It’s finally here, the game that all you people who love the thrill of two wheeled action have been waiting for; the first MotoGP game to be enhanced for the Xbox Series X|S. Imaginatively titled MotoGP 21, the latest offering from Milestone Studios, masters of the motorcycle game, promises to bring not only all of the official tracks, riders, teams and liveries of the 2021 season, but the thrills and spills of motorbike racing in general. So, clamber into your leather romper suit, and get a firm grasp on your helmet, we’re going riding.
Now, I am to motorcycle racing what Mr Bean is to alpine ski-jumping, so luckily the first thing to greet players upon firing up MotoGP 21 is a very in-depth tutorial. This is a fantastic place to start, as it takes you through each section of the game, such as cornering, braking and more, asking you to perform certain tasks. Each task that you attempt allows the game to build an idea of how good you are as a rider, giving the opportunity for it to suggest certain aids and assistances that it thinks you need. A pair of stabilisers hasn’t been coded in to MotoGP 21, however it’s good to see your line through the corners being picked up. Automatic braking is also a possibility, and depending on your skill levels turning these helpful additions off will result in a nasty case of gravel rash.
With the ink barely dry on the certificate of bike riding proficiency, it is all about getting involved in the meat of the game. Now, from the main menu there are three main areas you can explore. These are Quick Events, such as Time Trials, Career and Multiplayer; I’d like to focus on the latter first. You see, that’s mainly because there doesn’t seem to be anybody else in the world playing MotoGP 21. Milestone games are usually popular, leading to well-populated online lobbies, but this time around it’s like the Marie Celeste, with nary an opponent to be found. Even creating a public lobby and waiting results in nothing, so I can only deduce that everyone is having too much fun in the in-depth Career mode. Before I get onto that, the Quick Events option does pretty much what it says on the tin, allowing you to just get out there on your two wheeled steed and mix it up on the track. Quick races, Time Trials and more are on offer, and should you just need a quick blast of two wheeled speed, these are ideal.
Career is a different kettle of fish altogether. This is without doubt one of the most detailed career modes I’ve played, so a good mark goes to Milestone for this. You choose where to begin, either at the bottom in MotoGP2, or higher up the tree, right up to the full fat MotoGP season. Having chosen your start point it’s then up to you to assemble a team to help you with your campaign to becoming the greatest. Choosing a manager who can negotiate a better rate for you, to engineers to help develop the bike… there’s a lot to get involved in before you get near the track. Interestingly, when you move up a class, you can actually start your own Junior team in MotoGP2, allowing you to manage a team as well as race.
Yet even when reaching a race weekend, the work doesn’t stop. Throughout practice you will have tasks given to you by the engineers, which if completed give you research points to spend on developing the bike. These can be as simple as passing a certain point on the track above 205km/h, for instance, or as complicated as not only hitting 70% of the ideal lines on a circuit, but also completing a lap in a certain time. On my bog standard bike I was about 2 seconds off the pace, so this is a very difficult game. Tweaking the setup can help tremendously, and you’ll fast discover that stiffening the suspension will enable you to lean a lot more quickly, whilst fiddling with gear ratios ensures you will be faster out of the bends. The way these changes are made can be done manually, a la Forza Motorsport, or in a nice touch, you can tell the engineer what’s wrong via a collection of stock phrases, and he will adjust the bike based on what you say.
Once all the tinkering is over, it’s time to race, and if there’s one top tip I’ll give you it’s this: start cornering a long time before you think you should. If you see the line on the track change to red before you have started leaning, it’s too late. Further to that, the other riders are a pretty dim-witted bunch and will wipe you out if they get the chance, so be careful not to get stuck in the middle of the pack. Other than that, tiptoeing around until you learn the track is the only other advice I can give. The difference between trying to corner on a bike and in a car is like day and night, and I don’t mind admitting I struggled at first. But then comes that magical video game moment, where it just clicks and you are suddenly able to find yourself able to compete. Putting together a clean, fast lap in MotoGP 21 feels like a major achievement.
Graphically, and there’s absolutely no doubt that MotoGP 21 looks superb, and it moves at a good pace too. The tracks and bikes all look bang on, and even little touches like the rider’s leathers getting dusty after a roll through a gravel trap look great. It’s all top drawer on the audio front too, with the MotoGP2 bikes sounding like a bee in a tin can, and the heartbreaking thump slide sound effect as you suddenly lose the bike being, um, just right.
The latest in the MotoGP series of games is probably the greatest too. MotoGP 21 looks great, sounds right, and when the gameplay and tactics click and you finally start to make progress through the ranks, it’s a great feeling. It’s certainly not enough to make me give up my love of four wheels (if I’m going to crash, I’d rather do it with two tonnes of metal around me), but what Milestone have created here means it’s a close run thing. If you like bikes, you’ll adore MotoGP 21.
Tear up the track in MotoGP 21 on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, via the Xbox Store