There have been plenty of motorcycle racing games on various platforms for many years, many that are quite good and simply enjoyable to play. However, I can’t think of a time when they haven’t been overshadowed by games dedicated to their arguably sexier four-wheeled supercharged 200 mph racing cousins. Joining the fray on the undermanned biking game side is Valcon Games’ SBK-09: Superbike World Championship. At GDC 2010, I had a chance to check out the latest version in this well-known series from Europe.
After the highly festive start-up screen, you could choose a single-player mode or opt for a networked game (Xbox Live in this case) or jump into “options” and “extras.” Whether it’s the quick race, race weekend, championship or challenges mode you jump into, you’ll have the choice of picking from all the teams from the SBK circuit represented, including the precise representation of the bikes, their riders and their looks and outfit.
“Realism” best describes SBK-09. Prior to seeing the racing, I discovered you can adjust suspension, steering, gears, chain adjustment, brake balance and so forth, but the game also covers enough of the little details to make it a simulation unto itself. Thankfully, tips are made available to explain the reason behind every adjustment you might make. You can also meet before the race with an engineer, who can provide you information about the track you’re racing on or dive into the telemetry to offer you tips about what you need to tweak or adjust in the way you race the track. It’s a nice extra touch to have someone else in your corner before taking on any of the 13 tracks.
I mentioned realism before, which brings me to the “realism settings.” This I like, because it could make it possible to create a gameplay mode that can be simplified and arcade-like to unforgivingly realistic. In the preset modes, 19 options (like aided brake, bike damage, head-on start, rolling start, false start, etc.) are toggled on or off to make the game easier or more challenging, but if I wanted, I could customize these options entirely and shape the game to my own liking. What can’t be customized is the rider or the bike appearance, since these are all based on the real teams and real riders.
If you’re not a sunny weather rider &mash; or just want to try a ride in the rain, as I would — then you’ll be glad to know there’s also adjustable weather settings for the tracks. No night-time riding, though, since it’s not what would be done on a pro racing circuit. Racing in the rain seemed fun, complete with water drops spattering the screen, but also seemed to make controlling the bike a little trickier as you might expect.
Visually, the representations of the tracks, bikes and riders are rock-solid and animate smoothly even as the screen fills with a dozen bikers or more. SBK-09won’t graphically outshine the best auto racing titles, but there’s nothing to sneeze at here either. It appears that, more than the track textures, backgrounds or stands — you name it — the attention to detail was poured into the bikes and bikers. This is further proven when your bike takes a spill. Damage is inflicted on the bike and the rider, and it shows with a dirtied, scuffed uniform and a realistically damaged bike.
What you see when you fire up SBK-09 in the console is the same experience you’ll get after many hours or many weeks of playing the game. By that I mean access to all bikes, racers and maps is available from the start without having to pass an achievement or meet a performance ranking to unlock them. For that reason, SBK-09 could be one of those titles gamers will either adore or resent, depending on whether they love those carrot-on-a-stick challenges or not. I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker and actually think it would help make the game more appealing to a wider audience, even though it’s definitely designed as an interactive love note for the pro SBK enthusiast.
What players can earn — as they chase after various achievements offered in SBK-09 — is bike girl pictures, bike pictures or videos. For most stateside players, I suspect, it’ll be a thin layer of icing on the cake to chase after these extras.
On the downside of SBK-09 being “is what it is at the start or months later,” there’s no downloadable content.
Of course, in this connected age of gaming, players don’t have to ride alone. Up to eight players can race against each other on PlayStation Network or Xbox Live, but no splitscreen local multiplayer will be available, so it’s safe to say SBK-09 is not a party game.
For all hardcore fans of racing, whatever vehicle preference one might have, SBK-09: Superbike World Championship is a simulation to be reckoned with. It’s a game I’d spend some time on, and hopefully I wouldn’t end up spending too much time playing with the bike settings in the garage! SBK-09 is queued to be released in North America in 2010 for both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, with both versions basically identical.