In many ways, the upcoming official Motorcycle Grand Prix video game, MotoGP 23, is like the Marvel series of superhero movies.
There’s a suite of well-known names, glossy presentation and impressive graphics. But, historically, they can be hit and miss, plus are we all growing a little tired by now? Excluding last year’s excellent NINE Season 2009 documentary mode, MotoGP 22 treaded water.
But now, this year’s iteration will be launching in June, nearly 14 months after the last release, providing more development time between versions.
It also adds much-requested features, so let’s find out if it could be the next Thor: Ragnarok or the damp squib that is Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania…
The AI-controlled future…
Before we jump to some of the major attractions, we must first look at how the game rides on track, and before we do that, we must stress that everything you see here is a work in progress build several months out and with computer-controlled rider performance that isn’t representative of the final game.
Also, the bike designs and liveries will be updated ahead of launch, hopefully, to include the deluge of aerodynamic devices that has engulfed the series like a swarm of locusts this season. Just bear that in mind.
Right, now that’s out of the way, we’re then going to talk about the rider assists.
This usually is a mere footnote for a new game and hardly the most exciting element – however MotoGP 23 introduces something unique from the Italian Milestone development team: AI-powered rider aids.
The MotoGP games have seen your fellow competitors powered by the so-called ‘Neural AI’ system for a few years now, with some suspect results, however, it must be said.
That technology has now also been applied to helping inexperienced players, and of note, this sounds like it will also feature in the upcoming Ride 5 motorcycle game later this year too.
This is tricky to describe, at first it feels otherworldly – an out-of-body experience.
It doesn’t work like an auto braking or steering system, as you’re still choosing when to stop and turn. But if it detects you’ve missed the turn-in point, it will nudge you in the right direction. If you get it right, or nearly, it won’t intervene.
In some ways, this is like a modern road car that has lane-keeping assist, and much like those systems, skilled drivers will turn it off immediately.
For example, if you apply the throttle too early on a corner’s exit, the AI will momentarily lift off the power, and let unleash the bike when the moment is right.
As you get used to the new game, you find it fights against you, but the strength of intervention for the three parameters – braking, throttle and steering – can be tweaked with or switched off individually too.
While we’re not even close to being up to the skill level of motorcycle YouTuber ROBO46, we switched these off after a few minutes. Yet, with criticism that MotoGP 22 was too challenging for beginners, at least Milestone hasn’t watered down the physics and instead increased the optional helping hand.
Helping newcomers along is very welcome, but what’s the feedback like if you’re already well-versed in MotoGP games?
Mostly similar to MotoGP 21 and 22, without 21’s or SBK 22’s weird kerb performance is the answer. For those asking, no, there’s no joint brake assist as it stands.
The motorcycles are more unruly under braking. You’ll once again need to balance both front and rear brakes, and probably shift down manually to get stop in time – plus ça change.
However, there’s greater lateral movement, making it feel like you’re taming a wild animal as opposed to a petrol-drinking machine. Managing the wobble is key.
There are also enhanced foot animations, with the rider’s ankles visibly changing gears and the overrun flames look more, well, fiery.
No, the riding experience doesn’t reinvent the swingarm, but there’s a more fluid corner entry phase – presumably thanks to a change in how the rider’s weight shifts – and what feels like a sharper throttle response.
Through quicker corners, like the uphill left at Turn 4 or 6 around the Algarve International Circuit (aka Portimão), the bike feels rigid currently, much more reluctant to change direction, leading us to miss the apex often.
Coming in time for the release will be both new additions to this season’s real-world season: Sokol International Racetrack in Kazakhstan and India’s Buddh International Circuit, although neither was ready for this particular hands-on test.
There will also be six classic tracks bundled in too, with venues to be confirmed.
Just like Formula 1, MotoGP has implemented sprint events, and at every round no less.
Unlike Formula 1, however, there isn’t a year’s wait for it to be in the official video game as MotoGP 23 launches with the format option from the beginning.
Times are combined from Friday’s two practice sessions, determining who can go straight into the second segment of qualifying the next day. The slower riders from practice take part in Q1, before the top two from there advance into Q2 alongside the quickest from practice.
Once the grid is set, there’s a 50 per cent distance sprint race with up to 12 championship points up for grabs. Then, on Sunday is the main race, with the starting positions the same as the sprint, still determined by qualifying.
In the game, you can of course choose to have this switched on or off, and any combination. So, if you would like to skip practice but still qualify, or do the just sprint and the main race, you can. Or, you can do qualifying and the main race – no bother.
If you increase or decrease the event’s length, they will also change to match.
The sprints are carried out with aplomb, all you need to know at this point is that they are included, customisable and functional already. Job done.
Flag-to-flag in practice
For the purists out there, the omission to date of flag-to-flag races has been a major bugbear about the MotoGP games.
For those not in the loop, should a race start dry and change to rain, a white flag is waved and MotoGP riders dive into the pitlane but do not change tyres. Instead, they hop off their bike, and onto a spare one that has the rain tyres already affixed.
Wet weather has long been a feature in Milestone’s MotoGP games, but the pitlane was off-limits during a race and dynamic weather was not featured – despite that appearing within the developer’s prior Ride 4 title during endurance races.
Fret not, it’s here in MotoGP 23, so how does it work in game?
Well, provided you select a race that’s over six laps in length and then select the variable weather conditions, it’s active. If the game decides that a race in your career, for example, should start to rain, or start wet and dry up, then the flag-to-flag rules kick in.
Once the white flag has been flown, the precipitation is noticeable, and if you’re on slicks, you will struggle to navigate the course. Upon visiting the pitlane, the whole process is automated, as you watch your rider transition from one motorbike to another.
It works, and perhaps the simulation fans would baulk at this suggestion, but what if there was some form of quick-time-button-press action to switch between bikes? After all, in the real world, you can lose or gain time in this area.
On the flip side, if it’s near the end of the race, you can choose to brave it on slicks like Brad Binder in Austria 2021, and in a neat touch, some of your AI-powered rivals will try to stick it out too.
At this early stage, we did notice some strangeness, notably a pack of riders slowing down in a regimented line before the pit entrance as if they were on military parade – but again, the AI is very much still a work in progress.
Without the ability to test the career at this stage, we aren’t able to pass comment on how often it will intervene – but you can also manually force it to happen (start dry and start raining or vice versa), something that could come in handy online.
Speaking of which, we rather obviously weren’t able to test the game online yet, but flag-to-flag races are said to work there too. Will most players use it? We’re not sure, but right now, we’re pleased it’s finally here and hope it appeases MotoGP zealots.
Other additions and what’s not changed
While these new features are welcome – and just look at how aesthetically pleasing the minimalist new menu designs are – we await the final AI and being able to test the revised career mode later in the year before passing judgement.
While there are riding-experience tweaks, old hang-ups remain too – the in-helmet camera’s perspective will still cause violent reactions from ardent naysayers, for example. Cross-platform online returns between PlayStation and Xbox, but not PC, a shame.
On the track, this isn’t a revolution, but another yearly evolution. But, having a marginally bigger development window has allowed the addition of flag-to-flag rules, sprint events and the two new tracks from launch.
No mean feat, when you factor in ranked online races for the first time and the top-class set to feature up-to-date bike designs and liveries from day one, another improvement over previous years. Moto2, Moto3 and MotoE support classes will once again be part of the roster.
MotoGP 23 launches on 8th June for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. If you have any questions, comment below.