Thank you Milestone S.r.l. for sending us this game to review!
Like many similar racing titles, the MotoGP series has taken a yearly release cadence, where each new version is only one year from the previous one. Some years there will be massive upgrades, while others there will be small, incremental upgrades from last year. This is one of those latter years. Graphically, you could put them side by side, and barely tell the difference. That said, these games are of such high quality that there isn't always a lot to improve without a major overhaul. I'm sure that's coming someday, but this isn't that day.
MotoGP 22, like many seasonal sports games, takes you through the 2022 MotoGP motorcycle racing calendar. This is the officially licensed MotoGP racing simulator game, so all tracks and other details like bikes and racers are represented. Motorcycle racing is a truly worldwide sport, and every continent is also present. The classes of racers, like Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP are also represented, with each class offering more and more powerful bikes. The difference in power is startling, as it's much easier not to wipe out with the smaller, 250cc bikes on offer in Moto3 than it is with the massive engines used in the others, with Moto2 being limited to 765cc engines, and MotoGP utilizing 1000cc+ engines with massive horsepower.
There are quite a few game modes on offer, starting with of course the Career mode, which is where the bulk of the single-player content is. There are quick play modes, that includes Grand Prix, where you play an entire weekend race, Time Trial where you just hit the track for a best time, and Championship, where you play an entire season, one race after another. The biggest new addition to the quick play modes is the series' first ever Split Screen mode. It's great to finally see this, as it's always fun to see who can race better with the friend sitting next to you.
Outside of the quick play modes, there are a few big ones to note. The career mode is where the meat of the simulation aspects of the game is accessed. It is here where we not only play through the entire season similar to the quick play mode, but also manage your crew, research upgrades for your bike, and negotiate various contracts. It's a nice addition that offers motivation to not only keep racing, but to place well, as doing so earns you much more money, as well as more lucrative contracts. You can also progress from the Moto3 class, up to Moto2, then up to the MotoGP.
There is also a feature unique to the 2022 version of MotoGP, and that is a retrospective of the 2009 racing year. Apparently it was considered one of the most interesting years in recent memory, as this 'Nine Season 2009' mode allows you to not only play through this remarkable season, but get a more detailed view through video clips. Here's what it says about that mode on the Steam page:
"Relive one of the most exciting championships in MotoGP™ history!17 Chapters, one for each Grand Prix of the 2009 season, lie ahead! Put yourself in the boots of legends such as Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa at the peak of their careers. In each episode you will face different challenges reliving firsthand the most iconic moments of the world championship.
All contents will be enhanced by more than 50 minutes of real footage at the beginning of each chapter, entirely narrated and directed by the extraordinary Mark Neale."
No matter which mode you pick, the simulation aspects are top-notch, and it will likely take you quite some time to figure out how not to crash at the first turn. Many who have played MotoGP 21 think the earlier title is a bit more difficult, with MotoGP 22 having bikes that stick to the track a bit more easily, and in my direct comparisons between the two, I found that to be the case, but it's not as big of a difference as some suggest. The main thing is that both are extremely punishing, and requires precision riding if you plan on doing anything other than going in a straight line.
Speaking of simulation, there is one curiosity that was added to this game, just in time for the real-life MotoGP to outlaw them for the 2023 season. This is called a ride height device. It's basically a switch that allows you to lock in the bike's height once the shocks are compressed to a certain position. It's really hard to understand how it works while playing as a 'filthy casual' like me, but apparently it allows the rider to accelerate more quickly out of a curve. The game's advanced tutorials offer training on how to use it, but I found it confusing at best (though it probably didn't help that I could barely keep the MotoGP-class bike used in the tutorial on the track). There are quite a few tutorials available, as well as the all-new MotoGP Academy. While this may sound like something to help newcomers learn the ropes better, it's actually meant for advanced racers to learn how to shave off critical extra seconds from their lap times.
In many racing games, I have a tendency to be pretty aggressive with the throttle. This simply doesn't work here, because you need to learn to slow down into the corners. If you want you can enable breaking assist, which will force you to slow down into turns, this helps a lot - but from what I was able to tell, you won't be able to earn anything but last place with that assist on. So I then tried just driving carefully, avoiding crashing at all costs, but this just meant that I was last place then, also. No matter what I tried to do, it wasn't enough - this game is not for the faint of heart, or at least those not willing to put in lots of practice time in. This is the kind of game that you treat like a sport, rather than a game. That is to say: practice, practice, practice!
Unfortunately, one thing that somewhat takes away from the simulation slightly is that the control options are basically just keyboard and gamepads. If you are one who likes to race with a more complex racing rig, you might want to look elsewhere, as DirectInput devices are not supported. That said, if you can emulate Xbox gamepads, I'm sure you can make it work. They did add gyro support via PlayStation controllers, which is a neat addition, though I'm not sure any serious racers would use this. Keyboard is supported and functions like you would expect, though I doubt most serious racers would want to play this way, either. Bring along a gamepad if you're going to play this game.
The racing experience itself is quite engaging. The tracks, environment, and racers look great. You can hit other racers and knock them off their bike, but you are penalized when that happens. While racing I found myself far more likely to fall off my own without help, anyway. As you might expect, motorcycles can go crazy fast on a dime, so most of the challenge is managing braking, where you absolutely can flip your bike, do an unintentional wheelie, and slide into the pavement when leaning in hard hoping to turn faster than the physics of the world simulation allows. There are quite a few assists available to make the game easier, but they can only do so much; if you intend to really master the simulation, consider keeping on as few assists as possible to properly get used to how the physics model works. Otherwise, you may quickly find yourself making bad habits before you realize it.
I found myself relying on the auto breaking with breaking assists enabled, which certainly made things easier, but meant that when it came down to a real race, I didn't have enough skills to pull it off, as the assists are so aggressive that you likely won't win anything, even on the lowest difficulty level. I never once was able to qualify, and yet they somehow let me race the final race anyway (albeit in last place). Unfortunately, I was never able to even keep up with the pack of the other racers, much less get past any of them, even if I managed to pull off what I thought was a perfect lap. This game is brutally difficult, like MotoGP 21 was before it. I'm not sure exactly how much practice it's going to take to get there, but I would expect to set aside at least tens of hours of practice racing, unless you've already put in that time in other ways (or are naturally gifted).
As mentioned previously, the Career mode is where most of the team simulation aspects come from. When you win, your reputation goes up, and when you lose, it goes down. A rising reputation allows you to sign on to better teams, and presumably earn more money. Since I will never know what that's like, I can't let you know how that aspect works in practice.
You can manage your staff and upgrade your bike in Career mode. This includes assigning a personal manager who negotiates contracts with teams, as well as other members, like chief engineers, telemetrists, and also do research back at the headquarters. Research includes things like improving the frame, aerodynamics, or electronics. These are managed in two different ways: people assigned to earning research points, and people assigned to spending earned points. Properly divided, you always have people working to make your bike faster and better, which takes time - and sometimes you have to race, whether that upgrade is ready or not. Thankfully you can view the calendar at any time, and progress it as needed to move along the simulation of the racing season.
In the pit, you can customize your bike there as well, changing tire types and hardness levels, different suspension settings that includes hardness, oil, compression settings, extension levels, and more that I don't have a full grasp on. You can adjust the geometry of the bike - what level of tilt each section has, and more common things like the transmission gear ratios, the ECU (electronic controls like traction control), and fuel levels, all of which modify the feel of the bike. On top of this, you can adjust all of the ECU settings during a race - you can bias for power at the expense of fuel efficiency, and if you have fuel management enabled, yes, you can run out of gas. I turned fuel management off, as running out of gas in the middle of a lap is no fun at all. You can also adjust breaking strength (at the cost of making flipping easier), and so on. There is a ton to take in, and the effort involved to make this simulation as realistic as possible is quite obvious once you really dive into it. On top of this, when it rains, the physics change dramatically - so you really do have to adjust for the weather.
Despite all of this, the actual racing itself feels really solid and is quite enjoyable - even if crashing is not always easy to avoid, until you learn the ropes. This is a game that gives you plenty of opportunity to learn, if you keep racing and test driving until you figure out how it all works together. Doing so can be quite rewarding, but also time consuming - don't go into this game expecting to be winning races in a few hours; if you are looking for something like that, I'd recommend a racer with a more arcade-style focus.
Like many racers, this one is quite clean. You can crash, and hit other racers who also can crash. The ESRB notes that when you are in the winner's circle, champagne is shown, but I'll never be able to verify that since winning isn't in the cards.
From a technical perspective, the game runs flawlessly. On my high-end gaming rig with a RTX 3080, I am able to run it at 4k with all of the effects at max outside of rendering resolution, since that pushes the pixel count insanely high. One unfortunate downside is that the save game includes settings information, so if you like me have multiple gaming PCs, your graphics settings will sync between them. Playing this on the Steam Deck means that I have to drop the resolution to 720p, and when I play it on my gaming desktop, I have to raise it again to 4k. One nice thing is that is plays quite well on Steam Deck, with only minor graphical issues; when playing at night, the stadium lighting sometimes shows white boxes rather than the lights like it's supposed to. It otherwise runs really well on the Linux-based SteamOS included on the Deck.
MotoGP 22 is a fun but incredibly challenging motorcycle racing game that rewards patient effort and continued practice. If you aren't willing to put that effort in, it's probably not the best choice for you. It's a solid follow-up to last year's MotoGP 21, though the changes are more subtle than obvious, outside of the wonderful new split-screen feature and the 2009 season homage. If you are willing to put in the effort, you'll be rewarded with a gorgeous racing title with about twenty-five expertly crafted tracks that takes quite a long time to master.