The best fun to be had on two wheels so far this generation has been with Burnout’s hell-powered bikes, with Moto GP and the first SBK game missing out on the love, failing to please arcade or simulation fans.
SBK X has split itself into three modes (Arcade, Simulation and Multiplayer) right from the start menu to try and please arcade and sim fans alike. But have they spread things out too much? I’ll split the review into the same three parts to cover all bases.
Pick a one off-race race or time-trial with any bike from the Superstock, Supersport or Superbike classes and choose any of the 14 accurately replicated tracks. Once you’ve had a few practice races you can get stuck into the Story mode. The ‘story’ is just a few lines from your pit boss and some random hot office chick. The races however are quite strange, usually involving starting the race on say lap 22/24 and being asked to finish 15th, 16th or 17th. You’ll earn reputation points as you go which will unlock more races which usually also start near the end, but with higher finishing places required. It’s an odd setup, but it feels better than repetitive 3+ lap races. The loading times are really short in-between too.
But how do the bikes actually handle? They’re very forgiving (we’re in arcade mode remember), with late braking encouraged so you can really screw it around corners, with your back wheel often sliding around without consequence. There’s an optional visual racing-line aid that changes colour depending on your speed.
Some random difficulty spikes aside things are fairly easy going as you can change the AI difficulty. Touching the grass is infuriating though as your rider seems to be stuck in the wrong gear when he gets back on the track and revs the bollocks off the bike for no reward for a few seconds.
You’re introduced to wet and rain races that are arguably more fun as the tracks look better, there’s a great rain-drop effect on the screen, and the sense of speed and imminent death you’ll get from hammering down the long straight at 180mph is a much better idea than dying on a real GSXR.
If you plan to get stuck into the serious side of the game, you better not linger in arcade mode, picking up bad habits. There are three levels of simulation to choose from, with even the lowest one bringing your back wheel around to try and overtake the front one before bucking you off. Harsher settings will even punish you for accelerating to hard.
Corner handling feels a lot less responsive too, as you’ll have to get used to booking corners in advance. Damn you arcade mode! Minor handling for corner tweaking or picking your way through a swarm of bikes can feel very twitchy though, but to be honest it’s probably more a problem caused by the analogue sticks, as they don’t have enough range of movement.
You can opt for manual gear changes, and sim mode includes independent front and rear braking which you’ll have to master early on. Step into the Simulation modes considerably deeper Career mode and you can look forward to earning new parts that you can adjust to the minutest settings and trying to win contracts with better teams. For some reason there are loads of camera angles to choose from here compared to the two in the arcade mode. First-person view is a complete nightmare though as you’re so close to the ground on corners you can’t see what’s coming and you feel like a hamster in a ball. Doing 200mph.
You really will need to practice though if you want to persist with the simulation side of the game. Sure, it’s more rewarding than the arcade mode, but with every corner posing such a threat, your nerves may be utterly shredded before your first mid-season. The presentation is a bit on the bland side as the graphics never really impress and the lack of commentary or even a pit-boss in your ear means there’s a lack of atmosphere at times too.
Well there’s no splitscreen option which will get the yellow caution flag out, but at least there’s online races for up to 12 racers. You can mix in some AI bots to boost the numbers if you wish. Races can be set up with arcade or sim level 1-3 handling, switchable penalties, any track, any weather and so on.
A shame then, that at the time of writing it seemed impossible to get a race going. Arcade race servers were empty and the sim ones would lose the connection in the lobbies whether it was a match I joined or created. No other problems with my other online games, so we’ll assume it’s going through some early difficulties and may improve soon.
- The sim career mode is very deep
- Great sense of speed/danger in wet races
- Ideal for the serious-minded racer
- Arcade story mode is very ‘hands-off’ bike tweaking
- Online races currently buggered
- Graphics and overall presentation is average
The Short Version: All the best bike tinkering is locked away in the simulation mode, which many gamers will find too brutally unforgiving and the arcade mode won’t entertain for long. Persist with the sim side of the game though and you may find yourself able to adapt to the harsh handling and even start to mess around with the bike’s settings for a long, rewarding experience.