After a long hiatus, the Superbike World Championship was brought back in 2007 by Black Bean Games, a studio that for all intensive purposes, specialises in racing titles. However, since then, it's really been playing catch-up with the already established MotoGP. With this now being the fourth iteration from Black Bean, can they finally break the stranglehold that MotoGP has over the motorcycling genre?
First off, it's worth noting that SBK X really does offer some bang for your buck. It's effectively two games in one, as there are full arcade and simulation modes present within the title. Within each of the modes, it's possible to complete a quick race, play a full championship, compete against the clock with time attack and of course, there are full story modes. To Black Bean's credit, while the other modes are fairly standard, the story modes are actually quite different. They could have simply copied the formula from one to the other, but some effort has been made to make sure they're as different as possible.
The story in Arcade Mode is much more focused on progression and completing challenges. There are six categories to complete, and the challenges get progressively harder. It might start off with something simple like, start in 26th and within a lap, get up to 24th, but by the end of the story mode, it's much more challenging. They also try to spruce things up, by giving the player disadvantages, like brakes that don't work properly.
Simulation Mode is much different, as it allows players to go through a proper career. Players take a custom-made rider, sign for a lowly team, and have to work their way up. The team sets realistic objectives based on performance, and at the start, their expectations are very low. This is probably because the bike they've given over as part of the deal is absolutely terrible. Its handling is dire and the brakes are pathetic. If the player manages to exceed expectations, goals are changed, upgrades are unlocked and hopefully, players will move up and up throughout their career. Both of the careers are nice additions, but neither really do anything that spectacular. It's possible to tune the bike and get advice from pit members in the Simulation Career, but once a good step-up has been found it's really about just going through the motions.
The bike handles very differently in both modes. In Arcade, there's one universal brake button, and slipsteaming is simply called "boost". Once slipstreaming, turning is obviously very difficult, but it's much more of an on/off state than in real racing. Players can also really take some liberties, as it's almost impossible to make the back-end come out so far that the rider will fall off and there's absolutely no issue with accelerating too quickly out of a turn. Despite this, and the flexibility this offers, it's scary how much everything relies on getting the perfect racing line. This becomes very apparent when squaring off good AI, as even when a decent line is hit round a corner, considerable time can be lost. And that's just a single corner, in Arcade Mode, the mode that's supposed to be more forgiving.
Simulation Mode offers a challenge that's even greater still. The controls are altered to reflect this, as players now have the ability to control the front and rear brakes separately. It adds a new level of strategy when it comes to tackling corners and it really takes some skill to take corners smoothly and at the maximum speed. It takes even more skill to do it with the terrible bike that players start off with in the story mode and it makes the game much less fun. Players also have the ability to change their posture on the bike, but it's a completely redundant feature as the game does it for them automatically anyway. If they accelerate, the rider goes into a slipstream position, if they brake, he sits up. Why the player would want to do anything manually to contradict that isn't really clear.
Graphically, the game isn't overly impressive. It does the job, but it doesn't really attempt to go beyond. The scenery is ok and the bikes themselves aren't anything too fancy. The weather effects are also pretty bland, although there is a nice touch with regards to how rain affects the screen, an attempt to simulate how it would affect the rider's visor. Engine noises, one of the main audio aspects, don't sound overly impressive either. When accelerating, different audio samples can clearly be heard simply overlaying each other, which sounds a bit odd.
It's clear that SBK X offers a ton of replay value, with its multiple story modes and a ton of other modes. However, to further the package even more, there's also a full online multiplayer mode in which it's possible to race against up to 16 people. It's a nice addition and should hopefully give the game some extra legs, and some competition that might not be as gruellingly tough as the AI.
SBK X Superbike World Championship offers a ton of different modes and options, for the hardcore motorcycling fan, or those who're looking for something more casual. However, the actual gameplay mechanics don't feel quite as refined as they could be, and the presentation also feels quite lacking. There's plenty to keep players busy with though, so it's worth checking out for that aspect alone.