Review: ‘MotoGP 20’ Is A Brutal Experience, But One You Want To Try

After playing MotoGP 20 for hours on end, I’ve come to a damning realization: there’s a racing game I’m unquestionably terrible at.

There are pertinent reasons for my lack of skill. Aside from a recent foray into motorcycle racing games with TT Isle of Man 2, I have a limited experience of them. I’ve never played a MotoGP game before. I’ve also never been on a motorbike in my life. 

But I’ve never shirked the challenge of a racing game, even if it’s as close to real life as it can be. Sadly, the only thing that Red Bull KTM’s Matt Gardner was consistently close to was a career-ending injury on every turn. I reckon I’d do a better job riding around the Laguna Seca in real life.

However, this didn’t stop me enjoying MotoGP 20.

The racing experience is predictable, but still daunting

For the most part, MotoGP 20 is a deep, rewarding and genuinely playable experience. Bike noobs like me will certainly struggle at first, but youll soon get to grips with the realistic physics engine that underpins the core, on-track element of the game. 

The bikes feel weighty. You feel every bit of grip from the tires–or lack thereof–whether you’re on a fade left or a hairpin right. You can learn how hard or soft you can push your bike before you tumble off. You feel the difference in surfaces under your bike. Yet with so many other factors at play, from gradients to changes in weather, you never feel safe at speed. Braking feels like a death sentence, and was the one thing I simply couldn’t figure out. It’s frustratingly exhilarating.

Speaking of exasperation, MotoGP 20’s AI competitors are incredibly aggressive. On any difficulty, and from MotoGP to MotoGP 3, I felt like Fred Astaire in the Australian Grand Prix scene from On the Beach, desperately trying to survive a race surrounded by opposition willfully attempting to commit suicide in order to escape the inevitability of death from incoming nuclear fallout.

Luckily, for all your failures–or the recklessness of others on the grid–MotoGP 20 gives you a strong, Forza-esque rewind ability, which gracefully reverts to a point far enough back, allowing you to dig yourself out of any hole. Soon, you’ll find yourself learning each of the game’s 20 regular-season circuits, alongside two throwback tracks: Donington and the aforementioned Laguna Seca Raceway. It’s not short of content, even if you’re discontent with your performance.

A graphical rollercoaster

MotoGP 20 isn’t a stunning game. The color palettes, combined with often lo-fi textures, can be a little jarring. The intros to races showcase some particularly low-quality renditions of the runners and riders, where often-identical, glazed-over track staff talk to each other through gestures, without moving their mouths.

But for the most part, the visuals are more than serviceable. The game kicks off by asking whether you want to favor high framerate or high-quality graphics, and MotoGP 20 is right to push the former. The fact it suggested high motion blur was an initial worry, but after trusting the recommendation, it works nicely. The frame rate stays smooth, even in the middle of a pack of murderous AI on a sharp turn.

Career is a bureaucrat’s dream–once you figure it out

You might feel intimidated by the racing, but wait until you first get into career mode: MotoGP 20 does not hold your hand. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and soldiered through; perhaps channelling the spirit of COVID-19, its hands-off approach is understandable.

Once you’ve chosen your team, leathers, bike decals and whatnot, you’re dumped into a menu with no guidance. You have engineers researching upgrades, but there’s no explanation of how best to use them. Or who to use. Or why. There’s no indication of how the upgrades truly benefit you, either. You find yourself repeatedly skipping weeks with no events happening, wondering if you’re meant to somehow schedule them yourself. Save for the occasional staff payment or bike upgrade, the first two months disappear. 

Then suddenly you’re in the heart of a Grand Prix. Race weekends are hectic and genuinely lengthy affairs, if you want to do them properly; you can pick and choose your practice and qualifying sessions, or just race alone from the back of the grid if you feel up to it. You’ll look forward to them because the weeks between them quickly start to feel pointless.

Customization is hit and miss

As is the way with modern sports simulations, the devil’s in the detail when it comes to putting yourself in the game. MotoGP 20 certainly gives you the tools you need to make your personal mark, though they’re inconsistent; holes appear as early as creating your rider. 

First, you choose your name and your nationality. Now, I’m British and usually opt for Great Britain, but I spotted Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as options. I’m English. England is not an option. It’s especially ironic given the game was released on St George’s Day. After this, the only other customization option is picking from 18 stock faces. That’s if you’re a man; women get five. Come on Milestone, it’s 2020. I know women aren’t exactly dominating the sport, but that’s just lazy. 

MotoGP 20 does utilizes a surprisingly deep, Forza Horizon 4-style creation suite for helmet and sticker design. It’s intuitive enough, even if it lacks the polish of Playground Games’ effort. I managed to make my custom Pittsburgh Steelers logo in a matter of minutes for my suit. But then, when designing my helmet, I couldn’t transfer my saved sticker design to it. Odd.

Bikes too can be customized to a degree, but some teams are limited, presumably due to copyright restrictions. As a bottom line, you get what you want, though I imagine this’ll only get more expansive with the next release–especially as the likes of F1 2020 are now getting on the “my team” movement.

However many more hours I put into it, and despite loving a challenge, I don’t think I’ll ever get good at MotoGP 20. I’m really competitive, too; I once learned backgammon just to beat a friend who wouldn’t stop going on about how good they were at it. And backgammon sucks.

MotoGP 20 does not. For its occasional clunkiness, inconsistent graphics, uneven career, indifferent historic mode and seemingly suicidal AI, it does a lot of things very well indeed. If you’re a casual racing game enthusiast like me, or you’re new to the two-wheeled format, it won’t be an easy ride. But what better way to learn the most dangerous form of professional racing than to repeatedly ragdoll your digital avatar into a tire wall at 100mph?

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of MotoGP 20 in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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