Its that time of they year again. The MotoGP season is in full swing, and with it comes a new installment of Milestone S.R.L’s annual franchise. Just mentioning that name should give you a very good idea of what to expect from the latest title. This is probably the studio with the most consistent and predictable output. I’ve reviewed quite a number of Milestone titles, and while all have been quite good, there is really not a lot distinguishing them. Granted, there are some improvements here or there, but the games are fundamentally the same. And this is definitely not a bad thing. In fact, this has given Milestone plenty of opportunity a hone their skills. Especially when it comes to the realistic motorcycle simulator-genre.
The latest installment in this aforementioned genre is, or course, MotoGP 19. Even though I quite enjoyed last year’s installment, MotoGP 18 wasn’t that well received among critics. One of the biggest issues was the jump to the Unreal engine. It was clear that the developers didn’t quite get the hang of the new engine, and the game was plagued with framerate drops; textures that are slow to load, or don’t load at all; and mediocre graphic fidelity on and off track. The loading times were also horrendous. The Unreal Engine was again used for MotoGP 19, but thanks to the extra time spent with it, none of these issues persist. Loading times have been cut significantly, and the game performs better all-round. Visually the lighting has improved slightly, and the different weather effects are more noticeable on track. That said, the rain effects are still not great and need improvement. HDR support is included, which significantly improves the glare effect when racing toward the sun.
One aspect wherein these games usually excel is in the sound division, and this is no exception here. In fact, Milestone even managed to make the bikes sound even better in 2019. Bikes now have an even richer tone and each sound distinct. And this is where Milestone really shines: making the bikes look, feel, sound and handle as authentic as their real-life counterparts. Each bike’s subtle nuances are not only audible, but reflected in their handling. Even the riders, especially those based on real-life people, are rendered in excruciatingly great detail. It’s amazing.
Another big improvement is made in the way MotoGP 19 approaches its career mode. There is no filler fluff like credits, scores, money or experience points to unlock new tiers. Instead, you are rather met with a simple choice between being following a pro or standard career path. But, don’t be fooled by the latter. Even with the driving aids enabled, the game is quite challenging. The former is crushingly difficult and gives you the real-deal MotoGP experience. Both options give you the choice to start with the Red Bull Rookies Cup, right up to the top tier MotoGP. Much like in previous titles there is no story or flashy cinematics. Your only goal is to win races.
Other modes include time attack, quick race, championship and online. There is unfortunately no split-screen, which is disappointing. Hopefully this is something Milestone might consider adding in future installments of the franchise. Milestone also recently tried their hand in the eSport scene, and MotoGP 19 was designed with this in mind. If I’m honest, I didn’t follow the success of their previous attempts, but the fact that a third season is coming soon is positive. The game also features historical races which feature scenarios that payed out in real life. The player then has to match or beat the real-life result. There are different criteria for obtaining bronze, silver and gold and in some cases driver assists can be turned on to make these challenges more approachable. Considering that these races present a formidable challenge, this was most welcome. Another nice addition is the purely electric MotoE class. Unfortunately, this is not part of the main career path which feels like a missed opportunity.
Starting your career, you have quite a number of customization options, including your driver. You start off by selecting from a bunch of pre-rendered faces to use as a template for further define features such as skin and eye colour. You also need to give your rider a name and number to carry throughout their career. You can also modify your rider’s helmet, number and sticker decals. As can be expected, you have your usual teams and bike manufacturers. You again have full control over your bike’s settings, and the sheer amount of customization is staggering. This can easily overwhelm casual players, but fortunately MotoGP 19 has a solution. Between races you can talk to your engineers to answer questions regarding your bike’s performance. Depending on your answers, your bike’s settings and chassis will be adjusted to improve handling and performance. This provides a natural way to improve your bike’s performance, which I quite liked. The tire physics are painfully realistic and also need constant management between races. Depending on your preferred levels of realism, you can either find that this adds a nice level of management to your race, or it will drive you nuts.
All of the above is somewhat standard affair for a racing sim. Where Milestone tried to differentiate themselves from the (almost non-existent) competition, is in the opponent AI. Boasting all the buzzwords like “natural AI” and “machine learning”, your opponents in MotoGP 19 is supposed to act, think and react as individual players. Without going into the details, instead of learning their craft through real-world riders and applying it in-game, the opponents you face in-game learned from scratch. Theoretically, they should thus be able to exploit your mistakes and react accordingly. Note: “theoretically”. While on paper this is an excellent idea, there are still many, many instances in-game where the opponents seem to follow a predetermined path. That said, they do seem to be more aggressive, which might be an indication that the AI is improving. I’m optimistic to see what future iterations of Milestone’s natural AI brings to the table.
With each iteration, Milestone seem to come closer to perfecting the racing simulator. Unfortunately, the switch to the Unreal engine set them back significantly with MotoGP 18. Fortunately, MotoGP 19 is again a step in the right direction. With the possibilities of the Unreal engine, the perfected bike mechanics and natural AI, I am optimistic about the franchise’s future. That said, the game finds itself in a difficult position. It is very much a racing simulator and caters for a specific demographic. Unfortunately, the incremental annual updates are not enough to warrant a yearly purchase, except from the truly hardcore fans.