Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Reviewed On: PC
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
If Milestone were a MotoGP rider then they’d be the one that comes into the sport brimming with untapped potential before eventually sinking into the middle of the pack, rarely seen again except for an occasional flash of brilliance. Basically, they’d be Bradley Smith. They’ve been putting out thoroughly middle-of-the-road racing games for years, and have thus far developed three official MotoGP games, with the last one I reviewed being MotoGP ’14. Still, last year’s Ride 2 was enjoyable albeit flawed, so I went into this new digital iteration of my favourite sport with high hopes.
Things kick off with a very limited rider customization menu where you can alter your helmet, boots and gloves but nothing else. There are also some preset portraits that I believe are Milestone employees. With that done you get chucked into a few races in the Red Bull championship, before graduating to the Moto3 class where the career mode beings proper.
The Moto3 bikes are where you’ll start your career, providing the best place for newcomers to learn the ins and outs of handling a bike as they prove to be very forgiving. You can stamp on the front and back brakes, hit the curbs and wring the throttle with little worry about throwing yourself at the scenery. Step up to the Moto2 machines and things become more interesting from a handling perspective as throttle control is very important, the more powerful engines forcing the back wheel to spin up coming out of the corners. The full-fledged MotoGP class offers the most powerful bikes and easily the most enjoyable to drive, demanding a lot more in throttle management and braking. If Moto3 felt like being glued to the road then MotoGP bikes are like trying to walk on a slightly icy road; there’s grip, but damn do you have to be careful. It’s here, for me, that the game is at its best as you carefully search for the limits of the bike and then proceed to drive as close to them as possible, occasionally rolling a tire over that line. You can still grab a fistful of front brake deep into a corner and hold it for a while before the controller will finally vibrate to tell you a crash is coming, but compared to the Moto3 bikes these big machines are beasts.
With that said if you’re looking for a true simulation, this doesn’t even come close. Even with the assists all turned off it’s a reasonably forgiving game, especially when you take into account that you can ram bikes into the wall at high speed and instantly be transported back onto the track, only losing a few seconds and taking absolutely no permanent damage. You can also go wide onto the artificial grass at really intense lean angles without immediately crashing, and in many cases I hit gravel travelling nearly sideways at speed without a problem. Even riding on a wet track doesn’t feel as tricky as it probably should.
Old problems remain, too. While the handling does feel enjoyable it’s undermined by Milestone’s inability to form a true sense of connection between track and bike. The machines you ride don’t have a feeling of weight, they don’t feel as though they’re even touching the track and when you bump into other riders it’s like banging into an invisible bubble that cushions the impact. When you toss in a lack of feedback through the controller it makes it feel as though the bike is floating along the track.
Another issue that Milestone have failed to rectify over the years is how leaning seems to be split into a series of preset angles rather than the single, smooth motion you expect. This is fine when tackling chicanes and stuff, but makes small alterations mid-way through a corner feel imprecise and clumsy.
In fairness, though, bikes are much, much harder to replicate in digital form than cars because they rely so much on feeling. With just two small patches of tire keeping you on the road you rely on feeling every movement of both the bike and your own body, and a game will never be able to deliver enough physical feedback to convey the feeling correctly. Still, I feel that much vibration through the controller could really help, as right now you only get some feedback when touching curbs or when the bike is about to fold due to heavy breaking.
As for the A.I. they’re about as dumb as planks strapped to the bikes, seemingly obsessed with the racing line while often blankly ignoring the existence of the player. This leads to them happily barging into you, and can make overtakes and close battles feel more like a clown parade. Nor will you see any distinctive styles among them, rendering the likes of Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi exactly the same as every other rider. The A.I. fails during the qualifying sessions as well, blatantly driving on the racing line regardless of whether they’re performing a quick lap or not and thus getting in your way, something that would result in a penalty in the real-life sport as riders are supposed to stay well away from the racing line when not running at full speed.
Speaking of penalties that is a confusing topic, too. Cutting some corners will result in surprisingly harsh time penalties, but crashing into the opposition never once got me into trouble, the race stewards seemingly being quite happy for the event to turn into a destruction derby. Likewise, riders careening into me never once resulted in them suffering a penalty, either.
In other areas Milestone still hasn’t managed to clear up a bunch of their issues, like how during qualifying the A.I. are bafflingly slow even on the hardest difficulties, often delivering times 2-5 seconds slower than your own before magically getting up to speed during the race. I hate to tell you Milestone, but it’s the other way round; they should be setting faster times in qualifying than they do in the race due to having fresh tyres and light fuel loads.
More interesting than the standard career mode, at least for me, was the Managerial Mode where you get to create and run your own team, working up from Moto3 to MotoGP while hiring riders, staff and upgrading bikes. When you first get going in a season not only will you need a bike but you’ll also need to pick out a sponsor who’ll pay out at the end of each race, offering up a set amount of cash simply for competing and a bonus for meeting their goals. While you’ll be taking part in the races themselves you can hire a team-mate. examining their stats and traits to decide whether you want to pick someone who has a lot of future potential or someone who might do quite well right now but doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement. Some of them have traits like being charismatic, too, increasing reputation gains or simply being a fast learner who can adapt to different classes. These A.I. racers will gain experience as time goes on. Throughout the season you can spend money on developing engine, brake, suspension and faring upgrades for your bikes, or to hire specialists who’ll do things like grant bonuses to cornering experience, braking experience or even decrease research time. These extra crew members come in several different levels, but importantly they also only stick around for eight weeks, so you need to rehire them if you want to keep getting the benefit.
It’s not a particularly deep mode, but deciding what you want to spend your limited cash on and which riders to bring into the fold can be a surprisingly enjoyable way to break up the races. Do you want to invest in upgrading the Moto3 bikes, or your Moto2 team? Or will you save the cash to purchase a MotoGP bike so that you can enter that class as well? However, much like the similiar team building mode in DiRT 4 (read the review here) you never get to see your team growing physically, instead you’ll only ever see a bunch of static menus. It makes you feel disconnected.
But that pesky A.I. can leave you feeling frustrated yet again because while you’re out winning races, even on a stock bike that shouldn’t be able to manage it, your teammate is still hanging around at the very back of the pack. Ramping the A.I. up to the hardest setting helps a bit as you will no longer be romping away at the front like a hopped-up bunny on a bike, but even then you might grow frustrated at how your riders constantly fail to meet sponsor goals while you don’t.
There’s a fair few things missing from the overal experience, too. Dynamic weather hasn’t been included so there’s no thrilling moment when the heaven’s open and the tarmac becomes soaked, sending everybody careening off the track while they try to tiptoe back to the pits to leap on their second bike outfitted with wet tyres.
There’s no sign of technical failures, either, so if you were hoping for an authentic experience where your entire race could come to an end due to an engine failure then tough luck. Although with that said mechanical failures are rare enough in the real sport that their lack of inclusion in the game isn’t a huge deal, but still die-hard fans will likely be a little annoyed to see this missing.
But hey, at least classic bikes are included! You can ride a bunch of classics in the guise of famous riders throughout the years, and while the handling model barely feels any different from bike to bike it’s still great for fans like myself to briefly step into the digital boots of legendary riders. It’s even cooler as the grid gets filled up by other riders and bikes from the era, though it has to be said that while I’m a fan of the sport I can’t comment on whether the lineups are 100% accurate for the times.
Once you’ve spent some time mucking about in career mode or managing your own team heading online will provide stiffer competition provided you can locate people willing to race fairly rather than abuse the lack of penalties by slamming into you. Generally speaking, connection problems were rare, and thus racing against people can be a lot of fun, especially across the online co-op season mode where you and someone else can race across an entire season, the save system letting you pick back up whenever you want.
On the technical front the game manages to run okay, generally maintaining a solid framerate on my rig with a few dips on certain tracks that will hopefully get patched up. However, you aren’t getting a visual treat to go with the performance. The bikes themselves are passable, but anything along the edge of the track or in the distance looks entirely outdated thanks to low textures, and the dull colours don’t help. This is the last game to be developed on Milestone’s in-house engine before they fully move to Unreal Engine 4, so hopefully next year we’ll finally see a substantial visual upgrade because right now MotoGP ’17 doesn’t look much better than MotoGP ’14.
At least the audio has gotten an upgrade, Milestone spent some time sampling new sounds and the result are deeper, more believable sounding bikes. They still don’t capture the true snarl of the MotoGP machines, but it’s a notable improvement nonetheless.
Glitches, at least in my experience, were minimal with the worst being a black screen upon loading into qualifying or the race. Just tapping A or enter would let me through. With this said there are a lot of users on the Steam forum reporting a variety of issues, many of which have been present in past iterations of the series and were indeed often patched out eventually, which makes their return each year even stranger.
The thing is MotoGP ’17 is not a bad game. There are some genuinely brilliant moments like sliding around a bend on Philip Island, barely keeping the racing line as the rear tire lights up. Occasionally the A.I. can provide a fun battle, or you’ll find some online opponents who match your abilities. But it’s hard not to feel like Milestone are just milling away in the middle of the pack, content to churn out MotoGP games while failing to fix problems that have been around for years. Indeed, some people were getting so angry they began a petition to get DORNA to take the official MotoGP license away from Milestone. Once could argue that Codemasters are mostly sitting on their laurels with the F1 season, too, and it would be true, largely because it’s hard to see how they can do anything truly innovative on a year-to-year basis while also having to create something true to the sport. However, the difference between Codemasters and Milestone is that Codies have already managed to create a wonderful core for their series, whereas Milestone still have a long way to go in terms of handling and overall presentation. If you’re a big MotoGP fan like me then you’ll probably want to pick this up, even if it’s just because us bikers don’t get a lot of choice in the world of videogames, but I’d recommend holding off for a sale.