Wolf: Here's another guest review, this time from a lad called Andy Baker.
It's simply a matter of evolution, just as man moved from four legs to two, vehicles can do the switch also, in the form of burning hot rubber tyres. Smaller, faster, not to mention more dangerous it's easy to see why a Motorbike game is a more exciting prospect. And bike racing pulls in just as big crowds. But this is no Grand Prix, because Speed Kings does that whole inner city unlawful street-racing thing seen recently in films such as Fast and the Furious. But also, cast your mind back to that MegaDrive staple, Road Rash, with clubs, bats and chains you would take to the highway with the intention of removing any bike that stood between you and the finish line. Speed Kings brings things the violence back to driving games too.
Road Rash was simple and addictive and will most likely be appearing on a mobile phone near you in the future. However for those of you with actual consoles that may want to hear about new games then this is about Speed Kings for the PS2. It consists of 18 tracks, 22 motorcycles, which vary between road bikes through the whole spectrum to racing bikes. There's no sponsorship and none of the bikes are licensed but that just allows you along with a friend if you wish to smash them up with no worries of offending manufacturers.
To start with the game is fairly simple, and comparisons have to be made with Burnout, on the first few courses, it is rare you will need to loosen your grip on the accelerator as you throw the bike around the corners. A quick nudge left or right to avoid the cars dotted about may be needed, and occasionally a van may begin to drive erratically making it trickier to pass, some trucks also lose barrels off the back causing obstructions in the road. Also there are set pieces where a truck may be obstructing the road causing you to 'Powerdown' throwing the bike onto its side and sliding along the floor allowing you to slip underneath the truck.
The physics of the bikes at these earlier speeds are easy to handle, it's only when the bikes become more powerful do you have to worry about staying on. Pushing down up on the stick forces your character forward and down on to the bike, causing him to accelerate quicker. Try to take a corner or jump like this though and expect you and the bike to swap position, sending you sliding along the floor into a wall or perhaps if you're lucky another bike. Also, pulling back on the stick throws a wheelie, which isn't a great deal of use, apart from building up your 'Powerband' bar in the corner of the screen.
This feature allows you to tap L2 and send your bike into a few seconds of boost along with the traditional screen blur. This makes for interesting points in the race where people are performing tricks not just to show off but also to gain a speed advantage. But the boost doesn't last long enough to really make something of it, the thrill in Burnout 2 is trying to keep doing crazy things in effort to keep your boost active and this lets down in that area. As well as performing tricks you can perform jumps, skids and 'dings', the latter involving you banging into the side of a car or truck as you drive by. This is even trickier than the 'near misses' you have to perform in games, as the angle of approach must be judged just right or you will end up in another crash.
Each of the three races in the tournament 'meets' also contains three 'respect' challenges; these can vary between knocking 6 other racers off their bikes to going a lap without crashing. By performing these you earn respect points, which when accumulated, unlock new bikes and leathers. As always, the small selection of bikes grows larger as you progress through the game, by completing series' of races and beating lap times in the time trial sections you have access to them.
Trying to win races is not so easy when driving with the challenges in mind, however, players are welcome to go back and complete them individually without need to finish first in the race. The option also arises later in the game to race GP bikes, which are much faster, lighter, and as such are harder to handle. On many of the hilly courses the GP bikes can fly off and are prone to crashing more however they are a lot faster and sound great when they rev too.
This unlocking system that also opens access to Helmets and leathers makes Speed Kings repetitive of other games, something which seems to run through many aspects of its design. The fighting is borrowed from Road Rash, the boost system stolen from Burnout, earning respect is like in MSR and the happy go lucky nature to the game is similar to Rumble Racing. But all these are good games, and like a good pop band, this is good clean fun for the brief period of time you are probably going to play it. The Multi-player is also well balanced; a new player may keep up with someone who owns the game, especially if they are trying to perform tricks and stunts on the way.
The game does get harder, but not by making the bikes faster really but more by making the courses more twisty and harder to traverse. The earlier levels by comparison are fairly open and sparse. And this is when you quickly begin to master the tricks available and can show off during races. Surfing the back of the bike, chucking a quick handstand before the hairpin, the fairly useless pavement ride. In the latter your character hops over the seat and grinds two feet along the floor as the bike grinds down from 200 mph to zero through the friction of your boots. Whether you can set your rider on fire from the sheer heat that would theoretically be achieved remains to be seen.
A nice touch is that each course has it's own speed camera, which will clock your speed as you hit a certain point on the track. Occasionally, this also makes itself up as part of the challenges, where a certain speed must be reached when passing the camera. But this is just as fun in the multi-player modes where the competition is on with your human adversary to time your speed boosts to coincide with the speed trap. When you finish the race a small picture of your bike passes the camera appears, but to be honest they all seem to be exactly the same as one another.
Other law enforcement occurs in the form of police cars pursuing you at various points in the race. The other motorbikes however seem unaffected by this and only you are prone to being arrested by crashing at these times, even if it only means a slightly longer delay in getting back on your bike. By staying on the bike you can get away from the cops.
But as that's taking up two lanes, however occasionally it doesn't matter which way you go, a smash up ahead can completely block the road. In fairness, this could happen in real life, but on a game where you are trying to quickly regain the lead with just a corner to go it can be extremely infuriating.
But this is all part of the fun and the difficulty level is never out of reach, just sometimes a random car pulling out can blow you the race on the last stretch so one of your three continues has to be used. In fact persistent game-players may realise that the cars are in the same place each time. However remembering that it's lap two so you know to avoid the taxi on the inside is not what a racing game is about.
In terms of graphics, Speed Kings is not ground breaking, in fact on the Swiss alps level I almost wet myself as the cartooney castle I drove past looked like it was taken from a Mario game, and not even a recent one. But the dynamics of the Bikes have obviously been worked on well
If you are not feeling up for jumping straight in to the game, there's an option that seems the standard in many racing games nowadays, you get to try for driving licenses. Unlike Gran Turismo, this isn't a necessary qualification to allow you to race but more of a training exercise for those wanting to learn how to do the tricks. This shouldn't bother you for more than 10 minutes as Golds are attained fairly easily. The fact is there are not so many motorbike games on the PS2, and only Moto GP can offer any real competition and Speed Kings compares well. The more cavalier attitude might make this more appealing to the mass market although licensed games always seem to do better. Whilst Moto GP offers a more calculated approach to racing, this is more of an exaggerated form of fun and quite satisfying too.
There is very little wrong with this game, you can have an evening or two of fun with it, but if you're asking me if I'd rather take a PCJ round Vice City for the evening then it just ain't as mind-blowingly addictive.