Prefacing a game like SBK 2011 is a difficult task for several reasons, primarily because it looks and feels like something you'd find for sale at your local Woolworths. You know all of those cheap, bargain, trash games that would make a home for themselves near the magazine section? That's what SBK 2011 feels like, and it's astonishing to see companies like Black Bean Games and Milestone S.R.L. supporting the banality on display here. After making a decent effort with World Rally Championship last year, you'd expect them to know the basics of simulation. Look back even further and you'll find a whole stack of racing games under their names, but they've done nothing with that experience and SBK 2011 is right down there with the worst simulators of this generation.
Straight away, the visuals of SBK 2011 stand out like a giant, puss-filled zit on the tip of your nose. Yeah, that bad. Barren and plain; those adjectives sum it up nicely. The riders look...ok, but their animation is stiff and the meager customisable options aren't enough to give SBK 2011 that extra personal touch. The majority of the bikes appear to be Chinese replica toys that everyone plagued their parents to buy in the 90s; brittle plastic covered in a sheet of shiny gloss. The environments are even worse; little or no detail on the track, jaggies everywhere and dead crowds. For a self-proclaimed 'simulation', SBK 2011 is a visual disaster. But the frame rate doesn't drop and the engines sound decent, if that makes a difference...
We're off to a bad start here, and the situation doesn't improve much when you're actually playing the game. Although SBK 2011 has a few things going for it. The authenticity mightn't be obvious from a visual perspective, but it does have real courses (including Australia's very own penguin territory, Phillip Island) and real riders. They're ugly, yet accurate, representations of what you can see on the television. Your journey as a rider begins in the lowly Superstock 1000 league, before advancing upwards and into the glory of the Superbike World Championship. There's satisfaction to be had when your character eventually reaches his target, and even in a poor game like SBK 2011, that winning feeling is still there and it's still good.
So if you're a fan of bikes in general, you're going to find SBK 2011 appealing despite the flaws. Our disappointment really comes from what SBK 2011 could have been, and what the developer has failed to do. Because in fairness, the game starts off in a promising fashion. The menus are nice, showing off the talents of a creative graphic design team behind all of this. We're not talking Codemasters quality, but it's pretty and it works. Loading times are prompt enough (as they should be...considering how bad the game looks), the music is appropriate and some of the videos in between the boredom can be entertaining. SBK 2011 is presented well before you start revving the motorcycle, then it's all downhill, and the brakes don't work.
What you'll find in SBK 2011 is bog standard racing mechanics with bog standard controls; nothing fancy and nothing fresh, just the basics. Keep in mind that you can't approach these races in the same was as Forza or Gran Turismo. There's a big emphasis on weight distribution and how your rider positions himself for upcoming turns, quite unlike how alternative car simulators operate. Crashes are frequent early on as you try to adjust to a very unique style of racing, one that rewards following smooth lines as opposed to aggressively advancing up through the pack. But there's never a great sense of speed or danger, even with the helmet camera enabled. SBK 2011 is a sluggish racer if you choose anything apart from the highest class of machine, and it lacks the energy and tenacity of its rivals. SBK 2011 is never broken (we'll give it that much), but it's nearly always boring.
Comparisons will be made with the MotoGP franchise, naturally, and that's understandable. They're alone in the bike race, but SBK 2011 is still missing something that neither game has fully realised - atmosphere. The best example, without question, of a racing game with oodles of atmosphere is F1 2010. Events had individuality, your team had personality, and the crowds sought excitement from your performance on the track. In SBK 2011, you never get the sense that your skills are pleasing the surrounding eyes. The sections before and after every race are either underdeveloped or poorly thought out, and since the gameplay really doesn't have the necessary kick, it's impossible to feel anything other than disappointment. F1 2010 captured the buzz surrounding the glitz of top tier racing, and SBK 2011 never comes close to reaching the heights of what Codmasters pulled off last year. It's a shame, but regardless, it probably wouldn't have done much to improve the overall experience.
SBK 2011 has a plentiful supply of content to race through, the career mode is extensive and there are a couple of other areas that might be worth exploring. SBK Tour Mode is a nice distraction from the main career, and you'll be able to quickly access the best parts of the sport without taking the long road. As far as online multiplayer goes...there are two points to make. Yes, it has been integrated well. No, there isn't anybody playing (at least when we tried to connect). A slight exaggeration there, we managed to find one other person playing online but that was it. The community must be a quiet bunch, or else decided to buy a good racing game, but either way the multiplayer components won't be increasing the lifespan of SBK 2011 in any way. Oh and there doesn't appear to be any local multiplayer modes, so you can't share the boredom with your buddies. They'll be happy.
Simply put, SBK 2011 offers exactly what you'd expect it to. It's a cheap, licensed game with average mechanics. Unless you heavily follow the Superbike World Championship, there's no reason why you should go anywhere near this product. As a racing game, as a simulator, as a piece of entertainment - SBK 2011 fails across the board. The core gameplay isn't enjoyable, the simulation is null and void because of the horribly dated graphics, and it's just not exciting enough to get the heart pumping. There's an even cheaper alternative to playing SBK 2011; find a bucket of paint and throw its contents on a wall, then watch it dry. Get the picture? It ain't no good son.