Review: SBK Generations
Anyone who has read my xboxer360 bio will know that I love a thrilling speed-fest. I must admit, I have steered clear (if you pardon the pun) of out-and-out simulators thus far in my pursuit of the ultimate racing experience. My few encounters with self-professed simulators have ultimately led me to the conclusion that there’s too much back room technical tweaking to be done and that games requiring such performance analysis detract from the pure contest of being first to the line come what may. Yes, I’m a fan of paint shops, alloy upgrades and the option to customise cars when points or cash provide, I’m even a fan of front firing missiles, but, I’m just not someone who really cares enough about brake differentials or “set-up” to appreciate the minute improvements such will make when you’re out on track, outrunning the Police or racing for pink slips on the streets.
SBK Generations was not therefore a game that was bursting with promise when I fired up the Xbox a few days back, particularly given that summer seems finally to have arrived! That said, whilst I’m the only one I know who’s still sporting a pale monotone which even a polar bear would be jealous of, there is a lot to commend about this game and my time indoors away from the sun was not entirely wasted.
Ok, so no surprises – it’s a licensed World Superbikes racing “sim” and like the many SBK games already developed by the Italian team at Milestone, with this latest SBK offering, they haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel! Published by fellow countrymen at Black Bean Games, the Milestone racing Mafia provide you with a choice of four game modes; Free Play, SBK Experience, Career and an “Xbox Live” racing domain.
Underpinning all of these are three “Simulation” settings – Low, Medium and Full. These, I guess, were my gateway into the game and I opted straight away for the “Low” option. OK, this might be the starting point one would normally attribute to those accustomed to having their pocket-money stolen from them by their younger sister but, as I am not a “sim” lover, I swallowed my macho pride and opted for getting a feel for the game before I started ramping up the difficulty and the need for all the annoying “set-up” tweaking.
Suffice to say, on “Low” simulation I was on the top step of every podium encountered over the four season career which spans 2009 – 2012. Your career sees you follow in the footsteps of all the SBK teams and riders as they circumnavigate the globe and compete in the “two race” format weekends in places as diverse as South Africa, Australia, Europe and USA and on all of the real SBK Championship tracks.
With each successive season you get the chance to choose from a range of teams who are keen to secure your services. With each race you can win “Reputation” points depending on your performance. These also follow from pulling wheelies on track, completing Team set race goals or from beating a “Special” opponent in each given race (He’s the one with the crown floating above his head). Depending on the amount of points you have accumulated by the end of each racing year, new teams will seek to sign you. Choose who you contract with carefully – the terms offered provide varying challenges such as winning the following season or placing somewhere lower down the pack. This is not an issue in “Low” simulation mode – if you don’t win EVERYTHING you should resign yourself to continued humiliation not just at the hands of your younger sister but next door’s goldfish too. I found sitting on the start line for 20 seconds as your opponents accelerate into the distance still allowed for a comfortable win over even the shortest race distance (3 laps).
When playing in “Career” mode you have the optionto run the full Race Weekend format; this includes both practice sessions, Qualifying 1 and 2, and, if you qualify high enough – the Super Pole shootouts. You also have the option from time to time to run a track test which sees your engineer set you a task which, if completed during the pre-race stages, will secure some performance enhancement for your trusty bike. The Purists, or those with far too much time on their hands, will relish the opportunity to circle the tracks perfecting their line, braking points and ultimately qualifying in Pole position. I found starting at the back of the grid (having not bothered to qualify at all) presented a more challenging race not to mention saving me hours (although you can speed up the clock and thereby scrub the copious amounts of time given to run the pre-race stages). Beware – once you embark on your career, not only are you stuck with the simulation level set – you’re also stuck with the pre-race format choices you selected i.e. you’ll have to do all the “qualify” and practice sessions if you initially selected these. Given that these are punctuated by endless loading screens – I got bored very quickly! If you are somebody who wants to savour the whole “Race Weekend” timeline and love perfecting your start position, track knowledge and “set-up”, this attention to detail will be right up your Pit Lane! That said, if you have these turned off you’ll be thrown into a race without any useful track practice. Damned if you do – damned if you don’t!
Other “Options” which again need to be selected at the start of your career or lived with thereafter include all kind of opponent skill levels, track and race options. The most significant is the race line and breaking indicator which is a green line that circles the entire track and lies over the optimum racing line. Where breaking is required, the green strip changes to yellow/orange/red depending on the amount of anchor-slamming you need to stay on the tarmac. This was useful the first few times I ventured out but you very quickly gain sufficient skill to relegate this aid to the ranks of being simply an annoying distraction. You can also toggle the bike damage and racer health which, depending on how many times you part company with your mechanical stead, can bring an early end to a race.
There is a lot that you can play with on the options menus and, to be fair, you can vastly alter the game as a result. The tamer options give the game a more arcade racer feel while all of the “sim” geared aspects culminate in a feast of “Race Weekend” detail and clock watching as you count down the time needed to be ready for the off.
Once you’ve annihilated the “Low” simulation season it’s time to man-up. The “Medium” difficulty will require you to hit the breaking spots and use your accelerator much more accurately when powering out of corners. The skidding and wobbles (on all simulation levels) which result from over exuberant throttle use and poor braking are well conceived and do feedback to the player in a way that feels like you’re in control of your own destiny. As you move up the “sim” levels though, smooth cornering and power control become ever important. Throw in the addition of upping your opponent’s skill level from “Amateur” to “Professional” and with both bike and rider damage on, the game suddenly feels like a challenge and podiums start to mean something. Bump up the simulation Level to “High” and put the opponent skill to “Real” and you’ll be in all kinds of trouble. Within the higher difficulty settings, you will have to spend time qualifying, consulting with your engineer in the Pits, repairing damage to your bike, checking telemetry and tweaking the “set-up” to have even a glimmer of keeping pace with the gods of SBK. Here, I suspect all but the die-hard obsessive compulsive SBK fan will reach for their favourite “Need For Speed” or “Burnout” edition.
Whilst I still have little time for “sims”, the variety of settings that can be managed within the game will ultimately allow you to set a level of difficulty that suits both your frustration tolerance and your innate desire to hear your national anthem played at the end of each race. The game does therefore offer the ability to balance both your enjoyment and skill development. I fear SBK 2040 will be on offer before you best the whole field on the hardest settings though.
Aesthetically, the game is pretty good although not an award winner. Where the graphics are at their best is when racing in the rain or under the most thunderous looking of skies. I do like a dramatic spectacle. Needless to say, a wet track makes grip an issue and you’ll need to adjust your approach. One of the most rewarding of conditions is the post downpour race where a dry racing line emerges from an otherwise saturated track. Reflections and spray are pretty good and also add to the feel. Both rain and fog will also reduce visibility and so track knowledge and reliance on track side braking markers will also pay dividends. The game also features some authentic SBK video sequences showcasing the big riders, celebrating the crowds and showing off the Pit girls! Ok, where do I sign up!?! I have a passport and a CBT application form! How hard could it be?
“Free Play” speaks for itself, encompassing all of the options and menus but less of the tedium of a full championship; you can also try your hand at stand-alone time attack based scenarios. Better still, select specific tracks rather than follow the season race fixture sequencing that can see you have to race twenty plus tracks (twice) before your favourite appears on the calendar. Donnington, Donnington, Donnington and those glorious Craner Curves– need I say more?
The “SBK Experience” provides a novel but limited challenge based mode. Here, you get to relive some of the poignant battles or racing achievements in recent SBK seasons. Your goal is to not just “Complete” but to “Storm” your way through these – thereby achieving legendary status and the chance to take on the sport’s superstars. The challenges are introduced through the use of newspaper headlines seemingly in the hope that the battles will take on greater realism. Each challenge requires you to ride or perform in a certain way: maintaining a minimum speed, limiting your breaking, pulling wheelies for a certain time, passing checkpoints, not falling and beating competitors – to name more than a few.
Xbox Live will add longevity to the game – the bumping and barging which can occur when racing will please those, like me, who would rather knock an opponent off their bike than skilfully overtake round the outside of swooping bend. Anyone for a spot of Road Rash?
So, do I like the game and would I recommend it to others? Given that the credits read like the cast of the Godfather, I’m bound to sing its praises if only out of self-preservation… I’m not someone who wants to wake up with a horse’s head lying on the pillow next to me! On a serious note, if you are a World Superbikes fan or love a full racing simulator then this game will appeal to you. It does everything that it sets out to achieve and does this pretty well indeed. Whether it’s any different from the SBK games that have preceded it – I’m not so sure – SBK hasn’t changed much over the years so it’s difficult to see how something trying to recreate it has done either.
If, like me, you want a bit of comedy, anarchy or treachery thrown in to a driving arena – save your cash and stick to the usual suspects. Given that I get the impression that there are more gamers who fall into the second of these categories, the score that I give SBK Generations reflects the fact that it didn’t hit the spot for me (and no doubt for many others). If you are a category one SBK geek then you can happily add 15% to the score. Now for some sunshine!
Review: SBK Generations Results
What we liked:
When you ramp up the difficulty to “Full” simulation – you start to appreciate just how skilful the SBK riders are. If a “sim” can achieve this then it must have done its job.
There are so many options you can create a balance between your need for victory and feeling that you actually earned the spoils
SBK Experience adds something to an otherwise repetitive race “sim”
What we disliked:
You have to be a purist to get the most out of this game. Those seeking mayhem should look elsewhere
You need oodles of time on your hands to crack this one
It’s just riding round a track and doesn’t really do anything to inspire