Just under a year ago, I finished my SBK 08 review with the words: “It tries hard to be a solid title but falls flat on the circuit, but with some improvements SBK09 could be a most have for motorcycle racing fans.” But in the course of a year, have things changed for the better or worse?
It is now May, and we’re three months into the Superbike World Championship season and Noriyuki Haga owns the leader boards. Except you could change all that, Infact let me rephrase YOU WILL change that if you decide to pick up SBK 09.
The game follows the Superbike World Championship 2009 (or HANNSpree SBK Superbike World Championship) which is taking place right into the summer at a variety of courses across the world. It features an array of teams and bikers, each competing across two races on a weekend as well as the obligatory qualifying and warm up sessions. There are fourteen rounds in total including some familiar tracks and some which may not be so familiar with.
This is the complete package for motorbike racing fans. Although slightly over-shadowed by the excellence of the Formula 1 championship, motorbike racing is big business across the world as well. Except you can play SBK right now, instead of waiting around until the season is over! Everything you’d expect to find from an official game is here, the teams, the drivers, the tracks and of course the bikes.
SBK 08 introduced us to an array of modification options for the bikes, to the point of it being overly complex for beginners. It was no easy ride for gamers either with some difficult handling which required skill and patience. Thankfully things have improved at both ends this year with the ability to choose from an Arcade style racing feel, or if you feel lucky, the real Simulation deal. There are options between them as well, so you can at least progress up the ladder as it were.
I’ll admit, the Arcade handling isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a game in the real arcades. If you could compare the handling, it’d have to be with the superb Forza Motorsport; requiring precision and accuracy but without the need for worrying about traction control and racing lines. Ramp up the simulation levels however and you’ll need some good hand-eye co-ordination and patience of a saint. If you want a quick racing thrill you’d be best off with the former option. The extreme simulation does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s insanely difficult to pull off; you’ll need to fiddle with the weight of the rider to avoid wheelies, whilst remembering to brake into the corners and avoiding over-steering, else you’ll be flat on your face time and time again.
Fear not, the modification of the bikes is as comprehensive as ever, if you can tune it in real life, it’s included in the game. If I had to list each option, we’d be around fourteen pages in, but suffice to say nothing has gone unnoticed by the team at Black Bean Games. This year as well, they’ve recreated the pit area to add extra realism between races.
You are able to talk with the engineer to discuss your thoughts on the upcoming race and how he feels the bike best be modified to perform in the conditions at the time. You can view telemetry’s (lap times and the like) and even compare them with each other to see where you can improve. And that is only scratching the surface.
The biggest overhaul however is with the graphics engine, which has had a complete change. Damage to bikes and the riders is now visible as well as the competitors who can also crash and injure themselves during a race. The bugbear from last year was the look of the circuits and with the overhaul they look far nicer to the eye. Rain effects are impressive with standing water on the tracks as well as raindrops on the camera to make visibility that little worse for the player. Good steering is crucial in wet conditions; even on the Arcade mode sliding off the bike is quite common.
Sadly though, while attention was given to the immediate look of the circuits and riders, the game still suffers from poor background textures. The skyline and trees look awfully flat once again, though there are improvements around the track with barriers and the like, it still doesn’t have the edge over other racing games. In addition the pit-stop girls suffer from some texture problems which make them look blocky in comparison to the riders they are stood by. Whether this is a local problem or sadly slipped into the game, it does detract from what is generally a much better looking engine.
On the audio front, the soundtrack is a rather bizarre mix of rock and techno music. One minute you’ll be raving away on your bike and the next dropping your head to the sounds of the bass guitar. An interesting mix and it is certainly punchy but the same songs crop up on rotation time and time again which can get frustrating. Perhaps next year they can muster up a better and bigger selection of songs? Still it is an improvement over the dull monotone sounds of SBK 08. The bikes themselves sound average, with little change to last year whilst there is still no commentary which would be a plus point for the series.
Quick race, Training, Championship and Challenges all return this year in addition to the new mode, Race Weekend which allows you to play through a whole weekend at a circuit similar to that found in the championship but without the need to play each circuit. The challenges vary again from Speed Trails to the amount of time you need to skid round a certain section of circuit. There are twenty in all and while some are fairly straight-forward, you’ll perhaps spend a long time trying to acquire the coveted Platinum medal on others.
At the time of writing, the online options were turned on, but sadly no one was playing them. We’ll return to this area at a later date and update the review with the general facts. What you do get though is the general Quick Race as well as online Championships and a Team Championship mode which sounds rather interesting. The big one as far as the developers feel is the Online Time Attack mode which is described as ‘thrilling’. Still we’ll find out shortly.
The loading times have improved, but still feel frustratingly long at points compared to other games. Flicking between the improved menu interface is faster but also slightly confusing. It is the speed of loading between the menus and tracks however which still suffers slightly, particular with the amount of rounds that can take place during a championship. My guess is with twenty-seven riders on a track; the data takes a wee while to fire up.
Achievement whores will be pleased to know the game contains a good mix of relatively straight-forward ones which require ‘x player to win on x circuit’, as well as rewards for those completing the challenges and unlocking all the cards (rewarded for finishing events and challenges which unlock videos etc). The balance is improved on SBK 08 and is probably one of the best I’ve come across in recent games, rather than them all being designed for the hardcore elite.
So, we’re at the end of our journey for another year. The developer has certainly listened to the critics from SBK 08 and made the improvements that were drastically needed. Underneath the engine is a comprehensive motorbike simulation that appeals to both beginners and experts. Whilst there are still some niggles to iron out for SBK 10, things are on the up. Black Bean has a title they should be proud of, and it is certainly worthy of an extra 20 per cent.