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Review: MotoGP 18 (PlayStation 4)By The Strat Man At 07.06.2018 14:24

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That switch of engine, and building from the ground up, should be a big deal. All of the previous iterations of MotoGP from Milestone have earned praise for certain aspects and various improvements upon the year prior, but within the sphere of two-wheels, the developer has never put it all together and produced something particularly polished before. All of the murmurings coming from the team this year have suggested that it is finally ready to put that right. Michele Casetti, of the Milestone team, stated that the physics would be 'redefined,' that the AI would be drastically improved, and perhaps, more importantly - thanks to the new engine - that this iteration would receive a significant graphical update 'making it look shiner than ever.' This has got motorbike-racing nuts salivating, but have these promises actually been delivered or was it something of an overrated sales pitch?

It's got to be said that, in terms of graphics, some of Milestone's previous MotoGP and other bike games have been very poor. Although serious racing fans will make do with quite basic visuals as long as the physics and handling are engrossing enough, some titles, like Ride and the Valentino Rossi iteration of MotoGP, look so washed out and devoid of proper detail, that it really does hinder their sense of immersion. When Milestone suggests that there will be drastic improvements with MotoGP 2018 in this department, it really does raise the hopes and expectations of the audience. The Unreal Engine 4, after all, should enable a much stronger level of detail and polish than seen previously, especially if this edition has been built for it from the ground up. Have the promises been delivered? The answer is yes… and no. Compared to previous efforts on two wheels, MotoGP 2018 is a step up, in some regards.

The bikes themselves look drastically better and the 3D scanned driver models are much more detailed. Additionally, for the first time under Milestone's MotoGP tenure, when treated to pre-race shots and television angles, it's actually tempting to let them roll, rather than skipping them as before because everything looked so devoid of life. The hustle and bustle of race day has been reproduced much better this time around, with more race officials, team members and grid girls hanging around in the general periphery. Crowds don't look great, but this can be levied at many racers. There's also much slicker TV commentating, with real-life race location shots also spliced into the intro for career races. A good amount of work seems to have gone into improving the illusion that you are watching a real broadcast, which is definitely a welcome improvement.

When actually out on the track, however, it's more of a mixed bag. The full rota of courses in the 2018 edition has been drone-scanned, apparently for '1:1 recreation.' They definitely seem accurate enough, even though there's more sophisticated track scanning technology out there. There are small improvements to the road-surface details, the foliage, and the quality of the lighting, the latter of which is especially apparent under floodlight in night races. However, for some reason, daytime races, in particular, still look washed out. The more vibrant elements, such as trees and bright billboards, look out of place against the very dull and murky colour tones of other track elements, like the paddocks and tarmac. This doesn't ruin anything, but it is an issue that has carried over from previous iterations, despite the change of engine. One thing that is very annoying to see is low-res textures, like advertisements, that suddenly get a bump in quality when you get close enough. Keep in mind, this is from testing the baseline PS4 version, so the Pro system might fare a little better, but it has to be judged for what it is.

Elsewhere, driver animations seem a little less rigid, but it is still incredibly noticeable that nobody turns their head toward commotion and potential hazards, not to mention their statue-like response to contact. MotoGP 2018 is also really hindered by a choppy frame-rate of 30fps on baseline hardware, which really does limit how visceral the experience is overall. Ultimately, while the visuals have improved somewhat upon previous iterations, MotoGP 2018 still falls well below the curve in terms of current standards for racing graphics. This is very disappointing given how much the upgrade to the Unreal 4 Engine was hyped. Worse yet, the visual blemishes, like the texture pop-in, really under-cuts the impact of efforts to polish up other areas of its presentation. It just seems as though Milestone has stretched itself too thin with an annual iterative cycle, once again. At least that gives hope that more substantially graphical upgrades may follow next year.

Moving onto the physics and the handling models, in terms of race control elements and driving assists, Milestone usually does a good job of keeping both the casuals and the more hardcore audience happy, and that is the case here. Pleasingly, in terms of physics behaviour, there are three models to choose from. Pro is really unforgiving and requires a proper understanding of how to keep two wheels co-operating at all times, especially under braking. It's a real challenge just to stay on-track, which speaks to its realism, but perhaps also of how hard it is to handle with a twitchy analogue stick. If only there were affordable handlebar controllers. There's also normal, which is more forgiving, but no Sunday drive, and assisted, which slathers all the riding aids on. For the latter two, one can also make use of a rewind feature, something that is part and parcel of pretty much all Milestone racers these days. Players also have full control over whether there's bike damage or not, as well for tyre wear, manual start management, and penalties. These options ensure that all audiences are happy, although there is a significant caveat to that statement.

While the pro physics model definitely invokes a huge challenge, it's nowhere near as immersive as it could be, for various reasons. Once more, other drivers just don't get tangled up in racing incidents very easily. In fact, most of the time, if the player comes into contact with someone else, they will miraculously hold their line and not budge an inch. Big crashes and chain-of-reaction events are major aspects of MotoGP, but they are not represented well in this title. Sure, it's hard enough focusing on your own driving, but it's a real shame that the AI racers are so statue-like and robotic. It is slightly better than last year, but only on a really minor level. The largescale changes that were touted in this department have not been delivered. Nobody ever seems to take a reactive or evasive line, have a wobble, or get caught up in racing incidents. This means races just don't feel like proper dynamic events, which reduces the sense of the immersion and the thrill-factor significantly. Hopefully, the online experience will be a saving grace because there's no way a real driver would put on a robotic show like that. Unfortunately, the online modes couldn't be tested during the pre-release phase.

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Final Score
[i]MotoGP 2018[/i] is something only avid fans of the genre should check out. Although there are some improvements to presentation, problems with the murky colour tone palette persist, on top of irritating texture resolution issues with the racing scenery. If sticking to time attack, hardcore bike fans looking for realism may be able to scratch their itch here. However, put other drivers on the track and the illusion quickly shatters. The AI just isn't dynamic or reactive enough. For those taking things less seriously, this will be less of an issue but, either way, it's not very much fun being in their company. It is nice being able run your own 2018 season in tandem with the real thing, but the Career Mode is nothing special. Even if the online mode and the eSport Championship function well enough, the lacklustre collision detection will hinder that side of the experience, too. This is flawed and rushed.

6

/10

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