It can be very difficult for a title from outside of a monopoly in the market to cash in on the success of the title that seemingly has had this firm grip on the genre for several years. MotoGP is that particular franchise which has been at the forefront of motorcycle racing games for a few years. It has seen a fair amount of success and also much criticism as well. It can be a very brave and bold move to try and muscle in on the market and that is exactly what Superbike World Championship 08, or SBK 08 for short, is attempting to do. But has the brave move paid off?
Well actually SBK has already challenged the MotoGP series on the last generation of consoles, but it is only now that the series has hit the Xbox 360 for the very first time. That said, the previous incarnations were fairly sub-standard and didn’t particularly set any ground-breaking examples in the motorcycle racing genre. There is however one thing SBK is good at and that is setting a high learning curve for players, making it in my eyes is one of the most difficult racers around.
This is no arcade pick-up-and-play title though. This is real motorcycle racing with real settings to twiddle around with. Dedication is the key to having success on SBK 08 and any attempts at a few short races will see you flicking that off button in no time at all. Stick with it though and you have a comprehensive superbike game that will impress the hardcore.
The bikes themselves handle very realistically. Most racing games require you to put full throttle on the vehicle, before a late and quick brake into the bend before speeding off once again. SBK 08 requires thought and every corner produces a new challenge for players. A frustrating experience it is as well; sometimes you’ll take a bend and accidentally take the grass, which will slow you completely down while the rest of the AI hungry pack whizz off into the distance. But then as you slowly become accustomed to the handling and the bikes and learn the courses, it almost seems stupid that you found it so difficult in the first place.
A fair number of modes features in the game including Instant Action, Quick Race, Time Attack and Championship mode. If you want a quick race then the first two options are suitable for you. However, to maximise the potential SBK 08 has got, then it is best to play the Championship mode and learn the courses and get to know your bike. Championship is pretty self-explanatory – you rack up points during the course of the season which consists of twelve different races across a variety of tracks. Not only that, but there’s a Challenge mode on offer which sees you trying to complete all-manner of varied tasks that are thrown at you, including catching up racers or defeating particular players.
The serious bike enthusiasts though will enjoy the modifications on offer and here you can seriously ramp the specifications of the bike. Gears, tyres, brakes and plenty more can be tinkered about with until your hearts content and you feel your beast can be modded no further. For newcomers it can be slightly overwhelming and tips are at hand if you don’t know the difference between slicks and disc brakes. If you can’t be bothered with modifying a bike then you can of course skip this option and go along with the default set-up which is usually quite reasonable anyway.
Visually SBK08 is a fairly poor. While the tracks are recreated as best as possible, you can’t help feel they look very bland compared to other racing games out there. The crowds, as ever, are flat and lack life, whilst scenery is lacking as you plough round the tracks. The bikes and bikers themselves though not poor, don’t seem to have much going for them while the start-line girls look shockingly ill. On the replay front however, only the highlights of your race are shown rather than the whole thing, which is probably a better idea as we all know we love to sit through the ten minute replay! On the audio front things aren’t much better. The usual sounds of the bikes feature, but there is a lack of commentary of any sort and crowd noise to add additional atmosphere to the game.
Possibly one of the biggest frustrations apart from the learning curve are the loading times, which seem painfully slow for this generation. It is almost like waiting for a PSOne game to load up at times, with slow loading between tracks and loading into menus. This isn’t good at all for a next-generation title and can be a fair annoyance if you are after a quick game. That said, this game requires patience and skill, one which most people will probably lack having turned it on for the first time.
While simulation fans will enjoy the game to an extent, the more casual racing gamer will probably hate the difficulty level. Braking is a key element and modifying your bike will push that extra power to win races. Achievements reflect this and while they at first glance seem fairly easy to get, they do actually require some man-hours and of course a decent handling of the game. An online option is also available as seems the norm these days and isn’t anything special.
SBK08 feels slightly underwhelming overall. The graphics and sound are below par and the loading times poor. However, under the bonnet (or whatever you call it on a bike), SBK08 is a solid superbike simulation which hardcore fans will love. However where there is love, its longevity is questionable and I’m sure fans will move onto the next MotoGP as soon as that arrives. 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.