It is fitting that Milestone are back in control of the MotoGP license, given the sport has such a rich tradition of great Italian champions. They have spent five years away from the series after their poorly received ’08 instalment, and return to the fold hoping to improve on the similarly lacklustre 10/11 offering from Monolith. What they have produced is a high octane love letter to the super-fast grunt of the bikes, even if it isn’t as handsome as some of the heart throb riders who lay their lives on the line to entertain us.
Rather than trying to shoehorn in too much in the way of distractions and inter-personal shenanigans, Milestone have created what is very much a no-frills package that is thin on the kind of customisation and bombast you would see from other sports titles. MotoGP 13 isn’t the finest looking game you will ever play. It runs at 30 frames per second, can sometimes look a bit ropey in places, and has some quite irritating and underpowered engine noises that sometimes serve to drown out the commentary from Gavin Emmett.
Things tend to take a simple, functional route. Take character creation: you can choose a nickname, nationality, colour, and select a riding style, which mimics the stances and riding mannerisms of real-life riders. There isn’t much else on offer. There are a meagre clutch of modes available – but each one is streamlined and easy to understand. Presentation is serviceable – with the highlight of the front end being the pre-GP cut-scenes that give you a whirlwind tour of the city you find yourself about to race in. There is no other chaff here – no silly card games, this is all about racing really fast motorcycles, really fast, with as little hassle as possible.
An option to take a quick instant race is a good way of testing the waters. If you haven’t played a bike racer since the days of Super Hang-On or Road Rash, you are in for a big surprise. This is a fast and frantic affair, the sense of speed and the pull and acceleration of the bikes is almost intimidating. You will fall over repeatedly. The slightest wrong movement of the analogue stick can result in disaster. It demonstrates what the riders put themselves through, leaning their vehicles almost horizontally, practically scraping against the asphalt as you take a corner. The basic controls could not be simpler – right trigger is pulled down for throttle, left trigger for brake, with the left stick used to steer. There are a number of auto-assist functions that are all turned on at the outset, and you are able to switch them off to deliver a more manual experience – something that is highly recommended once you get to grips with the concept of handling your own gears or operating more sophisticated braking setups. With the helping hand still engaged, you can expect a far more arcade-style experience, which is a great way to get a basic feel for the way the bikes handle before abandoning the assistance and entering full-on simulation mode, which demands a precision touch but rewards mastery. There is another handy inclusion for beginners in the form of a “rewind” function that allows you to travel back in time and correct your riding mistakes. Of course this is tantamount to cheating – but can be quite fun winding back crashes and re-living the sight of some impossibly pretty daredevil rider scraping his arse along the track.
If having a fun quick bash around one of the courses is the best way to acclimatise yourself to the action, Grand Prix mode is the best way to develop a feel for the sport and how MotoGP works. It takes place across a full Grand Prix weekend, and takes in practise laps, the crucial qualifying race, and then the Grand Prix itself. World Championship lets you play a full season in the class of your choice, competing for points. There is also a Time Attack mode if you fancy going up against your best efforts in order to improve.
During the lengthy, satisfying Career mode, you begin as a rookie taking part in wildcard races when you are spotted and allowed to join the circuit. It is all about progressing through the increasingly more difficult (and scary) classes – starting out at the relatively tame Moto 3 and ending up with the big boys in MotoGP. The ultimate aim is of course to join the likes of Valentino Rossi and become the GP World Champion. By the time you are a seasoned enough rider to accomplish this feat, you will have racked up some serious hours atop a variety of furiously powerful two-wheelers.
The game hub is an impressively tricked-out motorhome, your own little den on wheels where you can access all manner of stats and information via a laptop computer, access neat in-game social media – there is even an in-game newspaper that has the audacity to report on your performances! – and chop and change your equipment. It is all functional and user-friendly. During the race sections you are offered a stunning helmet-cam view of your pit setup, where you can tinker with the mechanical side of things, or talk to your manager who can tell you everything you could possibly ever want to know about Moto GP – and then some. There are several types of weather condition to consider and different choices of tyre to counteract each. Elsewhere you can talk over tactics with your team-mates, view press conferences, and experience what goes on the Parc Ferme. All of your favourite riders, tracks, bike manufacturers, and sponsors are present and correct. It is a nicely immersive experience, as you become more popular, levelling up in order to progress and unlock more custom gear and move up the ranks. There are multiplayer options available on or offline (splitscreen mode is a terrific old-school inclusion) and PQube and Milestone have also promised that the game will also update itself to reflect any real-life changes within the wider MotoGP universe.
VERDICT: MotoGP 13 is a clear improvement from the last title in the series in every department. It is an excellent interpretation of the sport, but more crucially gives gamers something different to the usual four-wheeled racing. Riding motorcycles is thrilling and death defying, and this is a good way to live vicariously through those riders who genuinely risk death every time they don their leathers. It is extremely difficult, and not something for you to casually dip into in the same fashion as a Motorstorm or a Mario Kart. On two wheels the rules are changed all over again and you have to abandon your preconceptions of a racer at the door. A refreshing, if rough around the edges racer that delivers pure adrenaline in a satisfying comeback for Milestone.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.