Dark Light

The game begins by asking you who you want to be. To fully immerse myself in the realism of the game, I obviously chose the most common type of MotoGP rider around, a 99-year-old Jamaican woman. 

I always do that with racing games, that way if you end up losing a race, you can always blame it on your character being a silly little female who should be making a sammich instead. 

The main navigation screen said Quick Mode, and inside I saw Load Grand Prix. After attempting to change the track from Austria to something else for a few minutes, I gave up and went straight for Career mode. 

As always happens in real life, I could directly join a MotoGP team without any Moto3 or Moto2 experience, and so I humbly signed up with satellite KTM. The insult of Keith Huewen insisting to call me a “he” was soon overshadowed by the whine of the bike. 

It sounded like someone with a cheap trombone was sitting on the back seat. 

Your eyes immediately notice that the game feels much darker than MotoGP19, probably a match for the dark times we live in? Qatar’s lighting effects are rather well done, the floodlights look very realistic, especially in the helmet cam view. 

And that’s when I braked for the first time.

A difficult balance

Let’s back up a second and look at the big picture. It’s hard to make a sim racer, especially for motorcycles. You’ve got your Assetto Corsas and Project Cars, but that’s not a fair comparison here. You could argue that pitting it against the F1 game is justified, but is it? 

Cars are just fundamentally different from motorcycles, just like every 60 seconds in Africa a minute passes. The number of variables in a motorcycle racer far outnumber those in a car game. On top of that, there’s very little to provide you the delicate feedback coming in from the 2 tiny contact patches. A controller’s random vibration is no match for FFB.

For many years, Milestone created 2 different but essentially identical games, Ride and MotoGP. Ride had an enormous amount of content, but aimed primarily on the street racing and customization crowd. MotoGP was for the fans of the racing series. As far as physics went though, both were equally terrible, but that didn’t stop their popularity because there is nothing else to choose from, except maybe the optimization nightmare that’s the Isle of Man TT game, or Road Rash from 1991. 

With MotoGP18 and later, a clear distinction was made. MotoGP moved more towards improved physics and fine motorcycle control, and on the surface, that seems to be the direction MotoGP20 follows as well. But it’s hard to make a sim racer for motorcycles, and MotoGP20 seems to be now touching the limits of what you can expect to do with a controller.

For example, there are 3 difficulty levels for the bike physics, Assisted, Normal, and Pro. Pro, and to some extent Normal, requires you to have extremely fine control over your LT button. If you’re used to the old version of the game, you’ll dump the front brake at the marker, and find yourself flying upside down through the air, elbows and assholes as Colin Edwards would put it. 

To stop that, your left hand is busy feathering the front brake, while also trying to turn the bike in, and your right hand tries to downshift aggressively to bring some engine braking in, which, like the rear brake, is useless unless the tire is on the ground. All of this while the fucking AI fly through the corners at impossible speeds and try to take you out at any moment. 

This game will be mastered by guitar players, not motorcycle riders. 

The good stuff

But I like that you can now choose different power modes while racing, it adds massively to the immersion. As real MotoGP riders do, you compromise between outright speed and fuel weight, and change your engine mappings based on the situation, like going full power on straights and on race starts, then mellowing down a bit to manage the gap. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to find yourself out of fuel a few corners from victory. 

It’s one more thing for your left hand to handle, but doable on straights. 

The kerbs are now so much better as well, changed to friendly ticklers from death squads. The grass, gravel, and sand simulation also feels much more realistic, as I found out multiple times. This is because unlike the old games, in MotoGP20 if you crash in the gravel trap, you respawn in the gravel trap. 

Gets my vote for sure. 

The rider actions in tricky situations also seem to have improved a bit. If for example you are getting too close to another racer who’s coming in too hot, your rider sort of instinctively changes body position to brace for the impact. It’s also not uncommon to see a rider sit up and raise their hand apologetically to someone else, although to whom and why is not always clear.

Little things that add to the experience. 

The Historic Mode is also quite enjoyable, who doesn’t want a ride on one of the 500cc two-stroke monsters? Instant death is just a twist away. You’ve got quite a few challenges to choose from, which in turn unlocks riders. 

Although I haven’t talked about it much, because let’s face it, it’s the MotoGP game, the Moto2 and Moto3 modes are quite fun as well. The Moto2 bikes sound especially good, with their new Triumph engines. The rider to bike ratio is a bit off though, especially with Moto3 bikes it sometimes looks like they’re mini-motos instead. But not the end of the world. 

The post-race celebrations are also a bit more realistic, although there only seems to be one of them for winning. The dude pumps his arms, then high-fives with his mechanics, and then jumps around a bit. The soul-dead, Oblivion NPC look on everyone’s faces is almost funny. 

The bad stuff


And then you get this creeping feeling that all is not well. 

Remember me struggling to race some other track except Red Bull Ring in Quick Mode? Turns out if you begin with a track, you must finish it before you can choose another. Why? What was wrong with the old system of letting you make that decision? What could possibly have offended Milestone so much to justify this lack of trust in our intelligence? 

As you race, Miller comes and bumps into you a bit. You get a “Damage: Slight” info box. No worries I guess. Then Rossi’s elbow grazes your handlebar, and you get “Damage: Moderate”. You start noticing random lack of acceleration on straights, which doesn’t make sense, but you carry on. Then, of course, Marquez jams his bike between you and the apex, and you reach “Damage: Critical”. It’s the last lap, and nothing seems to happen for a few corners, and then your bike dies a few meters from the finish line. 

The HUD only shows you tire wear and tire temperature, no detailed info on bike damage. There’s no visual damage at all, so the 3 step damage system ends up being quite frustratingly idiotic. 

Then there’s this whole Managerial Career thing. I don’t know about you, but when I heard that term, I thought you could play as a manager, which I thought was odd for a racing game. But that’s happily not the case, all that happens is that you’ve got a bunch of random things to handle, hiring a manager, tech team, and choosing what parts to develop.

Is that realistic? Probably yes. Does it add to the immersion? Not in its current form. Each Manager has some scores in certain areas, and my eyes immediately glazed over trying to understand what they meant. Ditto for the tech staff, the interface is just not intuitive enough to make you feel like you’re making some important decisions. 

There’s something called Team Synergy or something too, I would like to see that score for Zarco’s KTM team. 

And then there are the development upgrades, unnecessarily complex in my opinion. Sure they’ve tried to keep it realistic too, you have a limited number of experts in a certain department, like aerodynamics, and it takes time to get upgrades. But the way it is all presented is extremely off-putting. 

The Time Trial mode is also so annoying. It’s understandable that going off the track should invalidate your lap, but going off the track 5 corners before the finish should in no way invalidate your next lap. The penalty system is so strict that my average was just 1 valid lap per 5 actual. It’s ridiculous, unrealistic, and makes you feel dumber than you really are. 

And finally, we have the new AI system that Milestone calls ANNA, some neural network something or the other. Is it worth the hype? Probably not. Like I’ve mentioned before, the AI corner speed is just stupid, and that’s at just 70% hardness. On top of that, they usually start braking kilometers before the corner even begins. Both these things interfere with your focus and speed, it’s impossible to carry your own preferred line through. The AI does behave a bit better than before, and you don’t have nearly as many Kamikaze riders smashing into you willy nilly. But they are frustratingly unrealistic to deal with, and it’s highly unlikely that you would manage to have an immersive racing experience riding against them. 

In the end

I’ve said repeatedly that it’s hard to make a sim racer for motorcycles. This is also because MotoGP racers have almost no connection to “normal” motorcyclists like myself. They do weird things, like use the rear brake while accelerating to prevent wheelies, or turn the bike by sliding the rear, or have a left opposite lock when approaching a right corner. 

Milestone has an impossible job. 

When you get down to it, slashing away at all the superfluous gimmicks like stickers and colors and staff salaries, the game and the riding experience you’re left with is decent. The overall physics makes sense, the importance given to winter testing and development is welcome, and your lap times do improve with experience. The sound is a louder version of MotoGP19, graphics a darker one, physics a bit harsher. 

It is an enjoyable game. 

There’s no doubt that it’s a good idea by Milestone to convert MotoGP into a more serious game. It’s no longer an arcade-style racing game that you buy to have a few hours of fun. If you want to really enjoy the game, you must invest in it, spend a lot of time, understand the physics, and develop some muscle memory. 

You also must have a controller, it was already hard enough to play the old games with a keyboard, it’s impossible now. 

But on the other hand, they’ve made some strange decisions that make it harder for you to believe the reality of the game’s universe. How can a little shit like myself, for example, lap Le Mans several seconds faster than Marc Marquez can in real life? That’s a giant step back from MotoGP19.

Sames goes for the camera angles. Sure the in-helmet cam looks interesting, but it has no relation to the head movements a racer does in real life. On top of that, it’s nearly impossible to feel what the bike is doing underneath you, which makes it an unusable toy at best. 

Another irritating thing about the game is the multiplayer mode, which suffers from the same UI problems as the other screens. I never managed to join a single race, even if the event hadn’t begun and was waiting for users, always ended up being a spectator. This will hopefully improve as the game gets popular, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. 


In the end, it’s just a game, and there’s no use being too hard on it. Is it worthy of being in your playlist? Definitely. Is it worth upgrading from MotoGP19? Not for me. Is it worth the full price? I don’t think so. 

In any case, there are a good 40+ hours of content in there that should take your mind off the death and stupidity around, for a bit at least. And who knows, maybe for a few microseconds, you could actually believe you’re racing with Rossi and Marquez, outmaneuvering the greatest of the greats. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? 

1 comment
  1. Just got this game for free on the Xbox Game Pass and have played it for about 3 hours so far – I’d have to agree with practically every point you made.

    Would go as far to say it’s a less enjoyable game than ’19, with the bike being way too sensitive to stoppies with even the slightest too much brake pressure… I get that they’re trying to make it more realistic but the issue with a controller is that there’s absolutely no feel to it, it’s just a trigger

    The rumble you used to get on the brakes letting you know the front was at its limit also seems to have been taken away, so now you’ll just tuck the front with absolutely no warning… extremely frustrating

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