MotoGP 23 Review: Thrilling sim lacks training wheels
Over the course of the last few years, the popularity of motorsport has risen dramatically. Sports like Formula 1 have brought in a huge influx of viewers and attendees to racing, and that’s starting to trickle over into other forms of motorsport.
With an increase in the number of people watching athletes strap themselves to rocket ships as they race around 3.5 miles of track, so too has the number of people wanting to get in on the action at home. As such, this presents the developer of MotoGP 23, Milestone, with a unique challenge: how do you maintain a level of simulator authenticity while welcoming in new players?
Milestone seems to have some answers to this question, but the success of its implementation remains up in the air. Keep reading to learn more about what we thought of MotoGP 23 in our full review.
MotoGP 23 is a completely competent motorbike racer that those who know and love the sport will likely get all the enjoyment out of it that they can hope for. However, a lack of beginner-friendly tutorials keeps this game from being enjoyable to the masses. It’s a sim racer by design, and as such, casual fans are better off looking elsewhere.
Learning the ropes
For full disclosure, I came into MotoGP 23 as a complete rookie to the series. While I’m a huge fan of arcade racers, a lover of the EA Sports F1 games, and a dabbler in simulation racers, I wasn’t prepared for how much of a different beast the MotoGP games are.
Loading into MotoGP 23 for the first time presents you with a difficulty menu that asks what your experience level is. The easiest mode is aptly named Rookie, while the next step jumps to Classic, before going onto Competitive and even Extreme difficulties.
Each of these modes gradually adjusts what’s known as ‘Neural Assists’. These are like training wheels for different parts of the bike, including steering, braking, and throttle. The game is able to almost completely control all of these aspects of the bike, making it near impossible to lose control while on the easiest settings - something I really appreciated while trying to get to grips with how to race with two fewer wheels than normal.
In addition, there’s also the MotoGP Academy. Similar to the tutorials in Gran Turismo 7, this mode puts players in a selection of situations to help them learn how to control certain aspects of their bike. For example, one might be a simple timed lap of the circuit, while another will ask you to take a long-lap penalty or enter the pits.
Not only does this help players understand how to properly control a bike, but it also helps them to understand how the format of a MotoGP weekend differs from other motorsports. It’s a robust introduction if you’re a complete alien to this world like me.
Let’s do this one more time…
Of course, MotoGP 23 has absolutely everything you’d expect from an officially licenced sim racer. With all the official tracks and racers from the 2023 MotoGP season, the game feels like a completely comprehensive offering that any fan would be pleased with.
The main draw for single-player enthusiasts is the career mode, which sees you start out in the closing stages of Moto3. Your performance in these closing races will determine whether you proceed straight into MotoGP, or stick around in Moto2.
In addition, the AI is fantastic, with virtual rivals earning beef with you off the track depending on your actions in races. It’s a fascinating spectacle to work your way through these virtual championships, even if the character models look a little wonky at times.
Staple modes like setting up custom Grand Prix and multiplayer lobbies are all here too. A couch co-op mode that lets two players play on the same screen returns as well, which is an extremely welcome feature in a world where couch co-op is slowly being phased out.
At home on new-gen
While MotoGP is releasing on last-generation consoles too, it feels at home on the PS5. Dynamic weather is a new feature of MotoGP 23, with track conditionings worsening or clearing up in the middle of a race.
This is a gorgeous spectacle to witness while racing, as it’s quite evident where wet patches begin to appear on the track. In addition, the rumble features of the PS5 DualSense feel like they actually help me to keep control of the bike when things get slippy.
A loss of traction in the backend is instantly fed back to the controller in a nuanced way, letting me adjust the brakes and throttle accordingly to keep the bike from running away without me.
What really impressed me in MotoGP 23 was how extensive the livery and character editors are. Here, you’re able to completely customise your bike, race suit, and even driver number to your heart's content.
With a vast shape and symbol library, all supported by robust controls that make it easy to create the look you want, I can easily see die-hard fans losing hours to this customisation menu alone. It’s akin to spending hours in the character creator of an RPG, but this time for motorbikes.
While MotoGP 23 does its best to try and welcome in new players with its overhauled support systems, it sadly doesn’t feel like enough to be hailed as truly beginner friendly. The Rookie difficulty certainly helps to keep the bike on the track, but results in the player feeling like they’re almost totally on rails.
It’s possible to adjust the difficulty sliders manually for each bike component, but it was impossible to find a balance between the game feeling too easy to control and too hard to control. It feels like there needs to be an additional difficulty slider between Rookie and Classic.
In addition, MotoGP 23 doesn’t do a fantastic job of introducing the nuances of riding a bike over a car. I only found out that there was an option to use the rear brake when I looked up a tutorial for the preview game online. MotoGP Academy gives you an arena to get used to riding a bike but does little in the way of guiding the player with tooltips to ease that adjustment period.
As such, I get the feeling that MotoGP will be a little like Marmite. Those that love everything about MotoGP and motorbike racing simulators will already know and love what’s on offer here, but newcomers are still likely to struggle, despite Milestone’s best efforts.
MotoGP 23 is a completely competent motorbike racer that those who know and love the sport will likely get all the enjoyment out of it that they can hope for. A fabulous customisation system and best-in-class racing mechanics mean there is very little competition out there right now.
However, a lack of beginner-friendly tutorials keeps this game from being enjoyable to the masses. It’s a sim racer by design, and as such, casual fans are better off looking elsewhere.
Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by publisher.