SBK X - World Superbike Game Review
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Katsuaki Fujiwara
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last week or so, it’s that I hate Katsuaki Fujiwara.
Or at least, I hate the digital version of the veteran Kawasaki Motocard.com racer in the new World Superbike Championship video game, SBK X.
Getting ready for a World Supersport race at the Misano World Circuit in San Marino, my team manager gives me one direction for this race: beat Fujiwara. Moments later, I was racing down the track on my Parkingo Triumph BE1 Daytona 675 with Fujiwara’s ZX-6R in my sights in a two-lap sprint to the finish.
It’s moments like this where SBK X really shines, when the adrenalin takes over, and you put everything into trying to pass the guy in front of you.
Three Ways to Play
SBK X offers three full-featured modes of play, Arcade, Simulation and Multiplayer. Each mode has several gameplay options, and really could have stood on their own as individually released games.
Arcade is designed for casual gamers and those more used to racing on four wheels rather than two. Shifting is automatic and a single button controls both front and rear brakes, while a “boost” button lowers your rider and gives you a bit more speed at the expense of handling. Arcade also shows you the optimal racing line for a track that changes colors from green to red to let you know how fast you should be riding on a particular section of the track. It’s also almost impossible to crash in Arcade unless you really put the effort into it.
The kid gloves come off with Simulation. The green racing line disappears, the front and rear braking are controlled by separate buttons, and you have to control the distribution of your rider’s weight. Simulation mode offers three levels of rider aids with the smallest mistake at the highest level capable of sending your rider flying into the air in a spectacular high-side.
Multiplayer mode lets you race online against up to 16 real players in either Arcade or Simulation-style settings.
The episode with Fujiwara above is scenario offered in Arcade’s story mode which puts the player through a series of racing challenges. The object of this scenario was to beat my new arch nemesis, but other challenges include finishing a race in the top ten on rapidly decaying tires or finishing on the podium in a torrential rain. Completing a challenge earns you points that open up further challenges as you move up the ranks from a rookie World Superstock 1000 racer to WSBK World Champion.
Hardcore WSBK fans will probably spend most of their time in Simulation’s career mode. Like the story mode, you start from scratch as a Superstock racer and work your way up to the top. Instead of short challenges, career mode is a more complete simulation of the life of a professional racer. You can create your own rider and sign with teams to compete eight full seasons. Race weekends offer a full package of practice sessions, qualifying sessions, and, when you make it to the World Superbike class, the Superpole.
Between track sessions, you return to the pit to meet with your team’s mechanics to change the setup of your bike. The chief engineer offers you advice on your setup or you can fine tune the configuration yourself. Suspension is fully adjustable and you can adjust the rake angle and trail of the steering column. Gear ratios, chain adjustments, braking power and tire choice are other decisions you can make to fine tune your bike. The game also gives you the telemetry from your previous two laps so you can analyze your performance and see how your changes take effect.
Ready to Race
While true gear heads will enjoy setting up a bike, the real action takes place on the track.
The controls take some getting used to, especially for those who don’t play a lot of racing video games. I found turning to be a little twitchy at first with the full effort of throwing your body over to lean a race bike mapped to a small joystick with a little more than an inch of travel. After a while, I got used to the steering and riding became much smoother.
Throttle and brake control are a little easier to handle because of the controller’s analog trigger buttons. Hold the right trigger down all the way for full throttle but for fine control through corners and chicanes you’ll have to feather the throttle along with the left brake trigger to stay on your racing line. The copy I tested was for the PS3 and I found my hands cramping up a bit after racing several laps. The Xbox 360 controller might be easier on the hands as they are concave rather than convex. They also allow for greater travel than the PS3 controller.
Graphically, the game is a bit hit or miss. The bikes look great, dressed in full race livery matching their real life counterparts. By default, you race in third person but you can also switch to a first person perspective. This offers a more exciting perspective, especially when you’re leaning into a corner. It also gives you good a look at the cockpit, though the field of view felt a bit constricted. First person view looks nice but third person was much easier to play.
SBK X introduces a new evolving track feature where the track surface changes through the course of a race. Tires leave skid marks on the track, revealing the racing line most racers take through a corner. In wet conditions, the track dries faster on the racing line. It’s more than just a visual graphic however: staying on the rubber marks offers more grip, adding another level of strategy to the gameplay.
The backgrounds however are rather bland. Granted, you’ll probably keep your eyes more focused on the track than on trees and grandstands, and the lack of detail probably helps to keep the animation running smoothly. But the World Superbike circuit features some of the most beautiful race tracks in the world. It just doesn’t feel like it when you’re playing.
SBK X uses a guitar heavy rock soundtrack that does a good job of setting the mood, though I preferred to race with the music off so I could hear the engine sounds better. The game’s developers recorded engine noises from the real motorcycles so a BMW S1000RR sounds like an S1000RR and the KTM RC8R sounds like an RC8R.
The one big knock against SBK X is the timing of its North American release. The game has been available in Europe since June 4 but is only making its American debut Dec. 7 after a lengthy delay. The game was initially supposed to be released Oct. 19, but even that could be considered late as the 2010 WSBK season ended more than two weeks earlier and teams were already testing for the 2011 season. Ben Spies, who appears on the game’s cover, hasn’t even been on a Superbike for more than a year now.
On the plus side, the North American release copies come pre-installed with the “Legendary Roster” update which was only available to European players with the Special Edition version or as a separate downloadable purchase through XBox Live or the Playstation store for about $10.
The Legendary Roster update includes 17 riders from the past along with their teams and bikes. The legends list includes Ben Spies and his 2009 championship-winning Yamaha R1, Troy Bayliss and his 2006 Ducati 999, Colin Edwards and his 2000 Honda VTR1000 SP1, and Ben Bostrom and his 2001 Ducati 996.
The “legends” join an already impressive lineup of 90 riders featuring the full 2010 World Superbike lineup and the 2009 World Supersport and Superstock rosters.
Worth the Wait?
Overall, SBK X offers a good experience for World Superbike fans. Gearheads will enjoy the detail in setting up a bike before a race in Simulation mode. The Arcade mode is supposed to be easy for casual gamers but there’s still a fairly steep learning curve. But once you get used to the controls, the game becomes much more enjoyable.