Version tested: Xbox 360
After a couple of pedestrian years, the MotoGP championship has been back in scintillating form this season, thanks in no small part to the prodigal wonder that is Marc Marquez. The 20-year-old from Catalonia has found himself at the sharp end of the grid in his inaugural top-flight campaign, and he's wasted no time getting his Repsol Honda RC213V into places no rookie should dare to tread and at angles that his rivals wouldn't care to try, scraping his elbows across track boundaries in his trademark style while banging fairings with teammate and champion-elect Dani Pedrosa. Even skating down Mugello's pitstraight at 175mph on his backside a few weeks ago has done little to dent his puppyish enthusiasm.
And after a couple of years without a tie-in game, MotoGP is back on consoles. To draw parallels between returning developer Milestone and Spanish hotshot Marquez may be a bit disingenuous. A more apt comparison, perhaps, would be with Valentino Rossi, the aging legend coming back after a couple of years in relative wilderness at the struggling Ducati to a competitive ride at Yamaha and the prospect of a podium place on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a midfield scrap.
In many ways, it's a successful homecoming for both Italians. Milestone gets what's great about MotoGP, and while the two Monumental-developed games half-heartedly released by Capcom in 2009 and 2010 had their moments - as, indeed, did Milestone's own SBK series - this is a partnership that just feels right. It's scrappy, yes, and there's much that will be familiar to anyone who's played the SBK games, but the studio's passion for the subject helps paper over so many of the cracks.
It helps, too, that Dorna, the commercial rights holder for MotoGP, is much more accommodating than FOM, the F1 overseer that Codemasters tangles with on a yearly basis, could ever be. This is a broad, thoughtful and inclusive take on the sport, and one that's wise to cut the crap. There's no attempt at an arcade mode, no superfluous challenges and no overbearing, overwritten narrative shoehorned in. It's hugely refreshing to see a racing game developer have faith in the unquestionable appeal of a globetrotting calendar of races tied together with a points table.
There's more, of course, but in keeping with everything else in MotoGP 2013, it's sparse. Whether by choice or by circumstance doesn't really matter, because it works. A career mode brazenly steals from Codemasters' racers of a few years back, set within a virtual motorhome that neatly houses all the options available. Your rider and mechanics can be customized - and in a move that, like so much else here, is as shabby as it is charming, all the face models seem to have been captured from Milestone's staff - and there's a feed of emails and encouragement from fans via social networks to give a flavour of the world away from the track.
Where it differs from Codemasters' official racers is in its open-armed embrace of everything that makes up a MotoGP weekend, a move that helps smooth out the single-player campaign no end. A wildcard drive across a handful of Moto 3 races is all that's available at first, before a couple of offers from leading teams in the bottom rung of the MotoGP ladder trickle through. You can see out an entire campaign or, if you so desire, take up one of the offers from Moto 2 teams that transpire should you impress in your first five races. The journey to MotoGP can be fast-tracked, effectively, and you're never left languishing in lower formulae for too long.
It's worth sticking around in the lower formula, mind, because there's a gulf in performance between the bottom and top rungs of MotoGP that can be galling. In Moto 3, the satisfying handling Milestone's honed through the years is clear enough. There's a pleasing predictability to cornering - if anything, the bikes seem too keen to stay upright - and once the often counter-intuitive lines two wheels demand are figured out, the rear wheel can be happily teased out for the mild drifting necessary to nail down an exit.
Sit on some of the full-blooded machinery and you'll be in the next postcode within seconds of opening the throttle. They're slippery, fearsome things, all too happy to catapult you into the scenery, and delightfully eager to kick the back-end out with a pull of the right trigger. MotoGP 13's bikes have a substantial and authentically terrifying feel to them, and Milestone's done well to spread that out across a set of options catering for riders of all abilities.
So it's a meaty ride met with a smart if slim career mode, much of which anyone who's dabbled in the SBK games over the past few years will be accustomed to. After the swiftly diminishing returns of that series, the fresh impetus the MotoGP license has lent seems to have reinvigorated Milestone, even if it's not inspired the studio to mix up the formula too drastically.
Is it worthwhile for anyone who's spent a little longer out of the saddle? As much fun as MotoGP 13 is, there's no escaping that it's a less pretty, less visceral take on the sport than Climax produced in its superb stint on the license a decade ago. It doesn't help that the 60fps of Climax's games, and even Monumental's, is but a distant memory - Milestone can struggle to stick to 30fps, and even then MotoGP 13's still a bit of a dog, its lovingly created rides left to hurtle around half-realised backdrops.
Look beyond the tattered edges, though, and there's enough to ensure that the monopoly on two-wheel racing Milestone now enjoys doesn't mean this wins out by default. MotoGP 13's a lean, scrappy racer that's not just the best motorbike game around at the moment - it's one of the best pure motorsport experiences on console for years.
8 / 10