Milestone has created an interesting place for themselves in the racing market as purveyors of completely okay games. They lack the presentation and flair of Codemaster’s franchises or Microsoft’s Forza titles, and always seem to be on the precipice of greatness without ever quite reaching it. Arguably their biggest franchise, MotoGP games launch every year and find a solid audience, but like most annual releases each new game struggles to justify its existence. But as someone who tends to jump back in every few years the changes tend to be more pronounced. So let’s check out MotoGP 22 and see what’s new, shall we?
The career mode is the singleplayer engine idling away in the chassis of MotoGP 22, offering exactly what you would expect of it. As a noob, you can choose to sign up to any of the three classes of machine, but for the best experience, you should ramp the difficulty up and start on the nimble Moto3 machines where you’ll have to scrap for points amidst huge fields of lanky teenagers. Moto3 is kind of like witnessing the birth of the universe; it’s messy and there’s shit bouncing around everywhere, and even once it calms down a little there’s still the sense that this was all a terrible idea. With the difficulty turned up on the AI you can get the proper rider’s journey of signing on with a low-end team and working hard to make something of what you have. The research and development you choose to do can make all the difference between nothing and a couple of points. Of course, you could opt to keep the difficulty low and win every race, but that’s just not as satisfying, especially when you manage to get the attention of a Moto2 team and move up to the bigger bikes. These machines are a little heavier and quite a bit faster, and there’s less of a feeling of being trapped inside a giant pinball machine. And then finally it’s up to the premier class, the MotoGP bikes with their absurd top-speed and the cream-of-the-crop riders. Working from the very bottom to the very top is rewarding, and it feels like you’ve made your own little narrative as you went. A dramatic crash here, a daring overtake or 12 there, a long-lap penalty that cost you the race, a humiliating limp to the finish in last place on a wet track.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice was missing from the career mode was riders signing with different teams. In recent iterations the F1 series featured drivers signing with other teams between seasons, giving some much needed extra variety to the game. But in MotoGP 22 the riders forever remain attached to their squad, frozen in time until the universe itself fizzles out. In fairness to Milestone, though, this is likely all to do with licensing. If Honda doesn’t want Marc Marquez clambering onto a Ducati for the 2024 season then Milestone probably won’t be able to persuade them otherwise, even if it is just in a game.
That also means you’ll never see any riders moving up from the smaller categories of bikes. Poor John McPhee will never get to sit on a Moto2 machine, which is becoming worryingly more likely in real life, too.
The managerial elements of the career mode are still a lot of fun and help mix things up a little. You get to hire a personal manager who handles finding contracts with new teams, hiring and firing engineers and determining where to spend research and development time. Better yet, once you hit Moto2 there’s an option to establish a junior team where you have complete control over who gets hired to ride the bikes. Again, it’s not hugely in-depth or anything but it adds an extra layer to the gameplay, just like completing R&D objectives during race weekends or performing winter testing.
The most interesting new addition to MotoGP this year is the badly named 9 Season 2009 mode, a bigger mouthful than your mum took last night. Sorry. I couldn’t resist the joke. This is kind of like an attempt at a story mode, tracking the legendary 2009 season where the G.O.A.T Valentino Rossi battled Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo for his ninth title win. It was a spectacular period in time featuring some of the greatest riders in the history of the sport vying for the championship, and with Rossi retiring at the end of 2021 it’s a fitting time to feature The Doctor. This awesome period in MotoGP history, which I’m proud to say I watched every step of the way with my Dad, is presented to us as a documentary, directed and narrated by British filmmaker Mark Neale. The man knows his stuff, having previously done Faster and The Doctor, the Tornado and the Kentucky Kid, and the 2009 season is fleshed out through archive footage of the races, snippets of past interviews with the riders and Neale’s own narration. Even though I’m already familiar with what occurred in 2009, I still found the whole thing engrossing, reliving the tense inter-team rivalry of Rossi and Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa’s numerous injuries and all the other drama.
The on-track segments of 9 Season 2009 place you in control of these racing legends during the ’09 season, with one or two scenarios per race. You might take control of Valentino Rossi duking it out with Jorge Lorenzo over a single lap, or Casey Stoner closing a substantial gap to take the win. It’s very basic stuff in terms of what you’re doing, and sadly the AI isn’t really capable of replicating something like Rossi’s and Lorenzo’s magnificent duels, so your big fight is probably just going to be a single overtake before blasting off into the distance. But despite its clear design limitations, which are obviously partially due to the limitations of the sport itself, I think the documentary presentation is more than enough to keep 9 Season mode feeling fun and fresh. There’s plenty of mileage to be gotten from this mode in future games, so I expect Milestone will bring it back for next year’s game.
Unfortunately, 9 Season did bring to light something I probably wouldn’t have noted otherwise. In Mugello the narration and footage present the riders having to battle a soaked track that’s slowly drying, making every lap different from the last as grip increases. Pedrosa is on a charge, making the most of the changing weather conditions. It should be a fun setup for the scenario. But as soon as it swaps over to the gameplay the track is bone dry. Why? Because MotoGP 22 doesn’t feature changeable weather conditions. It’s either wet, or it isn’t, and it can’t go from one to the other. You’ll never start a race in the dry and finish in the pouring rain, nor will you ever have to worry about judging the right moment to come in for tyres as the track dries. It’s a disappointing omission, especially since Milestone’s other motorbike franchise, RIDE, does have weather conditions that can change mid-race. Mid-race shifts in weather have brought so much to other racing games like the F1 series, after all.
As for the rest of the historic content, it’s all there so you can hop 500cc machines or bomb around as Loris Capirossi. It’s all accessible through the quick play mode, containing all the options you would expect. In total, you get 21 modern tracks to ride around, plus 6 historic circuits like Laguna Seca and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There’s also a bunch of extra liveries to be unlocked through the 9 Season 2009 mode.
Let’s get to the handling of the bikes, shall we? Braking remains the toughest thing to master for the average player who maybe hasn’t tackled the franchise before or who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about how motorcycles handle. And this year combined braking has been removed entirely, so you have no choice but to control the front and rear brakes independently. While the various sections of the tutorial are reasonable, there are still no good explanations of how to use the front brake correctly or when and where to employ trail braking and so on and so on. A bunch of assist options do let you tweak the braking, though, like the game automatically modulating your inputs. Having these choices is great because you can work your way toward full control, but they come at the cost of handling. You’re going to be slower using them, which is fair, and there are also going to be times when it feels impossible to tip the bike into a corner.
Overall, the braking feels much more stable and predictable versus the last time I checked in with the franchise, which was MotoGP 20. It’s arguably a little bit too safe now because you can grab a chunky handful of front brakes without winding up looking at the tarmac and then the world upside down. But if you do get stupid with the brakes it’s still possible to lock up, get into a rear-wheel slide or just fold the front end like a shitty poker hand. The lack of any vibration in the controller during braking is disappointing, though. The Xbox controller will rumble mid-corner to indicate the bike losing grip, but there’s nothing when you hit the front brake and ram those front forks into the ground. That makes the PS5 the best way to play because over on that console Milestone gets to make use of those fancy triggers.
In the corners themselves there is a very slight layer of understeer to deal with, and coming out the acceleration feels great – you have to gradually build up or risk spinning the rear wheel, eating up your rubber in the process or putting you into a vicious high-side.
I also feel like spending time in the garage tweaking the bike’s settings can make a much more pronounced difference in terms of braking and handling. At first, I was finding it hard to get stopped coming into the tighter bends, often overshooting the apex and struggling to get the bike to turn in. A few changes here and there, though, helped a heap and my lap times reflected that. Much smarter minds than my own will doubtless spend countless hours tweaking the settings on every track to get peak performance.
Tyre modelling has also seen some improvements. Throughout a race, you can really feel the grip levels changing as the rubber slowly degrades. What I really like about this is that you can get a sense of the different wear rates on each side of the tyre, something which I couldn’t do in the past games. On a standard clockwise track, the right side gets used up quicker, while the left side can grow a little colder.
And there are also the new ride height devices to contend with in the MotoGP class. In the real sport, these are used to hunker the rear end of the bike down under acceleration, providing a lot of extra grip so that the tyre can translate all that engine power into more speed. In terms of the game, this boils down to having a button to hit whenever you have a bit of space. It does affect the handling, too, because with the rear end lower than normal when you stomp on the brakes there’s more force being thrown forwards into the suspension and tyre.
One of the most important details is how the bikes feel compared to each other, and I’m pleased to report that Milestone has largely nailed it. The Ducati is a speedy boi on the straights but isn’t the best in the corners, while the Suzuki can carry a lot of corner speed.
One thing I didn’t like, though, is how hitting the curbs still feels less reliable than 80-year-olds knees. In the real sport, riders attack the curbs to gain those precious tenths of a second, but in the game riding a curb feels like a gamble. Too often they’ll buck the bike into the stratosphere or send you into a tank-slapper the likes of which Marc Marquez would consider severe. The risk just isn’t worth the tiny rewards. Weird physics moments can occur elsewhere too, like on a bumpy entry to the corner where your bike appears to have a sudden existential crisis that leads to it briefly becoming a rodeo bull.
So yeah, not perfect. But the good news is that when you get it all right, MotoGP is still thrilling. Bikes are inherently difficult to master, so when you do nail the braking, drop the bike in, clip that apex and maintain corner speed it’s obscenely satisfying, far more so than most other racing games. Riding around the outside of Casey Stoner? *chefs kiss* And I still find it awesome how different the three classes feel, from the corner-speed orientated Moto3 bikes to the point-and-squirt MotoGP beasts.
And yet…it’s still lacking something. That feeling of speed and intensity and of being on the edge, feelings that the best racing games evoke, aren’t quite there. It’s a fine racing sim, but one that doesn’t make me grin or make my heart skip a beat when I barely scrape through a tricky overtake.
Be warned that learning all this stuff can be tricky because the assist which displays the ideal racing line and braking points is still wildly inconsistent. It’s an invaluable tool for learning tracks and helping out newer players, yet it still has a horrible habit of making you brake too late or too early. You either fly off into the gravel trap or creep around the corner like you’re terrified of commitment. How this continues to be an issue is beyond me.
Bikes are tricky machines to master so the meaty tutorials which guide you through things like brake disc size and the ideal racing line are great. There’s also the new MotoGP academy that sticks you on each track and awards medals for beating sector times, encouraging you to learn the tracks and not just be a lazy arse like me who runs the trajectory line assist all the time because I have the memory of a…of a….really forgetful thing?
I could just be imagining things or the game just doesn’t like me very much, but the AI seems more aggressive this year, performing several ruthless block passes that shoved me out wide. They are at their best when you leave them alone, battling it out amongst themselves, making mistakes and occasionally launching themselves at the scenery. Once you join the fight things are a bit more mixed. Sometimes the AI can deliver some tight, tricky battles with positions being traded back and forth, and other times it seems to be completely unaware of your existence and just ploughs into you like I plough into mozzarella dippers at TGI Friday.
But the AI is also wildly inconsistent in terms of its speed across the various circuits and even across entire race weekends. Qualifying can be tough, and yet during the race, the AI’s pace is much, much slower. As they hustle and bustle with each other it’s easy to go from dead last to leading in just a few corners. Sure, that can happen sometimes in real life, but it should not be a consistently reliable trick. There are also certain circuits and corners where the AI is just slow. Like, really slow.
Getting to the more technical details, MotoGP 22 does look pretty good. Most of the detail is understandably focused on the bikes which gleam and glitter. It’s really cool to be able to zoom in and admire the little details, and the photo mode is brilliant for capturing these glorious machines in all of their beauty. But when you widen your field of vision a bit the actual tracks are just okay. A bit flat, a bit lifeless. Considering the amount of focus belting a MotoGP bike around bends requires, though, that isn’t a huge issue. And I do appreciate the improved facial animations, even if though still do resemble Mark Zuckerberg-esque robots.
Performance was a bit choppy during my testing on an Xbox Series S, and that mostly relates to specific sections of specific tracks. I remember this being an issue in past games as well. It doesn’t seem to relate to the number of bikes around, either, as one might expect. It’ll even occur when you’re riding on your own, and is frustrating, especially in a game where missing a braking point by a few feet equates to your face leaving an imprint in the nearest wall.
Ultimately MotoGP 22 suffers from the exact same problems as other yearly sports titles – a lack of any substantial changes. The tweaks to the handling model and the new 9 Season are all things that could have been added to MotoGP 21, so there’s the sense that you’re paying full price for glorified DLC and updates. It’s better, of course, for people like me who jump in every few years as we get to see larger changes.
Once again Milestone has delivered a rock-solid game that can’t quite reach the podium. They just keep finishing in the top 5 or 6, picking up decent points but never getting that win. So is it worth buying? Since I didn’t play last year’s game I can’t compare it to that, but I did play MotoGP 20 extensively and have to say the answer is…probably not. Or, at least, not at full price. The handling is better and 9 Season 2009 mode is a fun new addition, but that’s really it for big changes unless the idea of split-screen is a major selling point for you.