As dedicated motorbike riders ourselves, we were somewhat sceptical when developer Milestone turned up at the office to tout its new "mind-blowing" bike racer. After a long line of mediocre bike games, we were half-expecting Super-Bike Riding Challenge to show up with broken racing physics and all the tawdry gimmicks you usually find in this genre. Thankfully though, thorough testing has rapidly proven our fears to be entirely groundless as Super-Bike Riding Challenge turns out to be one of the greatest bike racers on any platform, which is certainly not an accolade we'd chuck out lightly.
The game is so true to life that we often find ourselves leaning off the office chair; the physics are absolutely spot on and as race fans, we just couldn't put the game down. Milestone tell us that during development they had a number of Ducati and MV engineers playing the game and apparently they wouldn't sign it off until they were totally happy with the way their bikes handled in the game. Oo-er! If this doesn't give you an idea about how authentic SBRC is, then nothing will.
One thing we liked in particular is the way rider position is so important to the way the bike handles which is exactly how it is in real-life and something all too easily glossed over in other games. For example, if you put the power down when exiting a corner and haven't got your rider over the front wheel, you're going to pop a wheelie and cause your back wheel to spin. It's just as important when slowing down, as the way you position your rider massively affects your braking. To brake as late as possible, you need to get your rider positioned just right, sit up and lean the way you want the back wheel to slide. Small details perhaps, but It's these little things that really help improve your lap times and create an all-around awesome racing experience.
As well as impressive handling, Super-Bike Challenge also has a few unique features which really contribute to the racing experience, rider health being one of the most important. How this works is that your rider's health falls every time you come off and park it too often and you end up retiring from the race. This might sound like a pain in the arse, but actually it turns out to be a rather decent thing as the more you fall off, the more used to falling off your rider becomes. As he increases his crashing skill, his health lasts longer, which is great feature, especially if you're particularly accident prone.
There are a few disadvantages with making a game so realistic, the main one being that it takes an awfully long time to build up your skills. We had to undo years of MotoGP practise and learn a whole new way of doing things. SBRC is also very unforgiving, all you need to do is go slightly off-track and you're kissing concrete, and although at first this causes some minor irritation, in the long run, you realise it makes the whole biking experience that bit more special when you do eventually start to negotiate the circuits with aplomb.
Whilst we can't fault the game's physics, one thing that does leave a bit to be desired is the lack of many real life tracks and official World Superbike rides. This is a licensing issue and seeing as Milestone has just won the official WSBK license, it should be well sorted out in time for the next game. However it doesn't detract from the experience for too long, because there are plenty of tracks to entertain and over 45 bikes, including the Ducati 999, CBR1000RR and Kawasaki ZX-10R.
Other slight niggles? Well the fact that there are only seven other riders on the track at any one time, but this is probably due to memory constraints of the PS2. Still, it would have been nice to have a few more riders to mix it up with and there's also a few issues around the game's loading times, but we're assured it'll be optimised for release and with that fixed SBRC should present an extremely attractive racing prospect.
Super-Bike Challenge is definitely pitched more at the hardcore bike racing fan than the casual biker, in fact you could indeed say it's by riders and for riders, but with a release slated in just over a month's time on September 15, racing fans should get their wallets open and ready - minor caveats aside, this could very well be the best and most realistic bike game we've seen on any platform.