Seven wins straight. It's almost unthinkable that anyone could pull off the perfect MotoGP season by winning every single race, but in the here and now, with 11 races to go, that's exactly what Marc Márquez could achieve. He's this year's defending champion, and despite strong competition from Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo - the latter of whom won more races last season that any other rider - it looks like the new ace up Repsol Honda's sleeve is going to walk it. This leaves the fight for second place as the more interesting proposition, especially with so many contracts about to expire.
It's fair to say that MotoGP is going through a transition period, and in the world of officially licensed racing games, the same can be said of Milestone. This Italian developer has given us more two-wheeled titles than anyone else in the business. For a time, it was the studio behind the SBK series, but since reconnecting with the MotoGP licence in 2013, Milestone has stuck to what it does best - and that's delivering its sophisticated style of semi-simulation riding physics beneath increasingly dated graphics.
Thankfully, MotoGP 14 on the PlayStation 4 is a marked improvement over its technically accomplished yet visually bland predecessors. It's never going to challenge the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo, but what Milestone has achieved on its tighter budget is still worthy of praise. The bikes cast multiple shadows as you hurtle down the main Losail straight at the dead of night. The rider animations extend to some epic highside saves when you gun it too quickly out of a corner. And the tracks - while far from showstoppers - feel noticeably less static.
This all adds up to a more commanding presentation - yet, as refreshing as it is to play a MotoGP game that looks more contemporary, the handling model will always lie at the heart of the Milestone experience. In this regard, MotoGP 14 follows a similar line to the past games. With the simulation and AI settings maxed out, you'll have to nail every apex, pass and shift to stand any chance of success. But if you lower the bar while turning some of the riding aids on, the margin for error becomes much more lenient.
Compare MotoGP 14 with the real-world sport of motorbike racing and you'll end up with a long list of irregularities, but to do so would miss the point entirely. It's about striking an even balance between realism and gameplay, and although the braking distances and off-track excursions may raise the odd eyebrow, the art of feathering the throttle through a sharp left-hander feels perfectly poised on the DualShock 4. There's even been a marked improvement in the fallibility of the rider AI. They now make occasional mistakes rather than racing like a pack of autonomous robots.
In terms of available modes, MotoGP 14 delivers all the usual suspects while throwing some interesting extras into the mix. Instant Race, Grand Prix, Championship and Time Attack all function exactly as stated, and with a generous spread of five rosters and 18 tracks - including the new Termas de Río Hondo circuit in Argentina - the only notable omission is Michele Pirro. But with a healthy Cal Crutchlow both in the game and on the box, you're free to take Ducati to the top of the table in a run of Casey Stoner proportions.
This "what if?" mentality is a big part of the game's draw and it's refreshing to see it taken beyond the returning Career mode. Making a rider from a limited selection of faces, starting them as a Moto3 wildcard and then slowly climbing the ranks until they're the premier class champion is all much the same as before, but MotoGP 14 is given a bit more personality by two new modes: Real Events 2013 and Challenge the Champions.
Inspired by last year's more eventful season, Real Events 2013 tasks you with recreating and even bettering the key moments from each race. For the opening race in Qatar, you have to finish third or better as Rossi after a dodgy overtake leaves you considerably behind, and when you make it to Aragón in Spain, you have to maintain your position as Pedrosa after a collision with Márquez knocks out your traction control system. If you're the kind of MotoGP fan that watches every race without fail, then reliving these moments is a genuine thrill - especially when you set the difficulty to a notch above your comfort zone.
The same is also true of the Challenge the Champions mode that harks back to the simpler times of 500cc two-stroke engines. It takes all the riders from the MotoGP 13 Champions DLC, adds in six new faces (including Max Biaggi and Noriyuki Haga) and then throws down the gauntlet with 17 challenges. A few of these are fictional - such as a first-place finish from Freddie Spencer after starting from last on the grid - but most are based on true events.
The only disappointing thing about this pair of nostalgic modes is that they're fairly short-lived. There are 34 challenges between them, but aside from increasing the AI difficulty, there's little in the way of replay value. This makes the inclusion of the redundant playable Safety Car mode more grating. Milestone's time would've been better spent coming up with more challenges rather than shoehorning a BMW M4 Coupé into a motorbike racing game. I wouldn't go so far as to call it offensive, but it's surprising how badly the car handles when you consider the studio's work on the World Rally Championship series.How a tiny studio invented Diablo, and the action RPG 'All the technology we built was based on a single screen grab from X-Com.'
Mercifully, the Beemer is restricted to Time Attack mode and its own online leaderboards. The rest of the online features are reserved for the main two-wheeled attractions and include everything from the returning Grand Prix to the new Split Times mode. The former includes all the usual options for up to 12 players - including whether you want to enforce Pro physics or turn the collisions on or off - while the latter divides the track into eight sectors and awards victory to the player who can lay down the best time in the most sectors.
Add the graphical overhaul, refined handling and experimental modes together and you end up with a racer that feels much more competitive that its immediate predecessors. Milestone has a habit of releasing motorcycling sequels that hold little distinction outside of the yearly livery changes, but in MotoGP 14, it's not relying solely on the draw of the licence and the pull of its physics. That doesn't mean it's comparable to Márquez in terms of getting everything right, but if ever there was a game made by MotoGP fans for MotoGP fans, this is definitely it.
8 / 10