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MotoGP 24 review: elbows in, the stewards are watching

This latest licensed racer brings more yellow flags, more chaos, same terrifying speeds

Published: 02 May 2024

Who’d have thought that in a game whose component parts include disgustingly quick two-wheeled machinery, gorgeous Unreal Engine visuals and tarmac utopias like Mugello, it’d be the bureaucracy we’d be shouting about.

There were virtual race stewards and a penalty system in previous incarnations of Milanese studio Milestone’s licensed MotoGP series, but they seemed only to have eyes for you. One of the most impactful improvements to MotoGP 24 is that they’re now just as watchful over the AI riders.

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That means your rivals are collecting track limits warnings and being penalised for aggressive divebombs that cause contact, just like you. It’s not unusual now to see an AI opponent swoop off the racing line to serve a long-lap penalty for some previous misdemeanour, and combined with what seems to us like more frequent AI rider crashes, that makes the racing all the more unpredictable.

As well it should be. This is a simulation of a famously spectacular racing category, where only last weekend at Jerez, nine riders crashed out of the sprint race and on Sunday’s grand prix race leader Jorge Martin tucked the front and crashed out after 11 otherwise flawless laps. If any racing game needs its AI racers to generate a bit of drama, it’s this one.

Maybe it’s our newfound adherence to the stewards’ demands that we stop taking chunks out of our opponents (a bizarre request, frankly), but the racing feels a bit more considered this year. Overtakes are harder to come by, but all the more more satisfying when you find a gap to dive into.

That goes both ways, too. Milestone’s offline opponents are trained by a learning AI, and in recent games they’re been troublesomely aggressive as a result. They’ll still pull a rash move on you here and there, but it seems this year they’ve at least learned a bit more etiquette.

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The other jump forwards in realism is a simulated rider market, aka the silly season, in which riders from all three categories partake in the annual game of musical chairs and swap around between teams. In our first season we witnessed strange and fantastical sights like Marco Bezzecchi on a factory Aprilia, Raul Fernandez getting the factory Yamaha nod, and promising Moto3 youngster David Alonso shooting straight up into the Moto2 class.

The point of all this, one suspects, is to get you to play more than one season in career mode. After all, the virtual racer’s DNA dictates that we find the sweet spot whereby the game’s just about challenging enough that each race is winnable, but feels hard-earned. So what happens after that glorious championship title in your rookie MotoGP season? What’s left to achieve?

Doing it all again, is MotoGP 24’s answer, against a grid of opponents on different machinery.

Maybe if Fabio Quartararo gets a factory Ducati ride, he’ll be unbeatable. Or maybe the opposite’s true - perhaps you couldn’t compete for the title in your first year, but now the grid shakeup means the top riders are a bit less dominant. The best thing about it is seeing junior drivers come up into the premier class - so after five or six seasons, you really do feel like you’re playing the future of MotoGP.

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A minor caveat here - as is somewhat traditional now for the series, some riders and teams in Moto2 and Moto3 are missing their correct helmets and liveries. Aspar’s colour change has yet to make it into the game, and after a few seasons you start to see riders with plain, unsponsored helmets knocking about on the grid, as if they’ve wandered into the wrong place on their track day. Milestone usually patches in this content within a month after launch, but it’s a minor annoyance that’s all the more visible now that the rider market’s in action.

That’s hardly the biggest problem this series has to contend with, though: it’s infamously difficult.

Its developers will quickly point you towards the neural AI riding aids, which step in intelligently to guide your braking and throttle inputs only when they’re needed. That’s all well and good, but to feel the best of the game’s meaty and detailed physics model, you need to turn those aids off eventually. And when you do, get your spacesuit on because you’re getting high-sided to the moon.

There’s a new tool at MotoGP 24’s disposal, to this end. Adaptive difficulty takes note of your pace lap by lap, race by race, and tunes the AI’s pace accordingly.

It’s the sort of thing you’d hear a game developer tell you about, nod politely, and say to yourself ‘That is absolutely not going to work properly’. And yet, it does. It took about three races in our career mode for the game to set opponent lap times in that sweet spot between competitive and beatable, and it really smoothed the difficulty curve in our bogey tracks where previously the AI riders disappeared ahead of us. (Portimao and Sachsenring, thanks for asking.)

There is a whiff of artifice about it, granted. It’s like racing in a Dorna-produced Truman Show, where world-class riders all put in Oscar-worthy impressions of being right on the limit but you know they’re capable of absolutely smoking you if the adaptive difficulty gave them free reign. In our experience, it’s best to use it for your first season, and then dial up the challenge by setting a manual AI difficulty level instead.

There’s not as much that’s new and shiny in MotoGP 24 as we’ve become accustomed to. MotoGP 22 absolutely spoiled us with its brilliant playable documentary ‘Nine’, which featured historical bikes and archive footage that told the story of the 2009 season. Last year we got a revamped career mode and a major handling overhaul. This year feels like the polishing phase - tighten up the fundamentals a bit, tweak the handling just a shade, then send it back out on the track.

It’s still a thrilling handling model to hold in your hands, and the feeling of nailing an apex is still enough to make us feel a bit giddy. Maybe it’s lacking a killer new feature this year of the same calibre as ‘Nine’. But it might just be rigorous and demanding enough to get away with that.

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