The video game racer is a genre that has always left me a little cold.
A worrying statement you may think from someone about to embark on the writing of a review for newly released 2-wheeled throttle buster, SBK Generations.
But fear not dear reader, as although it’s true that I’ve never truly felt the surge of excitement that I’m sure so many others enjoy as they drool over hi-octane videos of the latest Forza game I do still have a particular love for something equally important. Good video games.
Irrelevant of my preferences I’m always partial to a good video game and so with that in mind I plunged myself deep into the innards of this years only bike racing title to seek out the goodness within.
Immediately it became apparent that developers, Milestone, had put some serious heart and soul into their new baby. They’ve attempted to deliver a seriously substantial package and one that on first glance seems like a Superbike fans wet dream.
SBK Generations is packed with choice. Over 200 riders adorn a roster ranging from the current crop of speed demons back to 2009’s vintage. There are a multitude of machines available with which to tear up the tarmac, a nice variety of game modes, including the all-important online play, are present and correct and the entire experience is very well presented via neat and easily navigated menu screens.
The light’s green and we’re off to a flying start!
But now comes the acid test. The slice of this pie that will prove decisive in just how much staying power SBK Generations has and whether it’ll even find a home among your gaming collection in the first place. Just how does this beast handle?
Well, the good news is Milestone have produced a very solid racer. The bike’s feel sufficiently ‘bikey’ while racing and provide a real sense that one wrong move or slight over-exuberance on the throttle will see you spill into the dirt before you can say ‘Max Biaggi’s shiny helmet.’ A choice of difficulty levels ease racers into the fray and on the easiest of these you’ll be hitting podiums in no time and wrongly believe you’re Gods gift to motorcycles (I speak from bitter experience), but once cranked up SBK delivers a serious challenge even for hardcore fans and a daunting one for newcomers.
There are one or two annoyances though, other riders bumping you and riding off unscathed while you plummet to the dirt was a little too frequent for my liking and almost threatened to unleash my angry dark side on more than one occasion. Also after a few races our old friend repetition made an unwelcome appearance, this though may be something a more avid racer will avoid.
Time to talk speed. Vitally important in a game of this type is there’s a genuine feeling that when hitting the straights and squeezing every ounce of power from your machine you can almost feel the wind in your hai…erm, helmet, and see the bugs obliterate on your visor. Pleasingly SBK does a fine job in this department, numerous times I found myself actually easing off slightly, in part due to trepidation of my own lack of knowledge of a track and also simply because it felt so damned fast!
Now though we move onto one of this games weaker areas, that of looks.
While it’s true SBK serves up some solid, fully charged racing action it’s also fair to say that Milestone must be pleased they haven’t entered a beauty contest. Graphically the game is below par. Not so far below that it hugely detracts from the racing but by today’s highly polished standards this racer falls short. The bikes look good enough and the riders look okay but the backgrounds and track scenery look decidedly old hat and one dimensional. Having said that, the game does almost redeem itself via the superbly realised weather effects, these add wonderful depth to races and look incredibly realistic, after a particularly rain swept few laps I almost asked for a towel. Or perhaps it’s just that when it’s raining the poorly detailed backdrops aren’t as easy to see, either way it’s a blessing.
The sounds seem to be pretty much spot on and true to life, including my own cries of anguish as I once again slid off the track and lost roughly 200 places, well that’s how it felt. All the bikes whine and growl like a Superbike should and the menu music is delicate and unintrusive.
Mode-wise Milestone have given us the traditional career, create a rider, choose a team and live the dream of fighting your way to the top of the Superbike tree. Each race on your journey offers a couple of chances to run practice sessions to acclimatise yourself with the track before hitting the qualifying and finally the race itself. The bike can be fine tuned by hand with numerous tweaks and variations available or for the less mechanically minded, ie: me, it can be left to your pit genius. The career mode is a full package in it’s own right and should last many happy hours.
Online mode is basically exactly what you’d expect, at the time of writing I’ve only managed a handful of races but each was a very fluid, lag free and enjoyable affair and something I hope to return to and really savour over the next few weeks. Upto 16 players can rev it out in quick races or over full championships. Very nice work indeed.
SBK Experience is a new mode that offers racers the chance to take on challenges relating different years from the Superbike calendar. The challenges come in a number of varieties and flavours from using minimal braking on laps to doing wheelies for a specified amount of time during a race. Completing a challenge unlocks a couple more and also opens up new riders and bikes. The mode is a nice distraction from the more standard racing fare and packs a tough test that requires skill and patience.
Finally there’s Free-Play mode in which you can basically do your own thing from creating championships to racing quick laps or taking on time challenges.
Online leaderboards keep a track of your progress and offer the chance to see how your riding compares to other players around the world which is always a welcome addition.
So where are we?
Well, SBK Generations hasn’t turned me into a disciple of the racing genre but it has entertained me and surely that’s all we should really be asking of our games. The racing is fun and seems pleasantly realistic but does, for a part-time racer like myself, become repetitive after a while. The presentation is great, the menu’s are simple yet quirky and look all the better for it, the depth that Milestone have aimed for is apparent and with a number of modes and online options the game should hold plenty of longevity for fans of the genre or the Superbike circuit itself.
If you fall into the category of Superbike or video game racing fan then you will find much to get excited about here and this game could last you a long, long time with it’s generous options, for the less enthusiastic, SBK Generations will likely still entertain for a while but will eventually begin to feel stale before taking up residence on the shelf next to the other racers in your collection.