When it comes to reviewing the latest yearly official game of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the usual format would be to run through the gameplay changes, discuss the lengthy career mode and bemoan the multiplayer options.
However, for MotoGP 22, we’re going to start with a brand-new narrative-led feature that recaps the 2009 real-world season.
Yes, as with every official MotoGP game, you are still able to play with all riders, teams and tracks from the current Moto3, Moto2 and top-class season – everything you would expect from a title like this.
But ‘NINE Season 2009’ – yes, that is its awkward name – is something not yet seen in a MotoGP game and is complementary to the expected gameplay elements.
This is a documentary covering Valentino Rossi’s ninth MotoGP title, hence the name, mixing archive footage, voice-over work by Mark Neale of the Faster, Faster & Faster and Fastest films and you re-living particular moments on track in-game.
It starts with a context-setting scene like a TV programme, before handing you the controls for at least two scenarios per race from that year.
This handily covers the growing trend in racing games for stories, such as Braking Point in F1 2021 or Driven to Glory in GRID Legends, but also conveniently adds some Rossi-related content. Let us not forget, this is the first game Italian-developer Milestone has ever created without The Doctor included, such was the length of his motorcycle career.
I much prefer this factual style to the fictionalised approach of the contemporaries, and the mix of footage and gameplay is seamlessly integrated, flowing from one race to the next.
Sometimes, however, the challenges are poorly paced. Five laps in the lead on your own around Losail, to begin with, is a momentum sap. It mostly hangs together, that being said, and focussing on the Rossi vs Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner arch is satisfying.
But it also highlights some of the glaring omissions in the MotoGP games in general.
2009’s fourth round was at Le Mans’ Bugatti Circuit and featured a flag to flag race with changeable weather conditions. NINE sets you up with the weather context, shows you Rossi falling into the gravel and hands you over to his teammate Lorenzo who is trying to stay upright with slick tyres on a damp track.
Except, when you take control, it’s a dry, not drying, track because MotoGP 22 can’t simulate mixed conditions. You either have dry, or wet, but the circuits don’t evolve. A clanger that robs vital immersion.
It’s strange too because the developers also create the road-bike-based Ride 4 which uses the same technology and does feature dynamic weather and pitlane visits.
Other features added in last season’s MotoGP 21 such as the long lap penalty and bike retrieval once again return, but sadly have not evolved as expected.
With the latter, you must walk back and pick up your motorcycle should you fall off, but your AI-controlled rivals can simply respawn with wanton abandon while you’re still wandering the grass verges, rendering this feature largely redundant.
The former frustrates because the track limits in the game, even on the strictest setting, cannot emulate the black-and-white rulings of the sport. If Jack Miller rode over the green sections off circuit it would count as a violation, simple as that. Here, sometimes you do, sometimes you do not.
One surprising new element that is featured, however, is the latest Spielberg Red Bull Ring layout. You can try the Schikane before the real heroes head there in August.
This sits alongside the Indonesian Mandalika venue. To ride, it’s uninspiring. Not the games’ fault, the representation is accurate, but the flat, faceless, design can leave a little to the imagination. Still, new circuits and layouts are always welcome for a yearly motorsport game to help add variety.
Also fresh is the way you slow down. Irksome for players who were not experienced, the braking technique used in MotoGP 20 and 21 required us to write a nearly 2,000-word guide for the Traxion.GG website.
This year, the process is streamlined. Stoppies, where the rear wheel lifts off the ground as you hit the anchors, are mostly a thing of the past. Over-shooting a curve is par for the course during your first few hours, but you will eventually find a rhythm.
Slow earlier than initially anticipated, don’t forget the rear brakes during big stops and watch out for the front pushing wide. The bikes are also far less likely to snake around or be unsettled by bumps. Playing last year’s iteration back-to-back with this highlights a stark contrast.
The net result is more controlled, yet still keeps a learning curve. On the whole, once you’ve adjusted, an improvement – however the interminable front push upon corner entry can feel a little numb.
The ride height device first popularised initially to speed up standing start launches, but now used down every straight, also makes an appearance and can be manually controlled. Tap the appropriate button at the right time, and the rear hunkers down, helping prevent wheelies.
This is really what MotoGP 22 is about. Refining the on-track physics and trying to balance simulation with accessibility. You can tell that has been the primary goal too, as the main career mode is largely unchanged.
Sure, the menus have been given a lick of paint, but there are no major structural renovations. Your favourite riders now have life-like faces in pre and post-race cut scenes – although the animations remain the same – and the detailed structure of personnel, reputation, upgrade and cash management remains.
So too does the ability to also create junior teams. I’d prefer it if somehow the team members or media could be represented as 3D models and not just flat headshots, but this is still an engaging time sink. Just one that hasn’t changed much. If it isn’t broken…
Multiplayer remains very similar too, that is to say, you can create public or private online lobbies and sadly there’s no ranking system or progression incentive. There will, no doubt, be esports support at a future date and local split-screen multiplayer makes a welcome appearance.
The NINE narrative mode is a fun addition, the braking much improved and the new locations very welcome. The game continues to deliver class-leading visual prowess, flames and pops have been added to the exhausts on the overrun and there are more recognisable riders included than Marc Márquez has trophies.
But, there is also this deep-rooted feeling that some of the fundamentals need tweaking to keep the authenticity at the required level.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with MotoGP 22. This remains one of the finest games based upon a motorsport series there is, hopefully, this is a solid platform to build upon in more significant ways for 2023.
|22nd April 2022
|PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, Android, Amazon and iOS
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