We aren't even halfway through the year yet, but racing games already seem to be, ahem, hitting their apex. The year started with the stellar driving simulation of Gran Turismo 7, followed by a bumper dose of new tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but the high-octane genre is showing no signs of punctured tyres or knackered gearboxes. Instead, a new entry in the long-running MotoGP series from Milestone is upon us.
What Codemasters' F1 2021 is to Formula 1, MotoGP 22 is to the two-wheeled pinnacle of competitive racing. It's a complete and absorbing recreation of the newly-started season, with all the drivers, tracks, and bikes that a diehard could wish for. All the classic modes you could wish for are there, from career mode and quick races to time trials and even a nostalgic look back to the now-iconic 2009 season.
It doesn't go easy on newcomers in the slightest, but those willing to put in the hard yards will find a lot to like in this high-octane and punishingly accurate spin on MotoGP. It's perhaps not the most immediately gratifying or replayable racing game to hit the road in 2022, but it knows its audience and, if you'll pardon the pun, stays directly in its lane.
A Range of Races
The most rewarding of the four modes in MotoGP 22 is the career mode, which is deeper than it's ever been - even eclipsing its F1 counterpart in many ways. While it may be very similar in a gameplay sense to what's come before, the levels of player choice and progression are hard to argue against. You can start in MotoGP as a novice racer, or work your way up through the ranks, letting you either bask in the glory straight off or earn it.
But most of the impressive features of the managerial career come when you aren't on your bike. There are so many behind-the-scenes options to play around with, from hiring your own engineers to recommend upgrades, to starting your own team in lower leagues to carve out a roster of budding talent built in your image. Few sports games go this in-depth with their career modes, and it puts the stagnant annual state of FIFA's career mode to shame. I started out riding for Mooney, one of the lower-rank MotoGP teams, to make sure they didn't expect too much of me when it comes to placements at the end of the race. I'm just not cut out for that.
On top of career mode is a new pseudo-narrative mode, Nine Season 2009. Widely considered the most memorable season in MotoGP history, it takes on the Drive to Survive formula and combines it with gameplay, intersplicing snippets of archival races with interactive segments. It's admittedly not a mode I spend much time with given a lack of background knowledge, but it does a good job of outlining the rivalries between behemoth racers like Valentino Rossi, Casey Stonem, and Jorge Lorenzo. Complete with nostalgic HUD designs and era-accurate bike decals, it's a faithful recreation of the period. It'll likely be the first thing fans of the series try out, and it's definitely good to see more narrative-based modes in sports games. From FIFA's Journey mode to F1 2021's recent Braking Point, they're a much-welcomed mix to the formula.
Yet something that may not be immediately apparent when first trying out MotoGP 22 is exactly how difficult it can be. In fact, it wouldn't be unfair to call MotoGP 22 one of the hardest modern racing games, because none of its contemporaries punish you quite like this. Even the slightest oversteer or the most nonchalant tap on the brakes can send you careening off your bike, trudging back to the rewind feature to put you back on the track and amidst the action.
At first, that can be incredibly frustrating. Especially coming from other similarly realistic racers like GT7 or F1 2021, the learning curve required to finish a lap — let alone a race — in MotoGP 22 is a sharp one. It's utterly unforgiving, and that's of course the point, but it makes it difficult to fully gel with the game unless you're willing to dedicate plenty of time, and even more rewinds, to learning how to handle the bikes. For casual gamers just looking for a quick post-work race to let off steam, MotoGP 22 isn't especially accommodating. Racing assists do exist, but they flit either from desperately over-generous, such as completely removing your brake control, to barely noticeable, leaving you again to struggle on your own.
Looking the Part
Equally, from a sheer performance viewpoint, MotoGP 22 doesn't quite hold a candle to its rivals. The game runs smoothly, with a consistent 60 frames per second and zippy load times, but on a visual level, it cannot compete with something like Gran Turismo 7. That game's photo-realistic visuals just aren't matched here, and in that sense, it does falter. The game still looks good, and all the courses and environments are recreated faithfully, but compared to what else we've seen this year it's a few places behind.
However, its use of the PlayStation 5's DualSense controller is a real winner. The left trigger tightens with more resistance as you brake into a corner, and you'll feel a constant rumble mirroring the roar of the throttle as you speed up. These sorts of features are emblematic of why Sony's new controller is so special, and it's good to see this game making full use of that.
MotoGP 22 will be an undeniable hit with pre-existing fans of the series. It takes the tried-and-tested formula to new levels with an enhanced career mode, and a pseudo-story mode to eke out the nostalgia for those who've loved the sport for decades. Sadly, that passion is lost for newcomers or those more casually into racing games, as they'll no doubt struggle to learn the mechanics or stick around when things get frustrating.
Of course, the point of MotoGP 22 is that it's meant to be hard, forcing you to nail every corner and brake at the perfect time. In that sense, it isn't the game's fault, but it's not quite accessible enough to newcomers, through the introduction of its mechanics or the assist options. Without much incentive to really stick with it, many players will find themselves drifting to MotoGP 22's racing game rivals instead.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.