In an ideal world, MotoGP 20 is another steady uptick in all areas after a reboot two years ago.
Developer Milestone made true on many promises a year ago with MotoGP 19, continuing to build on Unreal Engine 4 and looping in must-haves like dedicated servers, neural artificial intelligence and expanded options. The result was a 10-point leap on a grading scale like Metacritic (76).
This year, MotoGP 20 takes aim at gameplay refinements, a fleshing out of career mode in response to player feedback and quite a bit more.
While the leap made might not be as dramatic as the year prior, Milestone indeed appears to have a firm upward trajectory on its hands for the series.
Graphics and Gameplay
One area MotoGP 20 doesn't take a notable leap in is the graphical department.
Luckily for all involved, it didn't need a ton of help there anyway. The center of attention—the rides—still look great and detailed. Character models look proportional and react well to on-screen events, from simple turns to devastating wrecks.
It's non-driver and bike focus where things could've used at least a little love. Tracks themselves, including crowds, general scenery and skyboxes, remain unremarkable. The little cutscenes before or after a race are nice touches but feature notable aged-looking character models without noise.
One interesting presentation quirk is fixating the camera from the bike's perspective during a wreck. Instead of seeing some of the wacky things the physics do to the dislodged rider, there's now an interesting broadcast-esque view of the action as the bike goes through the motions.
Overall, the presentation game is once again smooth. For every complaint (hair looks weird), there's an admiral touch (heat emissions from the back of bikes). There isn't a ton of commentary that gives things a broadcast feel, but the minimalist HUD and excellent sound design makes it clear the whole intent is to shine the focus on the gameplay experience.
And what a simulation it is.
The difficulty curve for newer players can be akin to slamming into a wall, and some of the many assists can only do so much. And yet, even the basic gameplay elements make for a rewarding time as players learn to balance the driver's weight against the demands of the track and course.
General racing remains weighty, if not a little too responsive when it comes to braking. But it's fun to balance the driver, both tires and momentum. Helping things is another performance pass for the "Neural AI." component.
A year ago, the boasted machine-based learning AI helped keep races feeling fresh but sometimes felt like it proceeded without being aware of the player's driver at all. A big chunk of the year-to-year gameplay experience remains tied up in the game's AI performance. This year features the aptly dubbed Neural AI 2.0, which controls how opposing computer-controlled drivers perform right out of the gates on a moment-to-moment basis, as well as while handling things such as fuel economy.
That changes this year. AI opponents react to pass attempts differently, grapple with new systems like fuel economy differently, and it isn't too uncommon to see wrecks that don't even involve the player.
In the never-ending battle to make the simulation as realistic as possible, Milestone has added additional gameplay-impacting damage repercussions with aerodynamic damage. Break the winglets on one side of the bike or other and the handling notably alters for the worse.
Once again, strategy away from the action on the track is just as important.
Stressing yet an even bigger emphasis on realism, adjustments to details like aerodynamics, electronics, chassis and how the engine works through resources is something players will grapple with before and during races. It all works nicely together to create an escalating challenge for those comfortable removing assists slowly over time—but the lack of notable tutorials can create an overwhelming feeling.
Speaking of assists, they are many and helpful, especially in tandem with AI tweaking. The optional guiding line is even adjustable in what it shows during a race, making for a customizable experience prone to spurring improvement.
Esports and Features
Quietly, MotoGP always has a solid esports scene.
This was true a year ago with MotoGP 19, especially with the dedicated servers rollout and things like Race Director Mode.
Those return this year, and the esports side figures to have the same developer-backed support again. If it does, the game might end up heavily leaning on its ability to host private and public matches with streaming potential if in-person events can't happen.
No matter the format, the healthy esports scene isn't going to change much thanks to the technical work behind the scenes.
Besides the competitive slant, one of the continued knocks on the series was a lack of modes and/or depth to them.
This year features the return of Managerial Career.
In a nutshell, Milestone has heard feedback and smoothly worked in a sorely needed sense of progression to the career mode. Players start by picking a class, then choosing a Personal Manager and team before adding a Chief Engineer and Data Analyst to the mix too.
From there, things move organically. The agent does agent things, including negotiating with teams and general contracts worth more cash. The engineer and analyst work in tandem to improve bikes in meaningful ways. More salary via performance means better people on the team capable of upgrading the bike aster, etc.
Now, this isn't really anything but menu navigation. But there's a nice layer of progression and strategy baked into the experience that was missing. The end goal is fashioning the best possible bike and signing with the most prestigious of teams, but it's nice that on a race-to-race basis, even the Friday test runs are an important part of the process in order to earn points—simming the entire weekend before the big race isn't always so smart now.
The Livery Editor returns with some gumption too. Customizing numbers, decals and more is a nice touch for those who want to impart their style on a bike and overall brand. It's got some nice depth and feels like another area going in the right direction.
Even as recently as a year ago, the historical mode checked in as a little deeper than expected but just wasn't a main emphasis. The historical look at riders and tracks was fun, but the real depth came from improving skills online and winning titles.
Milestone has done a good job of rewriting such a narrative this year, though. Some of the challenges baked into the pleasant experience are randomized, and there are a notable number of unlocks. Challenges are split into three difficulty sets, which helps outline pacing of unlocks well.
On the performance side, last year's inclusion of dedicated servers notably upped the experience. But it set an important bar—fans weren't going to accept anything less this year. And considering this is an annual sporting release, fans were probably going into this one with expectations of a more refined, deep experience.
Public and private matches are in again and so is Race Director mode, which puts a player in a streamer sort of seat to control elements. Controllable details include starting position, assigning penalties and big items like weather. It's a nice suite of controls for a healthy online environment atop the obvious esports scene.
Steady wins the race.
MotoGP 20 doesn't have some amazing must-know, back-of-the-box feature to pull in players. But what it does have is continued smart progression of the experience's most important features. Meaning, upgrades in gameplay, opponent AI and the game's most popular mode, not to mention smooth online features in a modern age demanding them.
Tough to initially pick up but plotted smartly with assists that create a rewarding sense of progression, MotoGP 20 does enough in gradual ways to sit firmly as the best of its niche in recent memory.