Milestone only released their last motorcycle racer, Ride, back in May. A scant few months later and the developer is dropping their second racing sim for the year in MotoGP 15. Despite being the closest thing MotoGP fans have to a Gran Turismo of their own, MotoGP 15 still feels more evolutionary than revolutionary.
When first booting up the game, fans may feel as though not much has changed from MotoGP 14 and, on the face of it, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that. As with previous entries in the series, MotoGP 15 gives you the full complement of riders, bikes and official teams competing in the real world (and already in-progress) Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP 2015 racing season. There’s a 2014 event mode as well that asks players to stage real world races from last year’s season like the battle in Qatar between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez. This is actually a really smart use of the MotoGP brand and, for die hard fans, there’s no better way to feel like you’re anywhere but trackside. Recreating these feats is often harder than it seems and it will provide some challenge even for series veterans.
Once I hit the road and started competing I discovered very quickly that, especially compared the lackadaisical AI in Ride, the computer is a menacing, skillful operator. Give it an inch and it will take a mile, sitting in your slipstream and applying just the right amount of braking to get it through a turn ahead of you. They also like their personal space which is different. I’m used to AI competitors that spend every race smashing blindly into each other so to be among computer-controlled opponents with manners made for a nice change. The trade-off for this politeness is that the AI won’t make many risky moves. Simply committing to an insane racing line on a corner will more than likely see you gain an easy position or three simply because the AI won’t want to fight you on it. The rewind functionality that pervades so many racing games these days makes another appearance here as well. For those unfamiliar with how differently motorcycle racing games handle compared to car-based racers, it will likely be invaluable. The trick, however, is seeing if you can get through an entire race without using it at all. Not that easy.
Given that motorcycle racers are Milestone’s stock in trade, it should come as no surprise that all of the actual racing mechanics have been honed to near perfection. Bikes handle the way you expect them to, meaning those used to vehicle racers will need to completely re-evaluate the way they understand physics to avoid wiping out immediately.
Once the game takes the training wheels off and drops you into the actual MotoGP competition, you’ll find yourself astride some frighteningly powerful bikes. Those familiar with motorcycle racers will be able to tweak their bike’s settings to better maximise performance during a race, but newcomers might struggle to find the right balance between performance and playability that alleviates the wobbly steering at high velocities. In fact, I found the vast majority of bikes demanded an extreme level of player control the moment you tweaked them beyond what could be considered entry level settings.
Career mode now lets you create a team of your very own, starting in the Moto3 circuit. It’s pretty familiar territory if you’ve played a racing sim in last ten years – you’re given The Slowest Bike In The World and must accrue sponsorship deals by kicking goals and winning consistently. This allows you to start stockpiling Data Package tokens. These featured in MotoGP 14 as well, and they let you upgrade your bike. In addition to Data Packages, you’re also gaining credits which can be spent on new bikes for the team and it’s this second currency that creates a problem for me. The thing about Data Packages is that if you upgrade one bike with them and then buy a new bike, they get wiped. Considering that any new bike you switch to will likely have better performance than the one you’ve been upgrading, it really does make the Data Package mechanic seem like a waste of time and energy. Just save your money and buy the most ridiculous bikes. Problem solved.
The graphics have seen only marginal improvements from the previous game, all designed to create more believable environments. It doesn’t always work, however – trees still look like a Year Five papercraft assignment – but other changes, like some really lovely lighting and filter effects, can lift the look of the game out of the antiseptic vibe that plagued previous editions.
When you get right down to it, MotoGP 15 is a pretty strong racer that fans of the sport will enjoy as they follow the competition’s real world progress this season. Its presentation is far nicer than even Ride’s and the tracks are much more fun to ride on than they’ve ever been. As motorcycle racers go, it doesn’t get much better than this. That said, the chasm between the very best bike racer and the very best car racer remains a wide one indeed. If Milestone want to compete on that level, then they still have a long road ahead of them.
Review Score: 6.5/10
Highlights: Great mechanics; Competitive AI; A+ track design
Lowlights: Not much personality; not very friendly to newcomers
Publisher: Five Star Games
Released: July 9, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on PlayStation 4