When it comes to racing games, I’ve been willing to dabble in everything from arcade-style street racing to technical rally sims. What has clearly been missing from my repertoire is motorbike sims. I hoped my experience with rally games would serve me well (Excitebike and Road Rage sure don’t help), but MotoGP 21 still kicked my arse, dragged me back into the saddle, then repeated the process for a dozen hours. I slowly worked through the myriad of gameplay and bike assists until I had a grip on the handling and achieving this semblance of mastery was a lot of fun.
MotoGP 21 is Milestone’s tenth MotoGP title, having first developed MotoGP ’07 on the PlayStation 2. With each successive title, Milestone has pushed the simulation aspect towards an unforgiving degree of realism. It says a lot about a game when you start off with a two-part tutorial: the first covering basic cornering, overtaking, and track penalties; the second covering the myriad of electronic assists available on modern bikes.
If you survive the extensive tutorial – and I suggest you spend some time there if you need a refresher – you’ll discover the many game modes on offer in MotoGP 21. Quick races – think custom time trials, single events, or entire championships – are drawn from the full 2021 season. There are 4 classes, over 100 official riders, 20 official tracks, and you can also pick from 40 historical riders and their classic bikes. Multiplayer allows for online quick races or, if you can find some dedicated friends, a full weekend event.
The highlight, as always, is starting a new career and working your way from Moto3 up to the prestigious MotoGP. For those with a creative streak, you can initially customise your riding gear, bike, and livery to your hearts content. After that, it’s time to move on and join either an official team or a newly created team (that you can also freely edit). From this point onwards, MotoGP 21 provides a good blend of practice sessions, race days, and managerial elements to keep you occupied.
On the managerial side, you will recruit a personal manager, chief engineer, and data analyst that provide you with new contracts, possible team members, better direction for your research. You can assign engineers to research improvements in several fields (frame, engine power, aerodynamics, and electronics). It’s by far the most “gamey” side of the experience, but it turns the empty weeks between events into an opportunity to provide incremental upgrades to your bike. You can even create and manage a junior team in the Moto3 and Moto2 class once you reach MotoGP.
Once the race weekend arrives, you can participate in the entire 3-day event, tackling practice laps to tune your bike, setting lap times to determine grid position, and even a 20-minute warm-up prior to the race. As this a video game, there are plenty of toggles that affect the race length and complexities, and the ability to restart entire events if things do not go to plan. However, if you want to come to grips with the myriad of mechanical tweaks and electronic assists that can affect on-track performance, or memorise every inch of the track, this is a worthwhile endeavour.
Once on the track, MotoGP 21 builds on the racing model of last year’s release while adding further complexities (assuming you don’t disable them). Fuel and tyre consumption return, punishing you for drifting off the optimal racing line and harsh cornering. New in MotoGP 21 is the need to monitor brake temperature – a function of both ambient conditions and your usage – ensuring they’re neither too hot nor cold to function optimally. The suspension physics has also been revised to reflect on-track response more accurately (going off the track feels even more punishing now).
The start of any race still allows you to make manual or guided adjustments to your bike based on your experience during practice laps (think more torque for quick acceleration out of a corner, or stiffer brake for going into turns late). Once on the track, electronic assists can be adjusted on the fly for those with dexterity. Other new additions include a recovery animation that forces you to fetch your bike after a crash (no more quick respawns), and the “long lap” penalty has been introduced for racking up too many track warnings.
Overall, the handling feels authentically challenging – even if you toggle on every assist available. There’s nothing that can match the sensation of leaning into a turn, but a gamepad has always felt like a better fit for motorbike handling than any 4-wheel vehicle (where a racing wheel can feel essential with assists disabled). Cornering is everything in MotoGP – leaning low into a turn leaves you with no option but to accelerate out of the corner if you want to stabilise the bike. As such, those unwilling to spend time in the tutorials or doing practice laps are going to find themselves drifting wide on corners or eating dirt, and MotoGP 21 is particularly unforgiving of slip-ups.
The AI competitors have updated “neural AI” to ensure they’re less likely to make mistakes on the track (or with race-planning). As a result, successive mistakes will leave staring at the back of the pack regardless of your assist and AI difficulty settings. This may sound rough – and it is at first – but slowly mastering the handling, coming to understand the impact of the electronic assists, and making incremental engineering improvements over a season is incredibly satisfying as you place higher and higher.
When it comes to the “next-gen” upgrades, you can expect a dynamic 1080/60 on the Xbox Series S and dynamic 4k/60 on the Xbox Series X. There have been improvements to the lighting and overall model quality. This is most apparent when editing your rider and bike decals, or when waiting on the grid for a race to start. Perhaps as a sacrifice to keeping the framerate high and controls responsive, tracks still look a little barren. Spectator stands and other structures have minimal geometrical complexity, while distant backdrops look simplistic. That said, these are elements you rarely notice in the heat of racing.
The motorbikes sound authentic to their class, suitably loud when revving on the grid or quickly shifting gears going into and out of a corner. However, ambient sounds seem muted – including the crowds – making several tracks feel unexpectedly lifeless. This is in stark contrast to the vibrant menu music and commentators that introduce the race, discuss your pre-race tweaks, and the final results.
Overall, MotoGP 21 is another excellent outing for Milestone – a good thing given the limited number of motorbike sims available. Fans of the prior entries are getting the same excellent physics engine with updated suspension accuracy, new managerial career options, new on-track variables to consider, and the full 2021 season (MotoE, Moto3, Moto2, the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, and MotoGP). For newcomers, however, MotoGP 21 can be an unforgiving and uncompromising experience if you’re not willing to invest the time need to master basic handling and the myriad of electronic assists.
A review code for MotoGP 21 was provided to Gameblur by the publisher
MotoGP 21 (Xbox Series S) ReviewMotoGP 21 (Xbox Series S) Review
Gameplay9/10 AmazingThe focus on authenticity, both on and off the track, should impress and entertain veterans. Perhaps a few more assists for newcomers might have been nice?
Longevity10/10 The BestBetween mastering the racing mechanics, tackling the full 2021 season, managing your team, and taking classic rides for a spin, there's no shortage of content this year.
Visuals7/10 GoodRiders and bikes sport some impressive detail that is easier to appreciate at higher resolutions and a stable framerate. However, the tracks themselves can look distinctly barren and lifeless.
Audio7/10 GoodThe bikes all sound authentic and intimidatingly loud when in the saddle and jostling for position. The dynamic pre- and post-race commentary is impressive. The track and crowds, however, are eerily quiet.
- The full 2021 MotoGP season and several modes to tackle
- Authentic handling, engineering adjustments, and electronic assists to master
- The managerial career keeps you engaged between race weekends
- Extensive rider, bike, and team customisation options
- Improved models, higher resolutions, stable framerate, and faster load times on next-gen consoles
- For newcomers, the challenge can feel insurmountable at first
- Some tracks look barren and feel lifeless