I have a mixed history with games from Italian developer and publisher Milestone. While I liked their kart-racing take on the World Rally Championship, WRC Powerslide, the more simulation-focused main WRC series has been a bit of a disappointment. On the whole, their four-wheel racing offerings have gotten mixed reviews at best.
On two-wheels, though, Milestone has a much stronger track record. While Metacritic shows a pattern of review scores in the 60s for the WRC games (I think I gave WRC Powerslide the best PC score on the internet), their MotoGP games have ratings in the 70s. Ride might not be backed by a big license but the motorcycle racing game does feel like Milestone’s attempt to create the first Gran Turismo-style bike game since Tourist Trophy.
So does Milestone’s first venture away from a licensed racing product in eight years live up to its two-wheel reputation?
As a racing game about motorcycles should, there are over 100 bikes from 14 manufacturers across four large categories. There are “naked” bikes which are kind of like your standard street bikes. There are supersports which are your 600 to 750cc bikes. There is the superbike class which are the fast 900+ cc bikes. And there are the pro racing bikes which are, well, racing bikes.
For the most part, you’ll be doing your racing in the World Tour mode. What world is being toured, I’m not really sure. The idea of World Tour is to gain reputation points by completing events with the goal of being the top racer in the world. There’s no real world touring to be done but it’s just what they called their career mode. Kind of like how Simulation Mode isn’t really any more of a simulation than Arcade Mode for Gran Turismo.
Unlike Tourist Trophy which had unlocks and progression through races, Ride has a currency system that allows you to buy the bikes you want when you can afford them. I went from lightweight naked bikes to supersports without the intervening championships. I just wanted to get on something faster and louder.
The good news is that you can definitely tell the difference between the classes as you move between them. The naked bikes tend to be sufficiently low powered enough that you can fling them into a corner and they’ll stick. As the bikes get faster and lighter, you have to be more careful with the brakes and throttle. By the time you get to the racing bikes, you’re being mindful of your cornering because those bikes will fight you, even on the middle of the road semi-pro handling model, and high or lowside in the corners if you get too aggressive. While I often find the WRC handling model that Milestone developed hit or miss, they definitely hit when it comes to the bikes.
The bikes are customizable to an extent as well. Everything is graded on a 100-point system for top speed, acceleration, handling and grip with each of those being upgradable through a parts store. Sure, the parts that you can slap on your bike are pretty standard across the whole game but you can feel a difference in the riding and see a difference in your lap time when upgrading your bike.
Milestone talks about the cosmetic customization options for your bike but I’m not sold on that being a noteworthy feature. Sure, you can get different colours for your wheels, mirrors, chains and grips but the actual body colour is limited to what is available from the factory. So your dreams of riding a hot pink Ducatti with black and white racing stripes will have to be put on hold. I was hoping for a bright purple Kawasaki with some accents in green, black and white, myself.
One of the nice things about Ride is that you’re not limited to just the three-lap races. There are a number of other modes that are in the game to keep you busy.
In the sort of standard model of races, there are Time Attacks which are just your standard you’re alone on the track so set as fast a time as possible. Drag races are actually kind of fun. It’s a 2000-metre drag race on the Bonneville Salt Flats where you’re charged with controlling the throttle, the pitch of your bike (i.e. keeping it from wheelie-ing) and gear shifts. Those races are annoyingly dependent on your bike and not you. There’s Track Day which is like the overtake mode in the Grid games. You try to overtake as many of the much slower riders as possible in the time limit with a prize at the end depending on how well you do.
And there are Team Races that tally up the points that you and your teammate score in a race and the pair with the most points wins the race. So you can win the race but if your teammate finishes in 15th, you haven’t actually won the race. Now, if this was just a team championship in a championship mode, that would be fine. It wouldn’t be unlike most major motorsports series that aren’t in America. Instead, you have a teammate who is only differentiated from the next by his name. I have no idea how to recruit, select or improve teammates. It makes it a tedious necessity to attempt these Team Races but I think you can dance around it well enough.
When you get down to actually racing, it’s pretty fun. The AI is more than willing to pass, defend and draft to get or keep ahead of you. Generally, I found that they can be taken in the corners but good luck on the straights. It’s also willing to ride so close to you that you swear that the bikes are hooked together. The one great thing about motorcycle racing is how little space is needed so you can really squeeze into a turn or other bike which means passing can happen just about anywhere you’re faster.
The problem is that the AI is terribly balanced. At first, I thought I’d put the difficulty to medium seeing as Milestone’s idea of easy for WRC is like racing against an empty controller. Then I got painfully crushed and embarrassed. So the AI difficulty is pretty hard, even at easy. A tuned bike on easy will still require you to put in a damn good race to win though sometimes you can randomly win in a rout or be routed yourself through no doing of your own.
Every time I talk about AI in a racing game, I come back to Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing 2003 but how hard is auto-tuning AI difficulty during and after races so that every race is close rather than blowouts one way or the other. If I sucked at one track, NR2003 would dial the difficulty there back so I’d have a chance. If I was having a miracle race, the AI would suddenly get to my back bumper and it would do the inverse. Milestone seems to be the absolute antithesis of Papyrus in that they can’t get AI difficulty right to save their lives and it’s getting me closer to the point of unforgivable irritation.
On the plus side is that there are a total 16 riders on-track during a race. While some gamers compare this to a PS2 game, one PS2 game that’s not like is Tourist Trophy which capped out at four riders in a race which made for a decidedly boring game at times. You start each race mid-pack so you often end up having an epic battle with someone on your way to the front. The nature of motorcycle racing allows for some great duelling for position and Ride tends to get that right more often than not.
And as seems to be standard for racing games, there is a rewind mechanic but it does come with some annoying caveats. Every time you start a race or rewind, it starts the sort of rewind recorder again and you can’t use rewind until the full length of time you can rewind is full. So if you crash less than ten seconds (or whatever the limit is) after the start or your last rewind (even if you cancel your rewind), you’re out of luck. And that’s assuming your rewind works because it occasionally doesn’t want to work at all.
Since I’m taking about problems with the game, this game takes its sweet time loading. It’s almost like there’s a two-stage loading process. There’s a load to a model of your bike (after selecting the race and bike) that you have to click through by pushing X/A/whatever and then a second load from that point to the actual race. There’s a little write-up about the history of your bike to read during the loading screen but that might only last you a race if you’re an average-speed reader.
One thing that disappointed me was the tracks. Milestone boasts “15 different locations” for Ride which is very Gran Turismo-esque in the coding. I counted 14 different locations in Quick Race but I suppose that the 15th would be the Salt Flats for the drag races. There are a total of 30 track layouts (31 if you include the drag strip) to keep you going with a fair bit of variety.
Very few of these tracks are real, though, and none are ones used by MotoGP (though licensing restrictions is probably the reason why they aren’t in this game). Most of them are street races that aren’t particularity exciting. There is a Japanese street race which has some great sections but is a three-minute lap on superbikes. Cut some of that out to a 2:00 or 2:30 lap and it might be the best fictional track since Gran Turismo. But at least we get Potrero de los Funes Circuit in Argentina which is an amazing track. Apart from those two circuits and Road America, there isn’t much to write home about in terms of exciting tracks.
Notice that I’ve gone all this way without mentioning the online portion of the game. As per usual with Milestone, they’re doing their own thing rather than doing online multiplayer through Steam. As a result, when I last checked, the online leaderboards had 101 people on them. There’s nobody playing online because nobody wants to register through Milestone. Run multiplayer through Steam! It shouldn’t be that hard.
So there are online leaderboards and online races but no one’s participating in them. It’s not worth talking about if no one’s playing online. It’s kind of like the old adage about a tree falling in a forest.
From a graphical perspective, I was surprised how negative critics were. There was a feeling that the graphics are dated which isn’t incorrect as Ride is on PS3 and 360 in addition to PC. While the models and textures aren’t next-gen level, they are better than the standard I’m used to from the WRC games. I didn’t particularly mind the graphics on my computer but some of the lower settings probably don’t look photorealistic.
I was a little surprised about how up and down my framerate gets. While proper racing circuits tend not to be very crowded, the fictional street circuits are. As more assets get displayed on screen, the framerate does go down quite quickly. So while I can set the graphics to high and get 60 FPS on a proper circuit, a street circuit will see me top out at 40 – 50 FPS depending on the track with drops to and below 30 FPS not uncommon.
As is often the case with Milestone games, the music is absolutely nothing to write home about. Maybe they should have taken a page out of Frogwares books and just get the music from a creative commons website. They could have tried anything but the well they keep going back to because their music is the most forgettable and bland music in gaming. If there was no music, it might be an improvement.
Anyway, apart from some licensed soundtracks in Need for Speed and the awesome music they keep adding and remixing in Gran Turismo, people are more interested in the race audio than the music. I found that if you weren’t running the supersports or faster, the bike engines were muted, muffled and underwhelming. They certainly don’t sound like the bikes you see on the street. The supersports and superbikes didn’t exactly have that loud screaming sound that you would expect if you were at an actual race but sounded a lot closer to what you would hear on TV watching MotoGP or AMA racing (the latter reference dates me to the glory days of Speed Channel).
For my first motorcycle game in nine years, I was surprised by how little Polyphony seems have pushed the racing over their last decade. Take the graphics out of it and you’re given a ride game that quadrupled the number of bikes without compromising on the racing or relative detail. If there’s anywhere that Polyphony have struggled with since Gran Turismo 2, it’s been the quantity of racers and quality of racing. There’s no such struggles here for Milestone and Ride.
The problem is that everything else will be compared to Gran Turismo and Tourist Trophy. The career mode and progression isn’t quite up to GT levels yet. The number of bikes is okay but the number of tracks and the quality of tracks pales in comparison, even if the racing is better here. The graphics might stand up to a PC-level Gran Turismo game (that’s just a guess) but the audio and soundtrack don’t.
So I guess the best way of describing ride is that it’s a good first effort. It’s not world-changing like the original Gran Tursimo but if Tourist Trophy were released today in its original state, Ride would certainly trump it. There are areas for improvement but you could definitely do far worse spending your money on racing games than you would on Ride.
Ride was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The review code for this game was provided by Milestone. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether you prefer your racing with two wheels or four.
Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Steam and RSS.