A year removed from what felt like a full-blown reboot of the series from developer Milestone, MotoGP 19 arrives boasting lofty promises.
Last year's MotoGP 18 was a punch of the reset button for Milestone as the entire game shifted to Unreal Engine 4 and attempted to embrace the competitive community. The feeling of the game being little more than a framework for future editions made for a poor reception (66 on Metacritic), though said framework built around excellent sim-based racing was encouraging.
MotoGP 19 successfully builds on the base in a variety of ways and takes fan feedback into account at the same time. Dedicated servers for online play, expanded options and a new machine-based learning component to improve opponent A.I. sounds great, provided it holds up.
And on first pass, the ambitious additions seem to signify a return to form for the vaunted series.
MotoGP 19 once again walks a tightrope almost perfectly: Hardcore fans of the sport are going to find themselves engrossed with the details, while casual players can still hop right in and have some fun.
For the hardcore, the word "balance" is fitting once more. Most of the little details players love are ingrained in the gameplay from pre-race prep (changing tires, gear ratio, etc.) to on-track happenings. How the aerodynamics impact performance, balancing the front and back tires and more, it's all here again without much tweaking—because it didn't need any.
What did was opponent A.I., to say the least. Milestone's response is something called "Neural A.I." and the impact on the usual formula is blatant right out of the gates. The opening twists and turns of a race feel chaotic, with the A.I. visibly experimenting and aggressive. Sometimes a bike will go flying off into a wall. Other times the zig-zagging of overtakes leads to disarray in a turn.
While something like this has been tried before in other racing titles, the impact is really going to be apparent for those who play this series on an annual basis. There was a formulaic feel to the races in past games, whereas the learning the A.I. does as a race continues seems to require another layer of attention at all times.
It is a testament to the stellar gameplay that different classes feel markedly different, especially when coursing through the career mode from the bottom up. Highlighted by the debut of the MotoE category, the weights and sizes of the bike offer fun different ways to play.
Outside factors again play a big role in the enjoyment or test of skill. Dynamic weather makes a return and alters how the track plays in a realistic manner. The A.I. is right there alongside the player in the battle to adapt, which can lead to some funny results at times, though all very realistic.
Reinforced by the strong physics system revamp with Unreal Engine 4, MotoGP 19 is another treat to play. The tracks are recreated from drone footage, and the improvements to A.I. gives the game a better feel than the last few iterations.
Graphics and Presentation
One area MotoGP 18 didn't really struggle in was the visuals.
The engine switch didn't hurt, of course. Those same physics and lifelike crashes (for better or worse, as it is a simulation, after all) are back, if not slightly improved.
MotoGP 19 takes another interesting step in the presentation department. The prior year seemed to flirt with a broadcast-style presentation, and there is more of that here with cutscenes. Star racers are recognizable both in and out of cutscenes.
Rest assured the slick presentation extends to the on-track segments. The HUD is minimal but feeds important information at all times. Not only are the riders fighting the weight of the bike and track realistically, the shadows on the pavement when the weather is clear are a great touch, as are the bikes themselves. When the weather isn't clear things arguably get more impressive, with the track itself taking a hit while raindrops pepper the screen.
It's the little things with the presentation, too. On PlayStation 4, for example, the color of the controller will change to match the happenings on screen. Not an overly major feature, but a nod to the detail going into the experience now.
Perhaps more important than anything else, the visuals lean into the superb sense of speed fans of the series have come to expect. It was going to be hard for the presentation experience to improve too much, but it has taken a good step—zipping into blur-inducing speeds and behind through a wicked corner as a realistic-looking crowd in the background roars is also still a blast.
Esports and Features
A year ago, chatter about an esports scene seemed encouraging after a better-than-expected 2017 circuit. Real-world tournaments, a spectator mode and the Moto GP ID profile encouraged growth in this area.
Milestone has dramatically improved the potential here through one simple phrase: dedicated servers.
It sounds like a simple thing for a game that wants to be competitive should have, and maybe it is. Regardless, it is here now, and so are sought-after commodities like public and private lobbies. To top it all off, a smooth Director Mode lets one player be in charge of a track, leaving them to decide things like weather and go so far as to hand out penalties to players.
Add it all up and there is big upside here for Milestone and the series. It took a while, but if the developer is heavy in promoting tournaments like in the past, the esports scene should flourish. Tracking global rankings, individual driver performances and more are a key aspect to a healthy community and outside of the pros, a healthy competitive scene should pop up regardless thanks to the ability to form lobbies and have one director overseeing things.
But Milestone didn't just lean heavily into the competitive side when it comes to new features.
Understanding the larger Fortnite-style trends in the industry, Milestone has thrown in a graphical editor, which permits the customization of helmets and other details. It isn't the most robust, but gamers know how this goes—the most creative among the community are now free to pull off some world-class designs. It is nice to see they are searchable online, too.
Career mode returns as well and offers some customization. Players are free to start from the bottom rung of the ladder and start a long climb, kitting out bikes in various categories as they go. The most experienced, or at least brave, are free to start right at the MotoGP level.
Milestone has decided to turn back the clock as well, with historical racers and bikes back after a year's break from the series. This is a nice wedge between a learning tool for newcomers wanting to know more about the sport and a nice feature for longtime fans. Jumping into the suit of historical figures in the sport's history and tackling challenges there is a fun diversion. This is actually deeper than expected too, with four subcategories brimming with a number of events for players to tackle.
That's a good representation of MotoGP 19 as a whole. A year ago, the game felt barebones in features as well, so dipping back into the well with the historical side of things and outright putting more career choice into player's hands is a nice apology of sorts.
For the solo player, more meat on the bones and better competition on the track is a good way to sum it up. For the competitive scene, the arrival of basics makes a world of difference and should sustain the community quite a bit more easily than in the past.
If last year was the overhaul, MotoGP 19 offers the additions that make the bump in the road feel worth it.
The same great gameplay that is as deep as an individual desires remains. Built out around the must-have base are some critical features in the online scene, as well as a solid fix for one of the more mundane aspects of the series. Diving straight into machine-based learning to fix A.I. sounds bold and maybe it was—either way it works and changes enough to alter the experience.
With the list of negatives diminishing by the year, MotoGP 19 feels like the offering many fans of the sport had envisioned in the first place. A robust set of features blossoming around a realistic simulation as a base should, in theory, start to have an impressive snowball effect in future years, while the current offering is a must-have for fans, too.