What is that? The latest officially licensed MotoGP racing simulation.
Expect to pay $50/£40
Release date April 21, 2022
Developer Interactive step
Editor Interactive step
Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 2080 TI, 16GB RAM Windows 10
Multiplayer? Up to 22 players online
Link Official site
Modern MotoGP is in a golden age. 2021 has seen eight different winners across 18 races, and so far this season we’ve had three different drivers on the top step in four races, two of them taking their first wins. It’s unpredictable, full of talent and spectacle, and guaranteed fun at every run. Naturally, then, the 2009 season is at the heart of Milestone’s MotoGP 22 licensed bike sim.
An all-new mode, titled ‘Nine: Season 2009’, takes you back to a bygone era of Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa jostling their 1000cc machines for victories, via a series of documentary-style videos directed and narrated by British filmmaker Mark Neale, and a series of intertwined challenges. In short: it’s wonderful.
Neale’s delivery and sequence choices convey so much context and period drama that it never crosses your mind to skip a cutscene and go straight to the challenge. It doesn’t matter that the challenges are so simple, with the objectives always focusing on overtaking or clearing opponents. There you are, among a full grid of 2009 racers, listening to a classic inline-four screaming at the top of its lungs and searching for space between Rossi’s knee and the apex. Honestly, for those with even a passing interest in the sport, that’s enough.
That’s not to say Milestone is shirking responsibility for the current season’s simulation. As always, all three racing categories are present, correct and resplendent in 2022 liveries. And as always, it gives a depth to its career mode that even Codies’ F1 games can’t match. Starting as a rookie in Moto3, navigating a sea of profligate Spanish teenagers on smooth and forgiving 250cc bikes. Getting the green light from a Moto2 team, feeling the extra weight and power of bigger bikes while brushing leathers with Lowes, Acosta and Canet. Finally upgrade to first class and feel like you’ve earned it, like there’s a story about how you got here. It remains the biggest jumper in the series, even with the inclusion of the playable doc from the 2009 season this year.
Mastering the bikes, meanwhile, is a bit easier. Last year’s title veered so far into hardcore sim territory that even months after its release, I was still routinely self-braking, tucking the front end, and squirming in the braking zones like those inflatable men they put outside car dealerships. I was not alone. Pulling the front and rear brakes independently, while managing the rider’s weight and slowly rocking through a sufficient lean angle to reach the top, seemed to require more subtlety than two human hands and a controller allowed. Milestone solved the braking difficulty this year, but not in a particularly satisfying way.
Essentially, there are just additional levels of assist now. Before, you either admitted defeat, activated the combined brake and continued, or you persevered by committing a series of incredibly deft entries into memory. There are now additional options to modulate your inputs, making manipulation more forgiving at the expense of control. Turn on modulation and you just can’t lean recklessly enough for the rear tire to start squirming, saving you from a crash but also feeling a little too much like an autopilot mode. It’s reminiscent of driving with lots of assist in the Assetto Corsa or Project CARS series – easier, yes, but you don’t really feel in charge of the vehicle anymore.
New aids aside, grappling with a bike on any given circuit remains extremely difficult, and with ride height devices to now play with along the straights, there’s an extra wrinkle to mastering the controls. It’s not completely convincing – roll over a bumpy peak, watch the insane Buckaroo ride that happens behind it, and the illusion of an accurate simulation is somewhat shattered – but it’s amazing to get the point to rock the bike just right, carrying a ton of cornering speed and sliding past an opponent. In those moments, all is forgiven. Even the parts where you miss a vertex because your rider is busy gesturing towards someone, regardless of your inputs.
However, it’s harder to turn a blind eye to some long-standing irritations that really should have been resolved by now. Ideal line assist is often totally wrong with its recommended braking points, so if you’re a newcomer and using it to learn the trails, you might be confused as to why you keep finding yourself in the gravel pit even if you hit the brakes exactly when the game tells you to.
The AI remains slightly runny. In my experience it seems more aggressive this year, better able to judge if it’s okay to cut inside you in the middle of a corner without causing a crash, and that’s a step up . However, his pace varies widely from track to track, seemingly struggling with the fast sections of Jerez and Assen, but nailing Austin like a grid full of Marc Marquezes.
The developers seem to have extracted a bit more beauty from the Unreal Engine this time around, especially in the bikes and helmets. I’m not ashamed to say that I spent a lot of time on the showroom menu, cycling aimlessly between modern and classic riders and admiring their lids. The glittering paint job on Nicky Hayden’s 2006 helmet is especially worth a few camera turns. Much of that beauty translates to on-track, where a realistic lighting style combines with hi-res textures and hi-res models worthy of some admiration in photo mode.
It is making inroads, then, this new MotoGP title. It still feels a bit wonky in the hands, as if the controls and physics model aren’t perfectly in sync yet, and the AI and assists need more work. But Mark Neale’s work really elevates the experience, creating a new mode that makes the mind race with ideas for more like this. How about a mode that recreates each of the first victories of the last 10 race winners? Who wouldn’t want to be put on Binder’s KTM in a soggy RedBull Ring, or Bagnaia’s Ducati, fending off Marquez around Aragon? There is a lot of tread on the tires.