I got my first motorcycle in 1992. I was sixteen. The steed I purchased from my friend Mike was a 1986 Honda NS250R, a screaming little 33kW, two-stroke, 250cc crutch rocket. Back then, the law stated that any bike 250cc or under was suitable for a learner, despite the fact that these two-strokes put out more power than many bikes with twice the engine capacity, not to mention the violent and sometimes unpredictable power-bands.
I still remember the day I first fully opened the throttle. I was riding along behind my friend Jason, who was in his infected-snot-green Mazda RX2 sedan. He mashed his foot to the floor and let the rotary engine sing. I responded by rolling my right wrist back as far as my joints would allow. To both his and my surprise, I flicked past his hard-charging car quicker than a mosquito changes direction.
That was my introduction to the kind of performance that bikes could offer. I was hooked. Since then I have owned everything from the Aprilia RS250 right up to a Yamaha R1 superbike. I have owned sports bikes, I have owned commuters, and during a dark period of my life, I even owned a scooter.
As you can imagine, being a gamer and a biker, I was extremely excited to hear about Ride. Touted as a “Gran Turismo for motorbikes”, I had been looking forward to it for months, until it finally arrived via digital download on my Xbox 360 on launch day. That’s when the pain began.
Now, I want to be clear, I’m a game developer, so I know what goes into making these productions. I know that Milestone don’t have anywhere near the manpower or budgets of the likes of Turn 10 (Forza Motorsport) or Polyphony Digital (Gran Turismo), so my expectations of Ride reflected that. But what I got was inexcusable.
In Ride, you’ll spend the bulk of your time in World Tour mode, where you progress through various competitions, each requiring different classes of bike. The competitions include single race, time trial, drag race, track day, team race and championship events that are just a series of single races. There are also “Elite” trophy races that, if won, unlock more motorcycles.
As you progress through the game, you earn reputation points. The more you attain, the higher you climb up the world rankings (whilst unlocking Elite events), with the goal being reaching number one.
Before selecting an event, you’ll need to have the applicable bike on hand. There are over 100 bikes on offer from the Aprilia RS250 through to 1000cc+ modern race bikes. That might sound impressive but that Aprilia is one of only three small bikes, the other two just being different variations of the KTM RC390.
I would have loved to see more variety. Where are the little 125cc racers to cut your teeth on? Where are the cruisers? Hell, even scooter racing around go-kart tracks could have been fun. If this game wanted to be the true “GT on two wheels” it should have provided a lot more than just a bunch of naked sports bikes and their clothed brethren. There are the odd “classic” and electric bikes thrown in but overall, the variety just isn’t what it should have been.
It would have been nice to have to start out on much smaller, slower and cheaper vehicles and have to work your way up, just like in GT. Instead, you start on rapid 600cc+ bikes and even the top shelf stuff is available pretty much instantly. There’s no true feeling of progression, not to mention the fact that fast bikes are notoriously difficult to control in games, so starting the player out on much tamer beasts would have helped retain a lot of players who will potentially just give up. This is my first major issue with Ride, but I won’t withhold any points for that, as new bikes can easily be added in updates.
My next gripe is with the visuals. The bikes themselves are absolutely beautifully rendered, as are the riders. The polygon count is higher than an ’80s Wall Street broker and the paint is shiny as can be. The rest of the game, however…
Ride is plagued by LOD (Level of Detail) pop up. Basically, a neat trick in 3D game design is to take a low polygon model and increase the poly count by swapping out for a more detailed model as it gets closer to the camera. This increases performance vastly. When done properly, the player shouldn’t be able to tell. In Ride’s case, it is the most obvious visual aspect in the game. I have never seen it so badly done and it is particularly noticeable in trees. They jump from flat billboard images to polygon models, sometimes of a completely different shape. Not only that, they haven’t bothered adjusting the colours or shadows, so a tree might appear to suddenly change from a dark green to a bright greeny-yellow. It’s really disconcerting and gives the game an unfinished look.
As well as the awful pop-up, the frame-rate suffers at certain parts of certain tracks, most notably during replays or when there are a lot of those high poly bikes on screen at once. I can forgive this though, as 90% of the time it is buttery smooth.
Glitches aside, the game is still decidedly average looking. The bikes may be stunning but the rest of the game could easily be at home on a PlayStation 2. Textures are dull and blurry, models aren’t particularly detailed and trees range from decent to god-awful. Graphically, Ride really is a bit of a mess. I kid you not, I have better looking games on my mobile phone.
Unfortunately, the audio isn’t much better. Some of the engines sound nice and grunty, whilst others are weaker than a baby’s handshake. None of the audio is particularly realistic or convincing but at least the engine notes don’t step up in a musical scale as in Milestone’s last bike racer, MotoGP 14. Music is a sub-par generic affair that sounds as though it was sourced from a royalty-free music site.
So, Ride has crap graphics, crap sound and crap bike variety. Is there anything good about the game? Why yes, yes there is.
Ride plays brilliantly. Whether you’re an absolute noob with the plethora of riding aids activated or a Valentino Rossi with the thumb-sticks, Ride’s bike control will please. The bikes and riders lean, dip and even flip realistically.
Being a bike game, just like the real thing, it takes a little longer to learn than driving a four wheeled machine. You’ll need to practice the art of braking early and using the correct racing lines is an absolute necessity. Go even slightly wide and the AI bikers will reap the rewards.
Much like in the real world, the racing is extremely exciting. Being much slimmer than cars, there will be a lot of overtaking. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of blasting down the back straight and diving into a hairpin surrounded by five or six other bikes in a small cluster. It’s extremely satisfying to pull off dive bomb overtakes and even picking off bikes one by one on the straights is more fun than in any car-based game. In all honesty, I can say that I have had more fun racing in Ride than I have in any of the Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport titles.
But… and there is a big but… it’s just not balanced. If you set the game to the easiest possible difficultly level, single races will be extremely easy. The AI riders will pose virtually no threat. The only difficulty will come form your ability to keep the bike rubber side down, which isn’t too tough with the assists turned on. This is all to be expected. However, the track day events are nigh on impossible, even when set to the same difficulty. I have still yet to get better than a bronze medal in one of the earliest events and it’s not without trying. I have literally spent hours perfecting my lines. I have put in plenty of near perfect runs on the fastest possible bike that has every available upgrade. It really does seem impossible. The aim of the track day events is simply to overtake as many bikes as possible within the time limit and I’m not even close to ticking off enough to get the silver medal, let alone gold. Time trials are also difficult but with dedication, the gold is attainable.
And then there are the team races. The game tells you that choosing a good team mate is important, yet on the selection screen there is no data, no stats at all suggesting who is better in the saddle than the rest. Heck, it doesn’t even tell you which country they are from. I gathered that each new team mate that you unlock must be better than the last but I have no idea whether that’s true or not.
The game also isn’t very well balanced when it comes to the bikes. There’s no point choosing your favourite, as you may well find that no matter what you do, it’s just not competitive in its class. No, in each and every event the best approach is to find the most powerful bike allowed and mod the hell out of it.
Speaking of mods, again, there’s not really any feeling of progression as you quickly earn enough to be buying and fully modding bikes and there’s no detriment to doing so. There’s not really much need to be careful with your cash, unlike the GT series, and there really is no point in having varying degrees of upgrades, as you might as well spring for the top of the range right off the bat.
As far as upgrades go, there really aren’t many compared to the four-wheeled games of this ilk. You can upgrade your tyres, suspension, ECU and exhaust among other things and there are a few visual-only upgrades such as coloured handlebar ends that are practically impossible to see. It’s all a little pointless, other than upgradeable gearbox and suspension helping out on some of the trickier events. I always like to have my bikes react quickly, even if it makes them a little more unstable, so the tweaking can be a bit of fun and it’s a necessity when it comes to the drag races.
If Ride were more balanced, the graphical glitches and less than average sound could be forgiven. If it had a wider variety of bikes and less schizophrenic difficulty, it could be damned near the perfect motorcycle racing game. Some have argued that it needs more tracks, but to be honest, a game like Ride requires you learn every corner of every racetrack and it will take you a while to perfect riding around the fifteen varied locations. Ride could be a fantastic game but as it is, it’s really only average… or is it?
No. It’s not even an average game. Hell, I wouldn’t even call it a game in its current state. Aside from the glaring graphical glitches, Ride is absolutely plagued with bugs.
One of the most noticeable glitches is the bike selection screen. For some reason, half the bikes on my list are represented by a completely different vehicle. For example, my shiny new Ducati Streetfighter looks exactly like an early ’90s Honda CBR900, right down to the decals. It doesn’t end there… some of the bike portraits don’t even bother to show up and you are just met with a blank, white space. This sort of bug should never have slipped through the testing process. It’s absolutely unacceptable, but, believe it or not, Ride has much, MUCH worse issues… and I’m not even talking about the immense loading times that many people have ridiculed (I grew up with a Commodore 64 with tape drive, so it doesn’t bother me). No, I am talking about a glitch so sinister and unforgivable that I have had to drop this review score from a respectable, but flawed 3 to a one. Yes, a one.
After quite a few hours of play I experienced the dreaded “corrupted game data” bug. Yes, in a light-speed instant, all of my progress had been wiped. Gone. Vanished. I had to start again. So, you see, in its current state, it’s impossible to finish the game. This renders it nothing more than a demo and a bug-riddled one at that. This is absolutely unforgivable and the game simply should not have been released in this state. This bug plagues all of the console versions and I am still awaiting a fix.
Ride is flawed, ugly, as balanced as Dolly Parton and worst of all, completely unfinished. As it stands, I simply won’t be playing it again until the game save bug has been remedied. I can live with the rest of the game’s glitches, hell, even put them down to being “quirks”, as I really did enjoy the racing itself, but as it stands, Ride is something that really ought to be avoided.
I’m not angry, Milestone, I’m just disappointed.
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC