When you’re stuck to a yearly release schedule, it can be very difficult to innovate year after year. It’s generally accepted that 12 months isn’t enough time to create a new video game from scratch, so what tends to happen is an iterative approach that builds over time.
This is something that, of late, the MotoGP video games have wrestled with. Last year, there was an intriguing ‘NINE’ historic documentary mode, but perhaps a lack of updates in key areas – namely the career and online multiplayer.
So, for MotoGP 23, the latest title does away with distractions and focuses on what matters more. It’s all the better for it.
New for this season are this year’s riders and liveries, of course. But this time around, the motorcycle details are closer to actuality from launch, as opposed to a few weeks down the line via an update.
There are also two new tracks, in the form of India’s Buddh International Circuit and Kazakhstan’s Sokol International Racetrack. Sadly, for the latter, the race has been cancelled, but it remains in the game. Reminiscent of Finland’s Kymi Ring, which was in MotoGP 21 and 22, only for the event to collapse before the riders took to the track.
Perhaps even more importantly, for the first time, dynamic weather with the flag-to-flag rule is present. If a race starts in dry conditions, then it beings to rain, you must visit the pitlane to swap bikes for one fitted with rain tyres. A shame that the pitlane process is automated, however. For the included Moto2 and Moto3 categories, a race stoppage is enacted.
The system works well, randomly spicing up career events, especially if you have a longer race distance set. Also accurately representing the series, you can now take part in sprint races on every weekend – or alternatively, switch them off. It’s up to you.
Stoppie-ing the fun
While these are pleasant additions, some things remain constant. Chiefly, the riding experience, which is only lightly modified.
There are artificial intelligence-powered riding assists, only allowing you to pin the throttle when the time is right. The system is unique in racing games, and while it feels a bit odd at first, we can say that this is a worthy innovation that hopefully only gets better from here.
But, the aggressive tendency to stoppie under braking remains. Mercifully, you can tune this out through set-up work and the guided option remains, but if you didn’t know that, it can be frustrating. In Moto3, it’s also possible to accidentally wheelie out of corners a bit too easily for such a low-powered, momentum-based, formula.
For this year, there’s a tendency for the bike to feel rigid at the corner exit upon applying power. There seems to be less compliance as if the stature of the chassis becomes frozen as soon as you hit the throttle. Get on the power a little too early, and the rear tyre isn’t breaking away, but rather the front pushes wide as the frame rises.
However, once you’ve attuned and added some of the aforementioned set-up work, we believe the riding experience has advanced over the previous instalment.
Erratic at best
In combination with the learning curve, your AI rivals can sometimes look like they are bobbing up and down like a rubber duck at sea, especially during the first lap.
They can also be erratic, sometimes weaving on a straight during a qualifying session or continuing to push you from behind. Near the beginning of a race, you can have a gaggle of riders gang up against you, pushing you off track.
If you find the right level of assists, competitor skill level and learn the tracks, with time, there’s still fun to be had. Just be patient acclimatising. We also hope the AI behaviour is refined via updates.
That career mode, though
Despite reservations about some on-track behaviours, the new modes pull the game around. For the first time in several releases, and including the WorldSBK game, there’s a refreshed career mode. If you purchase the MotoGP titles to enjoy single-player play-through, then you’re in for a treat.
Systems are similar under the skin, and there’s no big ticket addition such as a rider market. But, the user interface has been given a lick of paint, the social media-aping ‘wall’ is mostly superficial but does at least potentially impact contract negotiations, and we found the rivals system to be compelling.
Simply, you start out as a Moto3 rider, and if you beat set goals over a handful of races, you may get offers to join higher categories. Once there, you are the second driver in the team, but if you outscore your team-mate you have the chance at becoming the leader. This culminates in a ‘turning point’ where beating them one final time secures the status.
The same applies to rider contracts. Want to sign for a new squad? Then its current second rider becomes a rival, and you must beat them during the season. Neat.
You’re also constantly earning XP and rewards, levelling up as you go. Becoming the lead driver also unlocks the ability to influence upgrades come mid-season and pre-season testing.
While hiring riders for your own team is not possible, at least this time, teams’ performance evolves over time up and down the grid. However, if the prior option of managing team members and resource points has been removed, and there isn’t a bike upgrade skill tree, instead just packs of performance-enhancing parts earnt through races applied during test sessions.
Ranked online multiplayer, at last
It’s not the only mode to receive a significant makeover either, as something that we’ve been requesting for a number of years has finally arrived.
Alongside cross-platform multiplayer, which debuted in MotoGP 22 post-launch, ranked online progress debuts.
A new game mode, LiveGP works like daily races you may be familiar with, featured in popular driving games such as Gran Turismo 7. A playlist of online races displays what’s coming up next, and at set times you can participate. Do well, and you rise through up to 13 levels. Each time you enter an event, you are placed against those within similar ranks.
A first for a motorcycle game, it’s a very welcome addition, as often racing in standard lobbies lacked incentives.
The best yet
We’re still a little uncertain if the MotoGP games will deliver the ultimate riding experience when considering purely physics. But then you pull off a clean, fast, lap at Mugello and everything’s okay again.
Despite this reservation, there’s a refreshing depth to MotoGP 23 thanks to the changeable conditions, new content, revised career and, potentially, long-term online system. Find your personalised set-up, and this is a worthy upgrade for existing MotoGP fans with notable progression. Just, don’t expect to be the next Francesco Bagnaia immediately.