This past week, I had a chance to sit down for a brief preview of the Xbox 360 version of the upcoming SBK X. The game is a full blown simulation of the world of superbike motorocycle racing, including both Superstock and Supersport bikes. The game itself has been available in the European markets since June and will finally see release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC next week. There are three main modes of play within SBK X: arcade, simulation, and online. Unfortunately, during my time with the game, the online multiplayer options were not available. The final version of the game will support full, online multiplayer.
SBK X has been designed to fully recreate the world of Superbike racing in your own home. This is done through a fully licensed roster of real life racers and fully customizable bikes. The arcade mode of the game is meant to break the ice for players new to the world of superbikes. Racing within this mode is simplified in an attempt to make the game more appealing and enjoyable to those who may not be familiar with all of the mechanics involved in the sport. From within the arcade mode, you have the choice of participating in quick races, a simplified career mode called story mode, and tournament races. The simulation option of the game houses the same options, only the level of difficulty and skill required is exponentially higher. I spent a majority of my time in the arcade mode, simply because of its “friendliness” to new players.
Within the arcade mode, as I mentioned, everything is simplified. Players do not have to worry about this such as shifting gear, rear versus front braking, and shifting the weight of the rider. You simply get on your bike and press the gas to go; you even get the option of a turbo / boost to use during straight-ways on the tracks. The game gives you a helpful guideline on the track in this mode that shows you the ideal path that you should be following, as well as how to handle your speed along that path. This line trains you on the methods of reading the track and turns; learning how to read both is an absolute necessity if you are considering stepping into the simulation mode of the game. Another major benefit of the arcade mode is the inability to crash your back; this mode is extremely forgiving. Cutting corners too severely or bumping into your fellow racers will simply push you off of the course, slowing your bike down dramatically. On the other hand, doing these sorts of things in the simulation mode will cause your racer to crash and possibly even injure them and prevent them from finishing the race(s).
Aside from the self-explanatory single race and tournament options within arcade mode, there is also a lengthy career mode. In the story portion you will create a custom racer that you will through a streamlined career focusing solely on your performance in a series of races and events. The racer customization is pretty simple, allowing gamers to set such attributes as name, height, weight, hometown, and a few visual / face options. Once you have created your racer, you are introduced to the race team staff that directs you through a series of races and events over the course of your (simplified) career. The goal within each race is to meet one of three placement requirements, depending on the difficulty of the race. In early portions of your “career”, you will only be required to place in spots such as 14, 15; before long though the team will require you to lead the pack. Hitting each set placement position will reward your character with 10 career points, offering a maximum of 30 per race, which will unlock other races and courses in your career. This mode effectively holds your hand and guides you through the career. There isn’t a lot of thought that has to be put into playing this mode, you simply select a course / challenge and go. Pursuing the career option in the simulation mode is a completely different story.
When players dive into the simulation mode(s) of SBK X, they had better be prepared for a challenge. This mode is extremely difficult and serves as an extremely detailed simulation of the superbike sport. Whereas the arcade mode held your hand through most of aspects, you will be on your own in simulation. You will need to take all of the lessons that you learned in arcade and apply them if you hope to survive. SBK X, like riding and actual superbike, is not forgiving… when you are cruising at break-neck speed around a track, even the smallest little mistake can throw everything off course. In this mode, you will need to pay very close attention to the various functions and controls of your bike, including learning and utilizing both front and read breaks, shifting your rider’s weight in and out of turns, as well as maneuvering through the various gears of your bike. If that isn’t enough to throw you for a loop on the track, and it definitely was for me, the career options off the track will. In the simulation career, you will need to navigate through each and every aspect of your career in order to make it in the big leagues. The career can last up to eight years, but your course isn’t set in stone. It will be up to you to negotiate your sponsorships / team agreements and perform at a level to open various doors for your character. This mode can get very detailed; I would imagine that the litany of options available in the simulation area would be a dream come true for superbike racing fans, but as someone new to the experience and the sport all together, it was very overwhelming. If the sport is your thing though, I have no doubt that you will be pleased with the manner in which it is present in SBK X.
For the most part, the game looks and sounds as good as one would expect for a game in the current generation. The racers and the bikes are incredibly detailed and the animations are top notch. The one area that I would have to express concern with is the environments surrounding the tracks and courses in the game; they just seem so barren. I understand that the courses of a fast paced sport are open and clear, for the safety of the riders, but in the game this comes across as lacking any sort of personality or character. All that the players see is an uninteresting gray openness… with asphalt and dirt for as far as the eye can see. The crowds on the edges of the track aren’t lively at all and the few elements included to add variety to the surroundings, like hot air balloons and such, are stagnant and isolated. The game more than meets the need for speed and the thrill of the sport, but the environments and surroundings could use some improvement in order to elevate the experience to the next level.
SBK X was a lot of fun. Racing on high speed superbike is a completely different world than racing cars, and the game makes this very clear. Superbike racing requires a different approach and tactics that normally are not taken into consideration in the gaming genre since it it is predominantly filled with car-based racing games. The game does a really nice job of offering gameplay modes to appease both the hardcore SBK crowd and the casual gamer; it is easy to see how a player, given enough time, would work their way into competing in the full simulation modes of the game. That is something that would take some work and dedication though, but the reward would be worth it. SBK X launches next week, on October 19, 2010. Superbike fans will undoubtedly want to check out. Milestone and Black Bean has gone to great lengths to accurately recreate the Superbike experience.
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* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.