MotoGP 21 Review – Full throttle immersion

Reviewed April 22, 2021 on Xbox One X

Platforms:

Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X

Released:

April 22, 2021

Publisher:

Milestone S.r.l

Developer:

Milestone S.r.l.

Time to once again burn rubber on the MotoGP race circuit with the yearly return of the series. MotoGP 21 once again grips the track, offering a roster of 120 riders, along with another 40+ historic riders and bikes, as well as 20 iconic official tracks for its annual release. It’s more than enough content to get the burning tire smell a new player like myself craves after flexing my rainbow road mastery!

Start Your Engines

From the first lap, MotoGP has always prided itself on its realism and rightly so. It’s a simulation game that rewards players who perfect their skills which is no easy feat. The game bends players to its will with realistic bike power and control along with a game A.I. that keeps the opponents challenging even on easy difficulty. A racing game that takes itself this seriously isn’t something I’d usually pick up, but some part of me was keen to give a motorbike simulator a go. The idea of racing neck and neck with competitor times on tracks all around the globe hits an itch I’ve had since Melbourne’s first lockdown.

For those unfamiliar with the event or the previous game iterations of MotoGP, high-speed purpose-built motorbikes are pit against each other in weekend-long bouts before they travel to the next one. The bikes themselves can reach a deadly 300 kph and the riders have an innate control over their mechanical beasts. It’s also incredibly dangerous and yet the riders still do it! I’m very glad the worst I feel is some thumping vibrations when I crashed playing the game.

“The bravado I brought into this game was quickly torn down.”

My experience with racing games has been previously geared towards arcade racers. Titles like Mario Kart and Crash Racing have been some of my favourite games growing up as they are easy to pick up and highly replayable. MotoGP, however, is an entirely different beast. Coming into this game and thinking it’s going to be easy is not the greatest plan. In fact, if that’s what you’re hoping for from MotoGP 21, reverse now! While this road is traversable, it requires a lot of practice that new players might find confronting.

The bravado I brought into this game was quickly torn down. I initially avoided the tutorial and jumped straight into a Grand Prix and was thoroughly overwhelmed. Every corner had me off the bike. In fact, I spent longer off the bike than I did on the bike. It was only when I adjusted my approach and jumped into the tutorials that the game began to make a lot more sense. There’s an art to turning almost like muscle memory mixed with pure luck.

The game does come equipped with riding aids, a collection of quality-of-life assists whose benefits aren’t lost on new players like myself. I literally turned everything on and I was SO THANKFUL for auto-braking and cornering input modulation. Turns finally felt achievable to me after crashing the bike so many damn times.

The Game Modes

The game contains a decent offering of modes, again geared towards the realism of the game so you won’t find any Balloon Battle here.

– Quick Modes: Easy access to instant adrenaline. I appreciated this area of the game because it allowed me to hone my bike skills on different tracks and find what works for me. Grand Prix drops you straight into a weekend-long event while Championship lets you undertake your own playlist of racetracks without the practice sessions and the qualifiers. Between those is the humble Time Trial mode where you can flex your best times on the global leaderboard.

– Tutorials Mode: Go here first if you’ve never played MotoGP before, please – or you’ll endure the same humbling first few races as I did. There are also some Advanced Sessions which I came back to after a few races, although definitely run through the Basic Sessions at least once. They’re quite rewarding at building confidence.

– Career Mode: The business end of this simulator game. This mode encompasses all the off-track goings-on before the big weekend competitions. While overwhelming at first, it allows one to hire staff and invest in bike developments to enhance racing ability.

– Multiplayer Mode: This features all options for online play with friends or joining other game lobbies.

Taking Control

I think what I enjoy the most is how seriously the game prides itself on conveying the full experience of MotoGP. It’s something I’ve never gotten the chance to experience or attend, likely due to how much it moves around. I think of all the yearly release sports games, MotoGP is the one that catches my eye most of all. Who doesn’t like the allure of motorbikes? And the men in tight leather doesn’t hurt either. It’s really this hyper-masculine space that’s also bizarrely colourful.

After my initial false start with this game, I grinded through the tutorial and moved on to the Time Trials and began playing the assorted tracks by order of interest. I’m definitely biased but I have to say the track that I had the most fun on was Australia’s own Phillip Island motorcycle raceway. I didn’t see any Hemsworth’s but it was weirdly validating to count laps at an Australian track.

Careening away from Career Mode

Career mode was a formidable beast early on as I was still learning the ropes as the explanations it provides really didn’t help someone who lacked general motorbike racing knowledge. The progression in this mode is a week-by-week style event similar to a turn-based game. Some weeks there is a Grand Prix, and other weeks staff have to be paid, and then the in-between time you can research and customize the bike. Honestly, I didn’t see the value in this mode but I can see why others might. It adds context to the wins and losses while just the races by themselves are isolated. Career mode forces you to take accountability and push your team through the season.

I do truly have to thank the game’s dedicated photo mode on the pause menu for giving me the freedom to snap many photos of my player character enduring crash after crash early on. Honestly, it kept me sane during a time of great failure and adversity.

Dead Face NPCs

The game includes a character creation element beyond the in-game leather suit and bike which actually shocked me. You can select your player’s face which is barely seen in-game unless you’re on a menu screen or the stylised preparation screens. It seems like the game purposely wants the player’s character forgettable so as to allow the player to live the fantasy once the helmet is on.

It didn’t take me long to realise that the character preset faces from the customization menu are the same as those present in MotoGP 2020. I respect their commitment to the old batch of generic preset faces but I’m a little surprised they don’t opt for a more neutral player character/mascot.

“It’s so sad seeing so many men in tight leather track gear looking devoid of emotion and forlorn”

While I’m on the subject of character models in the game, I have to say they’re quite unnerving. They all have lifeless eyes. Even the digitized versions of real racers who appeared as photos on the racer selection screens look dead inside. This is primarily a racing sim, so I know I’m not necessarily coming here for motion-captured faces, but it’s so noticeable when you’re in the pitstop screen and NPCs just move their arms and stare at nothing. 

It’s so sad seeing so many men in tight leather track gear looking devoid of emotion and forlorn. Just because this is a simulator doesn’t mean the characters can’t actually look like their real-life counterparts and have a little life to them.

The Finish Line

I have no doubt MotoGP 21 will be popular with its core base of fans who worship the yearly release for its incredible realism and experience. I enjoyed my time with the game, though it certainly came at the cost of forcing myself to endure the steep learning curve. I’d grind hours into a track in preparation for the main event and I’d still feel like I didn’t stand a chance against the A.I. racers. I don’t see myself devoting time to this game in the long term as a new player, though the thrill of a high-speed and realistic racer is clearly felt.

7

Good

Positive:

  • Realism leaves you feeling like a real racer
  • Stunningly accurate tracks represented in the game
  • A lot of customization options for motorbike and suit

Negative:

  • Spiteful learning curve even with riding aids
  • Character design is severely underwhelming and lifeless

With realism being the focus of MotoGP 21, the enjoyment here comes from the mastery of racing at high speeds. Although unless you’re a returning player to the series or a natural on the virtual bike, you won’t be treated kindly by the game’s difficulty. New players could comfortably get away with trying MotoGP 20 instead as a way of easing themselves into the series with a smaller entry fee. Returning players, conversely, will no doubt feel at home with an updated game featuring stunningly detailed environments and racing options. As for me? The plethora of crashes I experienced in-game may now put me off real-world motorbikes altogether.