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Hands-on with MotoGP 22: Returning legends shine through

Another year, another iterative official MotoGP game, right? Well, sort of. With MotoGP 22 just around the corner, I was able to go hands-on with an early build and please allow me to say – there are three features that are breakthroughs for the series.

Before we jump in, to stress, this was captured on a PC and an unfinished, preview build with limited features and clearly work-in-progress AI performance.

MotoGP 22 Francesco Bagnaia

Ultimately, this is a licenced Grand Prix Motorcycle racing simulation featuring the real-world venues, teams and riders from the 2022 MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 seasons. It will be available in April for PC, PlayStation and Xbox platforms, plus the Nintendo Switch.

There will be online multiplayer, an in-depth single-player career and single-race modes.

That’s not mould-breaking, nor genre-defining. Alongside the new rider roster, there are also new face scans of the riders for the pre-grid and podium, more accurate tyre physics and ‘enhanced’ track surfaces.

Welcome additions, that join MotoGP 21’s implementation of the Long Lap Penalty and Bike Recovery systems.

Checkboxes ticked. Design a new cover art and hit publish.

Except, that’s a lot more to it than that…

MotoGP 22 KTM race action

No matter if it’s a small indie release or a big-budget glossy affair, for a driving or riding game, the most important aspect is how it performs on track. Handling, braking, setups, rival behaviour and, ultimately, the sensation of being in control.

It’s here that you will notice the biggest difference between last season’s game and developer Milestone’s latest V4-powered beast.

One of the more, how shall I say, ‘divisive’ aspects of the past two MotoGP simulators has been how you slow down for a corner. Mid-corner and down the straights, the handling was compliant, but stopping a top-class motorcycle was akin to riding a mechanical bull, blindfolded, after some tequila.

All the bike wanted to do was lift its rear wheel and throw you off into the nearest cat litter repository.

Not that it wasn’t possible, but the myriad of techniques required to slow down your Yamaha was more complex than today’s Wordle.

MotoGP 22 Enea Bastianini gameplay

In MotoGP 22, this remains a dark art, but mercifully the ride is significantly more stable. Using the various assists set to ‘default’ due to the limited time available for our test, the learning curve is still steep.

I ran wide, fell and fell some more. If this was in the real world, the Dainese invoice would have been gargantuan. For a moment I thought that I didn’t have the right controller inputs assigned.

I did, but you must now apply the brakes earlier than you are perhaps used to and using the rear brake in the initial stages – a separate button – is a big help. Along a small straight, think of it as 50 per cent acceleration and 50 per cent braking.

MotoGP 22 Grid atmosphere

With braking zones longer than a politician’s list of excuses, once you have adjusted – this may take some time – I found it to be more satisfying than the MotoGP 20 and 21 system. Instead of crashing simply by slowing down in a straight line, you now crash by carrying too much speed into the apex. Still frustrating, but at least now authentically so.

The second change to the game’s physics is the introduction of the Ride Hight Device. For those unaccustomed, this is a relatively recent invention in its current form and an evolution of ‘holeshot’ devices used at race starts to reduce wheelies.

At the tap of a button, it lowers the rear ride height. For standing starts, this provides more traction for the rear-wheel-drive machines, and once moving at high speed in a straight line, the lowered centre of gravity and reduced chance of a wheelie helps achieve higher top speeds.

MotoGP 22 KTM Moto2

You can have this set to be manually activated in MotoGP 22. Simply tapping the requisite button at the appropriate time sees your bike hunker down and your speed increase. Apply it through a quick corner, however, and the handling goes awry, with heavy understeer introduced – as it should be.

There are times when you almost forget you can activate it, only to hit the button, see the bike squat and the speed increase, analogous to a nitro boost only not as powerful. It reminded me of those scenes in Fast & Furious movies when a character in a race decides to push the throttle even harder. It feels so satisfying to operate.

Apply this to the higher AI difficulty levels or online racing and I can picture this adding an additional dimension to the racing, if thinking about tyre and brake temperatures wasn’t enough already.

MotoGP 22 Mandalika Circuit race action

The third main pillar to MotoGP 22’s innovation is the ‘NINE Season 2009’ mode. Awful title aside, you can think of this as a story to play through.

Wait, hold up, before you roll your eyes, this has the ingredients to be good. Honest.

Unlike F1 2021’s Braking Point or GRID Legends’ Driven to Glory, you don’t play through a fictionalised narrative.

No, instead this is a brand-new documentary about the 2009 real-world top-class MotoGP season. Rossi, Pedrosa, Stoner. Let battle commence.

Directed by Mark Neale, who created the venerated MotoGP documentary films Faster and Hitting the Apex, this is a movie. A real, slickly produced, interesting, movie.

It’s just that, at set times, the story passes the action over to you in time-order scenarios. To make this possible, the entire 2009 grid is included.

MotoGP 22 NINE Season 2009

The initial three ‘challenges’ I played were at the first round of the 2009 season. After watching the context, I was thrust into the race as Casey Stoner on his Ducati. Leading, my task was to reach a five-second gap over the fêted Rossi.

Once that was complete, the story continued seamlessly, before I was then placed further back in the same race as former-champion-turned-Twitter-pundit Jorge Lorenzo trying to reach the podium.

I feel that your enjoyment will very much depend on finding the right difficulty level and assists to suit you. Winning when the target is only third can break the emersion, for example. It also would have been nice if the tracks were 2009, not 2022, configurations too.

MotoGP 22 NINE Season 2009 Valentino Rossi

NINE captivated me, and while I only tried the very initial stages – the final game will feature scenes from every 2009 race, creating a hefty additional as opposed to a small ‘bolt on’ – if it reaches its potential, this is far more interesting to me than any of the recent four-wheeled-based story mode attempts.

With this addition to MotoGP 22, plus the recent MotoGP Unlimited behind the scenes documentary series on Amazon Prime, motorcycle racing fans have never had it so good.

This new game mode plus the on-track physics changes combine to create a palpable sense of anticipation for the next MotoGP game. If that wasn’t enough, local split-screen multiplayer returns for the first time since MotoGP 17 alongside the new-for-2022 Indonesian Mandalika circuit.

MotoGP 22 Mandalika Circuit

The split-screen works admirably, in the pre-release not-complete build, provided you can stay upright. The simulation focus of the MotoGP games means that this isn’t going to be the next Mario Kart replacement.

The representation of Mandalika looks to be accurate, which means a flat, bland circuit with too many sections looking like each other. Still, a fresh venue always breathes new life into a championship and thus a related yearly game release.

I haven’t been able to try the online gameplay, the all-important career mode or the final AI performance, however, each element is critical to a game’s success, but for now, once you have adjusted, there’s every chance MotoGP 22 could be the best in the series yet.

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