It’s my first race, and I’m nervous. I can feel the fear wash over me, just as much as the sweat is washing over my hands. I’m starting in the last pole position, and ahead of me are 15 riders who are all looking to take down the rookie. Also, being the only female rider on the course, I know that I have something extra I need to prove. This is it. The roar of the engines get louder and louder. The crowds are cheering us on. The light flashes, and the race is under way.
I don’t start off very well. My bike lifts up slightly as my front wheel jumps off the track. I need to slow down and take it easy on my take off. The other riders shoot ahead of me but as we approach the first turn, I’m able to make up some ground. This is the moment I feared. This is when we’re all going to bunch up and someone is going to send me packing. I lean into the turn and the strangest thing happens. I don’t turn.
Nobody needs to take me out because I go flying off the track and crash into the wall all on my own. That can’t be right. Let’s start over and do this again. Once more I go racing into the corner and once more I find myself flat on the ground. Why can’t I turn? Why does this bike keep slipping out from under me? What am I doing wrong?
This was my introduction into MotoGP 14, the MotoGP racing sim from Milestone on the PS Vita. Suffice it to say, I’m not very good at racing games. In fact you could probably say that the last racer I was any good at was on the Sega Genesis, so I was starting from ground zero on this one.
The beauty of MotoGP 14 is that it allows you to completely customize the way you race so that you can make it as easy or realistic as you want. If you’re already an expert, then you can make the AI harder, the bike physics realistic, the tire wear accurately, or you can do baby steps like me and set everything to Easy.
But then the strangest thing happened. It clicked, and I started to get it. Soon (well, it took quite awhile, but still) I was able to take corners and not wipe out. Eventually I was able to overtake the other riders. Then, after the miracle of all miracles, I was able to actually start winning races. My career started to advance and racing teams were actually seeking me out to sign a contract with them. I was even able to hold my own in online races and win a few.
This isn’t to say that I’m any good at this game, but it is a triumph of this game’s design that it can allow a compete rookie such as myself to go from not being able to make a simple turn to becoming a serious contender for the Moto championship. That is quite an accomplishment.
MotoGP 14 gives you several different ways you can race. You can have an instant race, an online challenge, or even recreate some of the most exciting moments from the MotoGP season. My favorite though was the Career mode where you can create a racer and guide him/her through several seasons and climb out of the Moto 3 and into the big leagues.
Along the way you will data packs in races (and in qualifying) that level up different parts of your bike. This really changes the dynamic of how your bike will control and give you a better chance at winning races. You can also decide how to outfit your bike so that it best suits your racing style. While in the pit you can choose which kind of tires you want or how stiff you want the suspension. Or if you’re like me, you just tell your engineer to do whatever he feels is best (but try to make it faster than the other bikes on the track).
The online portion of the game also works really well, and again the variety of different race types you can have is impressive. I was always able to find a game relatively quick and the races never suffered from any form of lag. There was the occasional loss of a connection which would end a race, even if it was my opponent whose connection had failed, but otherwise it ran very smoothly.
The sound in the game consists primarily of engine noise with only a bit of commentary before and after the race. I quickly discovered that being able to hear the whine of the engine was a crucial part in racing effectively. MotoGP 14 does a great job of using the engine’s noise to help you figure out when to accelerate and when to ease off. By listening to both the sound of my bike and that of my opponents, I found that I could quickly become a much better racer. It’s all very well done.
The graphics in the game are pretty good with a decent amount of detail on both the rider and the bike. While I haven’t played MotoGP 13, after some extensive research (i.e. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos) the two games seem to be nearly identical visually. There is no giant leap in the visuals, but instead there are just a few tweaks here and there that give each game a distinctive look. However, if you were to look at both games during a race, it would be nearly impossible to tell which was the older version and which the newer.
The area where the graphics take a huge hit is in the off-game moments. The character animations for the characters in the pit who are working on your bike are so weak that I thought they were put in as an homage to PS1 character models. But that’s not really so bad since the last thing you’ll be thinking about when you are on the track is how ugly your bike’s engineer is. What is bad is that after your race you get to read the highlights of what is going on around the league and the text displayed is so small that it’s nearly illegible. It was obviously created with a larger screen in mind and then just shrunk down to be put on the Vita. Again, it’s not something that ruins the way the game is played, but it does show a lack of attention to detail that really bothers me. Why would you display a screen full of words when those words can barely be read?
One other slight “attention to detail” problem that I noticed was that the game is really bad with genders. In the career mode you get to choose from a handful of people when creating your character and one of them is a woman. I happened to create a female racer so I started to notice some problems that would creep up later in the game. When reading news stories about my win (or near win) it struck me as odd that my character was always referred to as “he” and “his” when clearly she was a “she.” Or when I would finish a race near the front of the pack, a little post-race animation would play showing my character celebrating her win… only it was fairly obvious that the character model being used was nowhere close to being a woman. Why have the option of being able to create a woman and then fail to carry through with it for the rest of the game?
But those small gripes aside, I found MotoGP 14 to be an extremely enjoyable game. It took me from a rookie who couldn’t turn a corner into a champion. The controls are really precise and fluid, with the only hiccup being that things tend to drag when navigating the menus. Once you’re in a race, things are flying and the game does a great job in allowing you to quickly navigate around your opponents (or giving them a nudge to send them flying). And if you screw up, you can choose to rewind time and try again. Everything is designed to allow you to customize how difficult the game is going to be. It doesn’t punish you for playing on Easy, and even then it is quite challenging. There is very little in the way of tutorials and quite a bit of the game will involve you figuring things out on your own. It wasn’t until I was halfway done with my first season in career mode before I discovered that there was an option to run qualifying races to get a better starting position. The game never mentioned it, and the way to select it in the menus is not very intuitive.
MotoGP 14 may not be without its flaws, but it is hard to argue that it isn’t a really good game. Everything from the physics to the track selection are all top quality and make for a pretty spectacular time. And while it doesn’t seem to be a major upgrade from the previous game, players who are new to the series will discover a fun and challenging racing sim. Even a rookie such as myself was able to have a really good time with it, even if I finished a race 15 out of 16.