Superbike is an immensely popular sport, although more so overseas than back here at home. This is maybe why the last version of SBK; SBK 09 somehow didnt make itself over to this side of the ocean. If you ask someone what bike game theyve played their answer will most likely be the Moto GP series. Granted, they used to be the staple and standard for moto racing, over the years the series has turned away from the simulation aspect of the sport in turn for more of an arcade style instead.
The SBK series has been around for a while, but seemed to always be that other racing game when comparing the two. Seems like the developers at Milestone no longer want to be in second place and have stepped up to deliver a polished and enjoyable racing product that anyone can play. What Milestone has done excellent is no easy feat: theyve made the game accessible to almost all players that can play almost in any style they wish. You have an arcade most that is simple to control, has boost and even a wheelie button to go alongside the simulation mode that can turned all the way from casual to completely hardcore and true to life. SBK X is essentially two games in one because of these two very distinct modes and comes complete with many different modes and varieties to be played.
Controlling a two wheeler is nothing like driving a car; you need to plan your turns well ahead of when you actually want to do it. You basically need to learn to start turning before you want to actually turn. Its an odd concept but once you figure out the flow and control mechanics of the game its quite a rush to make that hairpin corner nearly completely horizontal to the ground. Winning a race in SBK isnt about making up time on the straight stretch; its about finessing your way in the corners and keeping your maximum speed throughout the race. Controls are simple and easy to get used to, but can also be completely customized any way you wish.
Lets start off with Arcade Mode shall we. Its very self-explanatory and is the simple jump in and race without much through to it. Youll have a racing line to follow that will show you the proper route to take into turns and will even change colors to show you what speed to go into them at. Green means you are going too slow, red means too fast and you want to try and keep your speedometer so that you hit the sweet spot of yellow.
Arcade Mode makes everything simple by allowing your brakes to work simultaneously and not have to worry about your riders weight distribution on the bike as well. At any time you can hold the A button to use boost (no meter to fill or worry about) though you wont be able to corner easily while boosting. If youre playing Arcade Mode, you want to just race fast and not have to worry about much; you might even want to do a wheelie or two. Luckily, holding the X button will do a wheelie whenever you wish to show off. It seems a little out of place but it works and makes it simple to do. Youre able to customize your race lengths anywhere from 1 to 22 laps along with the AI for your rival racers that can vary from Rookie to Real. Change your starting position and weather are also options that can be set so that you can compete in any kind of race you desire.
Included in Arcade Mode is Story Mode that will encompass your career as a rider as you complete race objectives such as beating a rival, lap time, or simply placing above a certain number in a given event. Whats great about Story Mode is that mode of these objectives are simple and quick to complete. You arent given a full 22 lap race for every objective, most are usually 1 or 2 laps to complete whatever you need to do. Its odd that some objectives gold ranking is to come in 18th place, but it works to teach you certain things about tracks or bikes (like how to turn when your brakes arent working).
Arguably the meat and bones of SBK X is in the realistic Simulation Mode that is exactly as the name suggests: a simulation of riding a two wheeled powerhouse taking corners are deathly speeds. Take note though, its incredibly difficult, frustrating and a huge challenge just to stay on your bike properly. You need to brake properly (individual brakes), lean well before you want to start turning, gently accelerate and even control your bodys weight on the bike. You also dont get the racing line to help you and guide you to the proper race route. This mode isnt for everyone, Simulation Mode is for the hardcore players that want to focus on realism and Im glad that Milestone didnt try and water it down to cater to everyone (which is why Arcade Mode is great for everyone else).
As mentioned above, the default controls can be changed to whatever you wish and I went with the suggested scheme of mapping acceleration to the left stick and steering to the left and right triggers. I could barely stay on the bike with these unnatural controls, but once I started to get used to them and combined with the cockpit view, it definitely felt as if I was riding the bike (even though I kept falling off).
Simulation also has other options that can be tweaked for races such as handling, damage, tire wear, rider health and weather among others. Changing the weather in SBK X doesnt just make the road slightly more slippery when raining; itll also change how the track performs against your rider. Tread will actually wear from your tires over time and youll gain better traction because of it should you hit the same lines every lap. Its apparent that the subtle weather effects have put a lot of time into it as racing in the rain in cockpit view looks like actual rain is hitting against your TV screen.
Building off the premise of Story Mode, Simulation has its own Career Mode that is much more involved that will focus more on your rider rather than the management factors that Moto GP uses. You begin in the Superstock circuit and as you sign contracts with other teams and move up the rankings, youll eventually compete in the WSS and SBK classes over the span of your eight year career.
Multiplayer can have 16 people competing over Xbox Live and Championship, Quick Race, and Time Trials are all available to be competed. Its quite entertaining to play online with a bunch of people with simulation settings toggled that have clearly only played the Arcade Mode or arent used to the simulation controls yet.
I do wish there were options to completely customize your bike with decals and paint jobs (hello Forza 3) and that there was visual damage for your bikes if you crash a few times. While crashes are present, they dont seem anywhere near as epic as they should be. Youll fall off your bike, roll for a second and then be put back on the bike. Its not really a downfall, but it did stand out as bike crashes are quite a spectacle to see.
Im not going to really complain all that much as the visuals are great and everything plays very smoothly, but the presentation is a little bare and left to be desired (especially the conversations in the Story and Career Modes). My only real complaint would have to be the amount of loading when playing the Story or Career Modes. Youll load to talk to one person and then again when you talk to someone else. Itll also reload the whole track as you play a practice, qualifier and actual race for some reason.
If I had to give one feature in the game the MVP award, Id have to go with the cockpit view as you get a real sense of how closely you come to the ground as you take those tight turns. Somehow Milestone has managed to get this first person view done correctly as well and will actually have your rider slightly look into your turn rather than simply in just a straight line so you can feel where you are going.
SBK X is essentially two games in one. Arcade Mode gives you a simple way to get into a race quickly, go fast, and pop wheelies. Simulation Mode will satisfy the hardcore fans and will give you the closest thing you can get to actually getting on a bike. Both modes are very flexible and customizable so that you can play any way you want and challenge yourself however you wish. With a little more emphasis on presentation I do think the next version of SBK will have something very special on their hands; as it stands right now, SBK X is a very solid (if not the most complete) motorcycle simulation game out there right now and Im impressed with how Milestone has made Superbikes accessible for anyone to play regardless of their casual or hardcore intensions.