In 2009 I wrote a Replay Review of successful 1980's arcade title Hang-On, a game that signified a point in the history of motorbike games where the genre met its 4 wheeled rivals blow for blow. But throughout the recent history of gaming, the biking genre appeared to fall behind, whether it be misunderstood it’s never really had the kind of exposure it deserves. Peppered through history from the aforementionedHang-On we moved to Road Rash and then a long break till Namco produced a marvelous job on their PS2 offerings which still feature some of the most stable rider cornering models. But 2009 would cause a seismic shift in opinion, with Capcom entering into the genre in 2008 then shifting development to Monumental; Milestone (developer of the 2008 Moto GP title) would focus their entire efforts on the 2010 edition of SBK while establishing their position as the premier bike racing developer. In reviewing a title I wouldn’t usually mention others within any given genre but it demonstrates the importance on SBK for both biking fans and gaming fans alike that this raises the bar, at least to show the potential within the genre.
It’s certainly seemed to take a while getting here but the excitement surrounding SBK-X was at fever pitch, and I looked forward to getting my hands on the final version. Enter the disc and you’ll be hit with the Biffy Clyro backed opening, a big name band that suits the atmosphere perfectly and certainly better than the rawky rock in other recent Milestone developments. Hit start and you’ll be presented with either Arcade or Simulation modes(On pressing start XB owners will receive the rather cheeky achievement 'money well spent' Having already tested both modespreviously I decided to dive straight into the arcade, a toe in the water if you will.
Both Arcade and Simulation offer an extensive range of modes, these forming many hours of gameplay. But as discussed in our interview with Game Director: Michele Caletti, both are built as individual games with totally independent handling models. Entering a Quick Race in Arcade and the handling is great fun, you can really throw the bike into corners, this making for an aggressive driving model. The bike leaning quickly and giving instant traction, an interesting approach that helps form a crossover for some players that may have previously been used to racing of the 4 wheel kind.
Arcade also contains a Story Mode, create your player, face (some of which looking suspiciously like the development team), colours, helmet profile etc. This much like a simplified version of the Simulation career which sees your player starting on Superstock 1000 and working his way up to the upper echelons of the SBK world. This is supported via Quick Championship and Time Attack options, already as big a package as you'll find in any stand alone biking titles.
Next it's time to move swiftly onto the Simulation mode and this is where SBK-X comes to life. It transforms, the physics immediately making an impact. Handling in the Simulation Mode is excellent, smooth rider motions combined with a logical sense of weight, it's a definite step forward though still room for improvement. Despite many laps I'm still not taking corners consistently on a perfect racing line, perhaps that's even a limitation of the control method? Either way I'm sure expert riders will have no problem.
On track and corners now need to be approached differently, braking early and turning in far earlier than you would expect, especially in chicanes, you'll be almost turning the opposite way as you enter the apex of the first turn in in preparing for the exit. At first this takes some serious amounts of practice but give it time and you'll eventually find a groove. Braking technique relies on the front braking, keeping the bike straight, gradients can have a significant effect on the balance. Sometimes this can make the player tentative on some sections, occasional support from the rear brake can help, but a lot of this can be dialed in by tuning the bike to your personal riding style.
Of course Milestone realise that many of us probably don't have a clue how to tune a bike, enter the career mode and players will be provided with an engineer, discuss your problems with him via a logically written selection of multiple choice questions and he'll soon come up with a suitable fix. All of that is dependent on the time available within any given session.
SBK-X includes all sessions from a real SBK weekend, from morning practice to qualifying, giving an excellent opportunity to develop your bike through the race weekend and really gear it to any given circuit. Though the challenge is often increased with dynamic weather, this could mean wet practice with a dry race. In this case players may look to increase rear end traction only to find oversteer in dry conditions, every alteration makes a startling impact on the way the bike handles.
This brings us to another key feature which has generated a wide range of interest, that being the way circuits 'rubber in' during races. Bikes lay rubber down during the race, this give the circuit more grip especially in the braking and low speed corners. Initially it's a very subtle approach, I didn't even notice at first? But as I learned the circuits and improved consistency it all seemed to come together. This also applied to a dry line forming when conditions are wet, making it important to follow a precise racing line.
Despite all of these additional features, SBK-X doesn't just throw you in at the deep end. Simulation consists of a range of options, from AI difficulty, so Low, Med or High Sim settings, Rider Weight on or off besides the obvious transmission. This is supported by Rider Health, Bike Damage, Race Penalties and Tyre Wear. All combining in an in-depth experience with an almost limitless range of options in customising the personal racing experience.
In practice the options work perfectly, Low Sim still makes for a more aggressive experience, brake later and harder, accelerate earlier and harder. Increase the settings and players will need to be mindful of their bike set-up and capabilities, braking late can disturb the back end, especially on gradients and off camber corners while acceleration should be moderate, and carefully applied, especially when exiting low speed corners. Of course I've learned all of this the hard way but to find the limit you often need to cross it.
The handling is obviously a big part of the game but structure is important too, Simulation containing Career Championship and Race Weekend. Again Career taking you from a rookie Superstock 1000 racer but with the added depth and handling it's an altogether different prospect. Agree a manager and staff and away you go, between races discussing your progress and potential sponsors, besides ,masses of stats, notes, the option to edit your attire and the ability to see that ever expanding trophy cabinet. Combined with other modes and a huge selection of race style options it's a comprehensive package.
Once you're up to speed it time to head online with the usual array of options, Quick Race, Championship and the rather handy Time Attack lobbies, always great for relaxed racing with your friends. Online leaderboards too are well structured, besides career wins/point you can enter time attack boards, for every track there are boards for Arcade, Sim Low, Med, High, besides bike used making for an extensive selection. This is supported with 16 player online racing though at the time of review I have been unable to test the lag in full lobbies, suffice to say I'm confident with what I've seen so far that it should work to an acceptable level.
Running at solid 30fps, graphics are a mixed bag, the bikes and riders look superb while some backgrouds lack polish, though spot effects are nice Marshals waving the appropriate flags, dust, dirt, rain and wet track surfaces all looking the part. This all moving on a lot from the earlier builds, indeed it's certainly the best looking racing title Milestone have output in recent times and with some fantastic details but I can't help but feel that they need to raise their game. Milestone are now starting to move in with the big boys and establish their place as a leading race developer but this raises the benchmark and expectation with this graphics engine lacking the sparkle required to really blow people away. Framerate too is something to develop further, I'm a staunch supporter of a high 60fps output, look to the top titles and they will all aim to hit that benchmark, despite a smooth 30fp with motion blur things need to move forward.
Sound is fantastic, the bikes actually sound like bikes, the response to the reactions of the player, bike, gradient, gear are all instantly recognisable and work well in giving an intuitive understanding of how the bike is performing. All backed up with the well suited and excellent Biffy Clyro soundtrack this is one department with little to worry about.
SBK-X is without doubt the finest biking game available on a modern console, though there are still issues with rider weight and handling that require further research. While I feel the graphics engine needs to move on, it's solid and functional, though consistent steps forward on future releases will be essential. SBK-X great fun to play for any skill level with a huge and comprehensive package, and I hope Black Bean can continue to invest in their ever expanding automotive infrastructure. SBK-X is a significant step forward for Milestone, Black Bean and motorbike fans alike and would make a worthy addition to the collection of any fan.
8 out of 10
You must be logged in to post a comment