While there have been a number of attempted usurpers over the years, the MotoGP series remains the king of bike-racing simulation. While it may not measure up against the likes of Gran Turismo, those car peasants will never feel the satisfaction of 1100cc of power about to explode from between their legs. I’ll let you interpret that sentence however you like.
Photo-realistic bikes, cardboard-cutout racing fans
The developers really put in a lot of effort into emphasising realism in MotoGP 15 and for the most part, the visuals are fantastic. From the creases in the clothing and grooves on the tires to the stones in the asphalt and reflections off wet surfaces, the game is almost photo-realistic. It does, however, fall into the same trap that many racing games seem to face which is extremely dated visuals when you pay attention to everything not on the track itself. The spectators on the sides of the track look out of place amongst the well-animated riders and bikes. This is not necessarily a problem, because in the middle of a race the last thing you should be focusing on is dead-eyed racing fans lining the stands. It is very noticeable when you are in your motor-home (your main base of operations outside of races) and glance out to see the same 5 AI models walking around very aimlessly. The character models also seem to lack something and the eyes of your racer peering through his visor look constantly terrified.
In my opinion, MotoGP offers one of the purest racing experiences of any bike game available and the sound helps to deliver that. Far too many developers of racing games, bike racing especially, seem to think that the ideal music for people who love speed is made by an angry synthesiser that has been out of use since McGuyver went off the air. Don’t get me wrong, said synthesised garbage is still present in menu screens, but on the track there is nothing to be heard but the roar of the bike, cheering fans and the whistle of the wind as you hurtle down the track at 200km/hour.
True to form
Staying true to the aspects that made previous MotoGP titles a success, on the track is where the game really shines. There are a number of settings that can be changed to suit everyone, from casual racers who want an arcade racing experience, to the hardcore riders who want maximum realism when it comes to bike physics. With standard physics selected, your bike handles as if it were on rails and you can focus all your attention on going as fast as possible. On the semi-pro and pro-physics settings however, every turn and maneuver needs to planned. On these settings, acceleration out of corners needs to be handled with caution because you can and will be thrown from the bike if you slam on the accelerator like a Benoni Boytjie in a Beemer looking to klap an afternoon gym session. Pro-physics also brings the option of controlling front and back brakes independently and again, without proper understanding of which brake to use, you will end up eating a mouthful of tar.
There are also multiple difficulty settings for the AI ranging from very easy to very hard but even on the lowest settings, the AI are quite competitive. In some of the other racing games that I’ve played, on the easiest setting I had no problem jumping ahead of my opponents and staying at the front for the rest of the race but in MotoGP 15, I had to work for it by keeping firmly to the prescribed racing lines and going around each corner with precision. In order to maintain control whilst going around corners, the rubber left on the road from the tyres of other racers helps to give the bike additional grip, as it does in reality, and it is imperative to make use of this on wet tracks, where your bike often slides out from under you at the slightest mistake. Fortunately the rewind function allows you to reverse time on the fly and try again if you find that you didn’t handle a particular section of the track as well as you would have liked. The AI also has dynamic behaviour with some racers doing better on wet tracks and others on dry. This helps to keep things interesting as you won’t necessarily see the same opponents winning every race.
The career mode sees you creating a custom character from one of 74 nationalities and you are given a choice of helmets, gloves and boots with more being unlocked as you progress. Your career starts in the Moto3 league and the season takes place over 18 races on real tracks from Europe, Australia, USA, South America and Arabia. The goal is to progress over multiple seasons working your way up to the official MotoGP league which gives you a chance to race against the likes of Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. As you may have noticed at the top, I stated that the playtime was 50+ hours but this can change dramatically depending on what you select for your race settings. There are 3 options available for each and every race. The “Race only” option is exactly that: just the race, but you automatically start in last (24th) position. The “Qualifying and Race” option gives you 40 minutes to race around the track before the race in order to achieve the best time possible and when the actual race starts, riders are stacked at the starting block in accordance with their best time in the qualifier. The “Full Weekend” option is the lengthiest and features a number of warm-ups and qualifiers before the main event and with this option selected, each race can easily span the course of 2 hours. I personally found this option incredibly boring because I often found that I would score a pretty decent lap time early on and the AI couldn’t beat it which meant that I was left driving around with little motivation to improve. You also have no option to quit the race early and save your time meaning that you are locked in for 2 hours of driving aimlessly around the track waiting for the clock to run down.
Worst. Upgrade System. Ever
Outside of races, you can spend your time in your motor home, which is where you can read emails that contain offers from new sponsors and teams. Here you can also watch live-action videos from the real MotoGP and purchase new riding equipment. The pre-race area, much like MotoGP14, is in the pit and here you have the option of speaking to an engineer to tune your bike to your liking. There are dialogue options for most scenarios and if you say that you are unhappy with the exit speed from corners, he will automatically lower your gear ratio and tweak your suspension settings. If you know how gear ratios and suspension dampening works, I would recommend tinkering with the settings yourself because I often found that the automatic option still left a bit to be desired. The pit is also where you apply upgrades to your bike and the upgrade system is one of the worst that I’ve ever encountered. On the first lap of any event; whether it’s a qualifier, warm-up or the actual race; you receive a data pack which can be applied to one of 4 components: engine, chassis, brakes and suspension. Should you opt for the “race only” option, you only receive one data pack per race whilst the full weekend will award a guaranteed 4 data packs per race. In this way, you are rewarded for racing more instead of racing better.
If the career mode starts feeling a bit stale, there are a number of other events available which include the obvious; Grand Prix, championship etc; as well as the Real Events of MotoGP 2014 mode, which puts you in various real scenarios from the MotoGP 2014 season. These are not full races but objectives that need to be achieved within a certain time-limit. For instance, one race puts you in the shoes of Marc Marquez and starts you in 2nd position near the end of a race. You’re tasked to overtake the leader and regain the pole position within the final 2 laps of the race. If you’re after a challenge you’ll find it here.
Multiplayer offers a few of the standard modes such as Grand Prix, championship and sprint-season but it also offers a Split-Times mode. In this mode, the track is divided into 8 sections and your goal is to achieve the best time in the different sectors. The rider who holds the most checkpoints at the end of the race wins. Online play seems to work quite well and although I initially had a hard time connecting to races in the middle of last week, by the weekend it seemed to have sorted itself out. I had no issues with lag or disconnects which also meant that I had only my ineptitude to blame for the pitiful scores I achieved against real players.
Although not perfect, this game delivers on the promise of a solid racing simulator and the terrible upgrade system and dead-eyed racer models are quickly forgotten once you get onto the track. Between the unparalleled realism of the bike’s handling and the immense satisfaction that can only be achieved by successfully rounding a corner and overtaking 6 racers, MotoGP 15 is an absolute must-have for any fans of the genre.