SBK-07: Superbike World Championship PS2 Review
Superbike racing is a more accessible version of the professional Moto GP series. The bikes being raced are essentially tuned up road machines rather than the constructor-built monsters of the Moto GP series. These modified production motorcycles mean that teams can be set up for a lot less money. Because of this, a common phrase in the super bike fraternity is “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” In addition to many national championships in countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States there is the World Superbike championship which has been in existence since 1988.
Again because of its close relationship to road machines, the Super bike competitions are highly popular with manufacturers as they get to demonstrate the sort of performance that can be extracted from their road-going machines. This obviously has many similarities with the Touring Car Championship (TOCA) which pits road cars against one another.
As someone new to the world of Superbike racing, grappling with the controls came as a bit of a shock. This was largely due to a lack of understanding on my part of how to get these big metal two wheeled objects around a corner. The most flexible of the control schemes uses both analogue sticks. The left stick is used to control steering; left and right control the limited turning in addition to forwards and back pulling the bike up for a wheelie or trying to keep the front tyre on the ground. The right sick is used to provide an analogue acceleration and brake, something you realise is essential as you discover how much a part of cornering is controlled by accurate and subtle braking.
Turning a corner on a bike, I have now learnt, is very different to a car. In four wheel transportation it is all about entry angle and speed, then controlling your under-steer/over-steer with opposite lock. On a bike, one you have turned into a corner and got the bike on its side, all you have left to control your turning is your velocity. If you are going wide and the bike is already angled into the corner, there is no more steering that can be done; you need to brake to get that tighter turn. This understanding is key to getting round many of the tracks with their various hairpins and sharp corners. Once you realise this, the game and its controls start making a lot more sense.
To help you along the way there are different driving modes. Arcade mode does its best to help you hop on and get racing. Although even here you will still need to master some basic cornering techniques. It does a good job of flashing up prompts for the upcoming corners and saves a not inconsiderable number of spills. From there you can start to turn off the driving aids, and introduce scary concepts such as separate front and rear braking; not for the faint hearted! Once you have the majority of the aids turned off you are approaching a true simulation of super bike racing; this is where the game really starts to sing and you feel like you are really racing, and achieving something each time you pass a competitor.
As with a lot of racing games, the best fun to be had is against human competitors. The game provides a great two player mode, which includes a grid of computer bikes to race against. They have managed to keep the frame rate and graphics pretty high in this mode, although there are times when things chug slightly. Probably due to the technical limitations of the PS2 there is no four player option.
All the tracks you would want to see from the Superbike series are included in the game, along with some comprehensive environmental settings that change the look and feel of each for extended sessions. The rain in particular is a great little effect, although it did seem to run off the visor in strange 45 degree angles.
Graphically, the game does a great job of recreating the thrills and (more importantly) spills of bike racing. The bikes themselves look and sound the part, although when in the third-person view there is a slight lack of speed. The first person view doesn’t have this problem as bikes and corners come crashing towards you. At the end of the race you get some highlights of the action, including the main crashes. This always raises a few laughs and serves as a good moment for some post race analysis, or gloating.
Overall the game does what it sets out to do. Once you have got through the rather steep learning curve and into the racing proper, there is a lot of racing fun to be had here. The variety of tracks and bikes should keep any bike fanatic happy for many hours.
A lot of racing fun, after you learn how to control the bikes.