David Low
11 Jul, 2007

SBK: Superbike World Championship 2007 Review

PS2 Review | Superbike returns.
While there are a large variety of car based racing games available today, covering everything from the avalanche of Fast and the Furious style illegal street racers to every level of organised racing competition, there have far been fewer motorcycle games, particularly serious ones, and the licensed motorcyle genre has been dominated by the MotoGP series for the last few years. But there is another major bike competition license that's been unused for a while now, the Superbike World Championship. Wikipedia tells us that Superbikes are modified production motorcycles, and are somewhat more akin to touring or stock cars in culture then the high end MotoGP, and it has an emphasis on manufacturer participation. Developer Milestone has decided to bring the Superbikes back to games, and their effort will be worth it for fans of the sport. SBK 07 isn't exactly the deepest or most impressive racing experience available, but it offers a good quality take on bike racing from both a simulation and an arcade angle.

The main draw of the game is obviously it's recreation of Superbike racing, and Milestone have decided to hedge their bets by providing both a fully featured simulation mode as well as an arcade mode. Arcade mode delivers the thrill of racing without needing to worry too much about the finer details, and it's a nice change of pace from car style racing. The ability to lean into turns changes up the way lines are approached compared to car games, which freshens up the driving experience. Learning to turn earlier, and taking contact with other riders more seriously make it quite a different experience, but it's easy to get into, and you'll be winning amateur races within a few tries. It's quite natural feeling, and the sense of speed and danger is relayed in a satisfying way. Even on arcade it's still tricky, as it's still a 'realistic' arcade racer (read: you have to use the brake), but is quite fun.

The driving physics are excellent

The driving physics are excellent
Switch to simulation mode however, and patience will be required. Even making it past the first corner can be tricky, and you'll have to learn advanced braking techniques and power management to succeed. It's so difficult you can even fall over on a straight by accelerating or braking inappropriately. In an odd twist, you can actually switch between the two modes at any time – you can unlock something with the arcade settings, and then have it available to play with simulation settings – this whole idea in integrated into the game. You can also fiddle with the sim settings to make them more manageable. Milestone has allowed the user to choose exactly how much control they have over the way they play the game, which in our experience did seem to remove some motivation to ever learn the simulation model. But then again, it can be so difficult that it's mostly just for masochistic hardcore bike fans who will enjoy mastering it anyway. There are fifteen teams and their' real life riders to choose from, with a large selection of bikes, all with different attributes. The game features the standard training, quick race and championship modes, as well as a 'challenge' mode, where you have to do things like pass checkpoints within certain speed ranges. You can alter everything in the quick race mode, including the weather, which changes the way the bikes handle quite a bit.

Graphically, SBK 07 is plain, but solid where it counts. While racing, bikes are very well animated, and you really get a sense of inertia and weight from them as you lean into turns, although the falling and crashing animations leave something to be desired. Bikes and riders are also nicely modeled, and while you remain on the track, the motion of the game looks smooth, a look aided by a rock solid framerate. Some environmental textures are a bit simplistic, the sand that surrounds almost every track in particular features quite a low res texture, giving the game a large helping of the traditional PS2 'jaggies', for that shimmery, ailised look. What there is of track side scenery is simplistically done, the grandstands, pit areas and people on the sidelines are minimalistic at best. And there's little in the way of particle effects, giving the game that empty, overly-clean look. Overall though, the emphasis on motion and fluidity pays off, and the smooth motion of the game keeps it looking sharp. The graphics certainly don't get in the way of SBK 07, and it's easy to look at thanks to the good framerates. It's a similar story for the sound. Engine and tyre noises sound as dramatic and realistic as they should, and the incidental rock based soundtrack seems to fit the atmosphere well enough.

The bikes look good, but the tracks lack detail

The bikes look good, but the tracks lack detail
So the basics are solid, but SBK 07 is really let down in the presentation. What is disappointing is that there are only eleven tracks, not very many in this day and age, and they mostly look very similar. They're all real life tracks, and all offer their own challenges, but you'll have to get used to wire fences and sandy tracksides, as there's little else to see. As you progress through the game, there is a card-based unlockables system, where you can earn more bikes, bikers, races, ghost runs, as well as... sigh... videos of 'umbrella girls'. And it's not like ogling at women is only an unlockable, every loading screen is plastered with the images too. While this may be part of the way the sport is presented by it's governing body, given the game's excellent racing design, emphasis on simulation, and otherwise serious tone, the inclusion of such immature objectification of women is highlighted as the sexist rubbish it is.

SBK 07 is a competent take on Superbike racing, and offers a great bike racing system for both casual and hardcore fans of the sport via it's dual play modes. It's rather plain looking, but the animation and framerate performance more then make up for what it lacks in visual flash. But while there's technically a reasonable amount of content to play through, the lack of tracks put quite a damper on it's long term appeal. Hopefully Milestone will be able to add more tracks and features in SBK 08.
The Score
The lack of content lets down an otherwise competent racer.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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