Milestone has made a name for itself as the de facto developer of motorbike racing games. If you trace it back, the Italian studio has been crafting this niche subset of racers for about 20 years. To say it has experience with two-wheeled motorsport would be a grave understatement. However, despite its expertise and dedication to almost singlehandedly bringing the sport to gaming, it's never really hit the big time. If MotoGP 20 is any indication, it's not hard to understand why.
There's no question that this latest iteration is well made. The developer has held the license to make official MotoGP games for many years, and it's clear the team has the experience down to a fine art at this point. This doesn't change the fact that these games are pretty impenetrable to anyone other than devout fans.
It struck us almost immediately as we jumped into the managerial career mode, which is reintroduced with this outing. After you make your custom character, you're tasked with choosing one of three... people. It turns out you have to pick your manager, but the game doesn't tell you this; you're just presented with three profiles with negligible differences in stats, with no real context.
This lack of guidance extends through the rest of the career mode, too. There's plenty to do, but you're not told who anyone is or what anything does. You can hire new staff, search for better contracts, and research better technology for your bike. All pretty standard fare, but nothing's explained at all. Even the calendar is confusing to start with; seemingly pointless empty weeks fly by as you're left with nothing to do between races. Players well versed in MotoGP will likely get along fine, but newcomers will absolutely struggle.
Things don't get much easier during events, either. Grand Prix weekends are complicated with multiple practice periods, qualifying stages, and engineering tests to perform before the main event. You can opt in or out of all these -- you can cut straight to race day if you don't want the build up -- but again, nothing is adequately explained to you. Milestone assumes you already know what you need to know, and the result is a game that, to start with, is extremely unfriendly.
All that being said, the game has it where it counts; it's far and away at its best out on the track. Whether you're competing in MotoGP, Moto2, or Moto3, there's a complex and impressive simulation going on, and this year that extends right down to fuel management and the wear and tear on different sections of your bike's tyres. The racing itself, much like the overall game, is straight-faced and unapologetic. Even with many assists enabled, the handling is weighty and realistic, and there's little room for error, especially with the AI as challenging as it is. Like other sims, controls are delicate, with a need to constantly manage throttle and steering to keep yourself on the tarmac. You'll come to rely on the generous rewind feature until the controls click. It takes some getting used to, but it's ultimately very satisfying as your skills progress through each season.
Outside of the career is a Historic mode, allowing you to take control of numerous famous riders in a series of challenges that refresh each day. Winning these special races earns you an in-game currency, which can then be used to unlock more riders and teams. Fans of the sport will certainly enjoy collecting everything. In contrast, all this year's teams, drivers, and circuits are available in the Quick Modes, where you can set up your own Grand Prix weekends, time trials, or even full championships. There's plenty to be getting on with, and that's without factoring in the serviceable online multiplayer.
Visually, the game is a bit hit and miss. The vehicles and their riders can look great out on the track, and it's possible to snap some lovely images in photo mode. However, faces have not received the same love and attention as the motorcycles, and the closer you look, there are a lot of sketchy details to be found throughout. You'll hardly notice in the heat of the action, but in the pits, the graphics are, well, the pits. It at least runs at a rock solid frame rate -- an optional 60 if you're on PS4 Pro or 30 otherwise. Performance is good, then, but be prepared for copious and sometimes lengthy load screens.
MotoGP 20 is unquestionably a good, solid racing game made by a passionate team. When you're weaving through a track at breakneck speeds, slowly mastering the tough but engaging handling, it can be great fun. The problem is an unapproachable first few hours; little to no guidance will easily put some new players off. However, if you can get past that initial bump in the road, there's a robust and challenging racer waiting to be conquered.