Review: SBK: X Superbike World Championship (Playstation 3)

SBK: X Superbike World Championship
Publisher: Deep Silver Inc.
Developer: Milestone
Genre: Racing Sim
Released: 12/07/10

Motorbikes aren’t exactly my thing. I think that anyone who rides one is a crazy bastard, and anyone who rides one at 200+ MPH is a raving loony moron. I have up until now carried that attitude towards bikes in videogames, because I have a tendency to crash into things while driving virtually, and going from experience in games like Grand Theft Auto 4, crashing on bikes tends to kill me. I tell you this now, up front, so that you may understand where I’m coming from while I review this game.

Story/Modes:

There are two separate gameplay styles to be found in SKB: X, Arcade and Simulation. In Arcade mode there is a Story mode, while in Simulation there is a Career mode. Both of these could be reviewed as the “story” of the game, especially since one is so conveniently named Story mode, but the reality is neither mode offers very much in the way of story. Instead I choose to look at the game as I would every racing game, be it Gran Turismo or NASCAR. Whatever story there is in the game is dedicated to telling you about where the next race is and what you should be expecting.

Arcade and Simulation might as well be two entirely different games, because playing one is not even remotely like playing the other. Arcade is basically exactly what you would expect from an arcade style game for racing Motorbikes. You can make quick turns, react poorly but still survive, and there is almost nothing that can happen to you on the track that will put you out of the race.

Simulation, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. The game allows for different levels of realism, but when everything is turned on the game attempts to be as realistic as possible. Brakes wear out, gravity is a factor, and if you don’t know what you are doing the races will be over very quickly. Crash the bike badly enough in the Career portion of Simulation Mode and you might have your driver retire on you from all of the injuries they have sustained because of your poor driving skills.

Graphics:

The game does not look bad in the slightest. Riders and bikes are well modeled, and tracks look really good. Weather is a big factor in the game, and there are distinct differences in the way a track looks under the sun compared to the way it looks in the rain.

The camera can be moved depending on what you feel most comfortable with. You can choose behind the rider at different distances, and you can choose the first person view. There is also a customizable camera angle for those who find even these views too limiting.

Audio:

I may not like Motorbikes but I have seen and heard enough of them on the roads and on television to know that they scream like banshees when they get going. I can say for certain that the developers have been more than faithful when it comes to the audio their virtual bikes produce out on the track.

The game includes a number of songs from up and coming artists which play during the races and in the menu screens. I can’t say I loved the music but it wasn’t horrible, and there is an option in the menu to turn off the tunes, so no harm no foul there.

There is zero voice acting in the game. Both in career mode and in story mode, you can talk to people, but you might as well be playing an SNES game. The dialogue is all typed on screen and nobody actually says anything.

Gameplay/Controls:

As stated above there are two gameplay types included in Superbike World Championship, Arcade and Simulation. There’s also an online portion of the game, but that’s just the Arcade and Simulation modes played with up to 15 other players. Nothing to sneeze at, but I’ll talk more about that later.

As an arcade racer, the game is not really all that noteworthy. It compares poorly when you hold it up against something like a Burnout game. Arcade could probably be described best as racing with training wheels on. There is a boost button, but really I think it’s just there because an arcade game would demand a boost button. I say apparently because, as there is no explosive jump forward in speed, it seems like all the button does is change the camera angle a little and make a wooshing noise to simulate the now suddenly faster wind blowing past your helmeted ears.

As a simulation, I don’t think anything else that I’ve played compares to this, not even Gran Turismo 5. The amount of customization for the bikes may not be as extreme as what you can do with your cars in GT5, but I don’t believe there is any option in GT to relax the rules of the game to allow you to learn to control your vehicle the way you can here in SBK:X. This is a game where, at its highest difficulty setting, you must know how to shift your rider’s weight on the bike to control how well it grips the road. It’s a game where you have to judge the track with very little help from the game, where sliding even a hair off the track will at best cut your speed down to almost nothing, and where at worst you could lose control of your bike and go flying, killing any chance you might have had at winning the race.

So as a novice, what did I think of playing in both Arcade and Simulation? Well, I was able to compete and do pretty well for myself in Arcade mode. Some races force you to drive without breaks, which supposedly forces you to learn how to skid. There was no mention of how I was supposed to defeat these challenges until after I defeated the first one, so what it really taught me was Arcade Mode doesn’t care if you cheat, and so my Superbike often became a Motocross bike in those races.

As for my experience with Simulation mode, at its most basic I was able to navigate the tracks and achieve the goals set for me in Career mode. When the realism was increased, however, my enjoyment of the game plummeted and my ability to do anything on the course other than crash every ten seconds virtually disappeared. I’m glad nobody could see me playing it, because it must have looked like a monkey trying to play a violin.

I do not feel that this level of difficulty is a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing. The harder the better, so that people can get a true understanding of how difficult it is to ride one of these things. At it’s most difficult the entire Dual Shock Controller is being used for one thing or another, often multiple things at the same time. You have a button for front and rear brakes, the right analog stick is used to shift your weight on the bike, the left is used for steering, there’s a button to upshift and one to downshift, a button to look behind you and another to change the camera angle. There is even a button for reversing your bike, should you find yourself stuck facing a wall. Then imagine doing all of that in real life.

Replayability:

You have the Arcade and Simulation modes, and then you also have an online functionality added which allows you to race against 15 other people with either Arcade or Sim style physics. There are three separate classes of bikes you can compete on. There are time trials you can compete in as well as various modes included in the main styles. In Arcade, that includes single races, quick championships (where you have to race all 12 races without saving), the story mode and time trials. In Simulation, you swap out Story mode and input Career mode. Career is a yearly schedule where you go from race to race, testing your bike and calibrating it for the various tracks in your garage and trying to earn a better qualifying position before finally competing in the big race that weekend. You can also compete in only the Race Weekend portion of the game and completely skip Career mode if you like.

While the game does include a robust online component, one problem I encountered with the game was the serious lack of people playing online. I checked the online score board and found there were only 35 or so names attached to it.

Balance:

The game hovers on the extreme difficulty side of the balance scales. There is no hiding that fact. The Arcade mode is a nice way to break you into the game but it also teaches you bad habits for when you do graduate over to the Simulation side of the game. Even if you don’t intend to, you will eventually learn all of the ways to attack the tracks while playing on Arcade only to discover that they don’t work in the slightest while riding in Sim, due to the intervention of this thing we like to call physics.

Appeal:

If all you’ve ever raced in games are cars, just forget it. Stop reading right now and go stub your toe (DO NOT ACTUALLY STUB YOUR TOE. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU BREAKING YOUR FOOT.). You’ll probably have more fun and save yourself some cash. Yes there is an easier Arcade mode in the game, but if you really want to experience the game as it was meant to be played, you’ll play it on Simulation, and that won’t end well. Unless of course you are the sort of person who loves a challenge and who loves racing anything with wheels.

Originality:

I can’t say there are a whole lot of Suberbike racing sims that I’ve come across in my time. I know the genre is a little bigger over in Europe, but here in North America we seem to like our cars more than our bikes.

Addictiveness:

If you get past the steep learning curve of Simulation mode the game is as good as you’ll find on two wheels. The problem, of course, is getting over that hill. It will take a lot of practice and even more patience.

Miscellaneous:

Finally, there are a staggering amount of load times in this game. They don’t last very long, this isn’t a Metal Gear Solid 4 install, but they are constant. Load a screen, then load another screen, then load a third screen, then finally get on the track and race. Every time. I think the game would have benefited substantially from a hard drive install, but sadly there is no option for this.

The Scores:
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Good
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Bad
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Bad

FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
SBK:X is far from a bad game. It’s also far from an easy game to learn and get used to, which really forces the score down. Some games are difficult and some games take difficulty to an entirely new level. This game is clearly a labor of love for the developers, who must have a huge passion for the sport. If you share that passion you will very likely love this game.

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