I got given this one at short notice, but hey, I decided I'd do it anyways. I'm not the world's greatest racer and whilst I like the genre I often find there's not much in the way of innovation, a few new bikes or cars, a few new tracks but mostly every racing game I've ever played has been a re-iteration of things like the original Need for Speed, which upon my humble 3DO was the best.
So now it's the turn of Superbike 07. An aptly named game that seems to fall into the same category as numerous FIFA remakes by EA. I say seems because it's actually by the same developer that did a previous Superbike game for EA in 2001.
Mention a bike racing game and most people will say, oh, you mean Moto GP? Now I am not fond of Moto GP at all, I prefer this game over it because it caters for the hardcore simulation fan and the casual arcade player, so kudos to the developers for remembering there are people out there who don't know every inch of a racing bike down to the smallest nut and bolt.
One of the game's strengths is that it actually feels more open to new players; it's a better accessible game than the Moto GP series. You can pick it up and start playing, tearing up the tracks and burning rubber from the get-go. Then once you're Ok with how the game plays and everything works, you can switch to a simulation mode that actually simulates the bike riding fairly well.
You don't just have a dyed in the wool mode either; you can customise your gaming experience with this one. Turn off a setting like braking assistance if you feel you don't need any help; leave it on if you're struggling with losing control of the bike around corners. By allowing you to shape the game's control system and how it plays you can get an experience you're comfortable with and that wins big in my book.
The main game focuses on championship mode, you get 11 tracks (official) where you do the rinse repeat, practise, qualify and race. You can skip the pre-race stages if you want to and if you're playing the game using just the arcade style you'll notice that you don't need to qualify for a better starting position on the grid which is a nice little touch for the casual gamer again.
You can unlock riders; choose a bike and rider from any of the 15 teams. You can change the difficulty of the game from rookie, amateur and professional. You can alter the length of the race if you really want to, but I admit I prefer to make races longer if I can so I can get the most out of the bike riding (which is a rarity for me).
The trick to the game seems to be in learning the tracks, once you've done this task you can bump up the difficulty and you'll find the AI isn't all that hardcore challenging to the casual arcade gamer even if you put the game onto professional. I'd have liked a bit more meat to the opponent AI but it's not bad. If you tire of the championship mode you can always throw your lot in with the other game modes on offer, such as: acceleration, skidding, chase games and time trial.
Do well at these and you'll win some bonus stuff.
There's a pretty robust multiplayer aspect to the game if playing the singleplayer isn't the only thing you're into. You can have two players compete against each other in any race in either the quick race or time trial modes. You can choose the usual bike, rider and opponent AI in the option menu but there are no handicap settings for the players, so if you're a seasoned veteran taking on a newbie arcade racer things might be a little unfair. It might have been nice to be able to set the more experienced player onto sim mode and the new player to arcade, but alas, you can't.
So with this top-notch gameplay comes some pretty impressive control and physics. When the game's set on simulation mode you can really see how the bike physics interacts with the animations (which are excellent) and lends the feeling of a struggle between the rider and the high speed performance bike. But what sold it for me were the helmet-bending, bone-jarring, bike-crunching crashes that can be just as fun to cause as winning the game by a hair's breadth.
The sound in the game is a little lack-lustre compared to the rest of it, the bikes sound Ok. You have generic rock combined with a repetitious average crowd audio, it somewhat leaves you under-whelmed in that respect and takes away from the game. You get some nice but simple presentation, a quick loading screen video of one of 11 tracks (which are chosen from Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donnington in the UK and Monza, Valencia and some more for international players and fans) which are available from the start of the game.
The graphics aren't bad, the track graphics are fairly sparse to keep the PS2's frame-rate within acceptable levels and stable. You can see that the developers have tweaked their engine to rely on the wow-physics factor and control compared to being shiny and graphically amazing. It's still a decent looking game but plays much better than it looks and for me that is another bonus. I'd rather play something with good gameplay and average graphics compared to a stunner that plays like a turkey.
You can unlock numerous things as you play and complete various challenges, come first in a race to unlock cool options and play more to unlock cheats, videos and so on. It doesn't skimp on the unlockable content part and more games need to follow this pattern, there used to be a time when games would reward players for actually persevering with them.
All in all, it's a surprisingly good game with a few nice touches. It certainly appeals to the casual gamer as well as the hardcore simulation rider, especially since the developers have developed such a good bike-sim engine to wrap their game around. I'd like to see what they'd be capable of on the 360 or the PS3, to see if they were able to produce a highly polished bells & whistles version of this kind of title wrapped around next-gen gameplay and graphics.
I suppose we'll have to wait and see on that.