner in MotoGP 19. The presentation is excellent here, with satisfying cracks and engine revs bringing up top-notch sound design all-round. Visually, it’s very hard to top MotoGP 19. To put it simply, the game is absolutely gorgeous. Its visuals are clear, shimmering and bright, with different weather conditions bringing a whole new dimension to the game. It’s worth picking up MotoGP 19 just to watch someone else play it.
Obviously, it’s you that will be playing it, and that’s where things unfortunately start to fall apart a little bit. Our time with MotoGP 19 was fairly buggy, and we encountered plenty of times when bikes or tracks would unexpectedly behave in weird ways. It’s a shame given that Milestone is touting its much-improved artificial intelligence, and while it’s true that the racers are much more aggressive and well-disciplined in MotoGP 19, if they’re not given the right framework in which to demonstrate their increased intelligence then the game just won’t work.
Bugs can be fixed, though, and it’s far more important that they are squashed to make room for a solid core. MotoGP 19 offers an incredibly comprehensive and lengthy career mode which should cater for anyone who’s been looking for an in-depth single-player component to these games. There are plenty of ancillary modes to get your teeth into as well, and there’s online multiplayer available for those who want to test their skills against other players. There’s a robust customisation mode in the form of a livery editor, which probably won’t trouble seasoned riders too much but is a nice addition nonetheless.
All told, MotoGP 19 is a serious improvement for a franchise that has something of a reputation for being a bit rushed. MotoGP 18 wasn’t a spectacular entry into the series, but MotoGP 19’s improved artificial intelligence and significantly better physics put the franchise firmly back on the right track. If Milestone can learn to test better prior to release (or simply be given a less restrictive deadline, potentially), then MotoGP 20 has the potential to be a true classic in the motorcycle racing genre. As it stands, MotoGP 19 is well worth picking up for fans and definitely worth looking at for neophytes.