The Game with Multiple Personality Disorder
Trying to please everyone can sometimes result in pleasing no one. I recall when I was a wee lad, I came across an album by Billy Preston (he played keyboard with the Beatles) called Everybody Likes Some Kind of Music. While there’s no disputing that, I am not into buying an album of tunes with only one song that suits my taste. I don’t imagine that album was much of a seller.
It’s virtually impossible to be all things to all people, and although developers Milestone are still aiming SBK: Superbike World Championship at a target demographic, they want that target to be as wide as possible – probably the broad side of a barn. To this end, they have created a racing game that is a sim and arcade-style racer – and just about everything in between. This brings me to my point: it’s not easy to please everyone. Arcade-racing enthusiasts just want to have fun. They can’t be bothered with deep customizing options and unforgiving control systems. By the same token, sim players want all the depth and challenge that a game can throw at them – an arcade mode being little more than a novelty. The multiple personality traits of SKB: Superbike World Championship sounds good in theory but overall the game just lacks fun, possibly a result from diversifying the gameplay.
On the surface, SKB seems to have it going on. It’s got a good selection of modes, licensed tracks, vehicles, and riders. Players can pick-up-and-play immediately in the arcade mode or get deep in over their heads with the sim component. It’s only after an hour or so that the game begins to show some flaws. The main problem is that the gameplay becomes redundant. There is no shortages of challenges in any of the modes, but they are dangled in front of you like the proverbial carrot on a stick. You have to complete the current race before anything new happens, and it winds up as a lot of tedious work, especially in the more challenging sim modes. Completing a current race successfully requires that you know the track by memory and that you hone the skills to keep the bike in an upright position, which is not an easy task. Learning the layout of the track will come somewhat easier, since you can end up spending hours on it. The unforgiving nature of the control system ensures that you’ll endure frustration that is almost beyond the scope of human suffering. Okay that’s a bit dramatic, but man this game can be difficult in the sim mode.
There are some features in place to help ease the pain, but there’s no tutorial mode to speak of. It would be great if we could ride around and develop our skills without having to race or perform specific tasks under pressure. There’s a challenge mode where you will be forced to race and perform stunts such as burnouts and skids in addition to time trials. I never did feel totally comfortable with my skills. As soon as I passed the test, it was time to move on to the next one. The motivation behind this mode is the ability to acquire medals. It’s hoped, as you work tirelessly to grab the gold, that in the process you will have assimilated some skills without even realizing it. Trust me, with this game, there’s no gain without pain.
The game is licensed, so that means you’ll be using real-world bikes, competing against real-life riders on real-world tracks. In some of the challenges, you’ll compete against your closest rival in a section of track that is corner-laden. These rendered riders perform similarly to their real-life counterparts, some more aggressive, others more methodical in their approach. Of course, none of them are easy to beat in the sim level, although you can adjust the difficulty options for the A.I.
Customizing is an entity unto itself. Tires, suspension, brakes, gear ratios, and various engine components can be purchased, swapped, tweaked, and tuned. It can be overwhelming, since it’s almost impossible to tell in advance how the various upgrades will interact and affect the bike’s overall performance. I suppose it’s a great feature for the gear-heads but for regular weekend warriors like myself, there is some help in the form of a virtual engineer that will make suggestions for you. This guys seems to know what he’s talking about, but that doesn’t have to stop you from making some radical mods. You will receive feedback after each race, called telemetry. The engineer will gauge your performance against your bike’s characteristics and give you suggestions based on that. I can’t be quite sure but I think I heard him tell me to let someone else drive.
In addition to the various difficulty modes, there is an assortment of standard racing modes including challenge, time attack, quick race, championship, and multiplayer. There are a dozen different tracks including Valencia, Monza, Donington, and Phillip Island. Exerting extra influence on your handling are four weather conditions. Rain will slow you down but it doesn’t seem to adversely affect the A.I. There are 22 riders and 22 high-powered, stock bikes. Graphically, the bikes are showroom condition, especially the Ducati’s, and they look good even after a crash, of which there’s no shortage.
The animation of the crashes is realistic enough but it’s in contrast to the rest of the graphics such as the generic tracks. There’s not a lot of detail in the backgrounds, just the basics to determine your location in the world. The framerate is slow but steady. Despite some blurring, there just isn’t a great sense of speed to get your adrenaline pumping. Overall, the game just does not push the envelope on current-gen systems, and nowhere is that more evident than with the pit girls that look like they just escaped from a PSOne game. The motors are sampled from the actual bikes and they are capable of purring, screaming, thundering, and rumbling. The game could use more ambient sound effects as well as more rocking music and voiceovers.
Online allows for up to eight player to take part in quick races. It’s the most fun I had with the game but I was never able to find more than four people online to race against. In the previews the developers hinted at a 16-player online mode. I personally don’t think the game suffers from the lack of more players. Technically, the game was solid online with no slowdown and responsive controls. That’s what really matters to me.
Learning the control system is easy enough but making the right move at the right time is another story. It’s really all about cornering. Learn how to lean into a corner, when to brake, and when to accelerate coming out of it, and you’ll be on your way to mastering this game – if you have the time and patience. What was missing for me was a sense of accomplishment and a motivation to continue, in other words, there’s very little reward for so much work.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Average-looking tracks with sparse backgrounds. Not current-gen quality. 3.9 Control
Controls are responsive enough but the sim mode is overly touchy. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Engine sound effects are excellent, but the game needs more ambient audio. 3.1 Play Value
Despite the extreme variation of difficulty, this is just an average racer. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.